Amy Sellars is Associate General Counsel and leads the Discovery Operations Group for Walmart’s legal department, based in Bentonville, Ark. “My passion for e-discovery and legal technology is not unique, but you don’t find big clusters of local lawyers who share that passion,” says Sellars. That’s not all — she’s also following artificial intelligence (AI) and innovation as those concepts quickly grow within legal.
Before Walmart, Sellars was an adjunct e-discovery professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law, and she was an associate at Crowe & Dunlevy in Tulsa and a senior litigation attorney and discovery subject matter expert at the Williams Companies, in Tulsa. Sellars got her B.A. English at Yale University, and her J.D. at Rutgers University School of Law-Camden.
We asked Sellars 5 questions about the quickly changing technology in e-discovery, artificial intelligence, innovation, and the fuel of failure.
1. How did you land at Walmart in Bentonville, as an associate general counsel?
Amy Sellars: The answer is community. The legal field is huge, and the country is large. Since entering the field, I set aside time each week to read blogs and cases, correspond with the authors, attend conferences, and benchmark with other e-discovery lawyers.
When the job at Walmart came up, my (now former) boss, Veronica Gromada, reached out to others in the community for recommendations. Were it not for my participation with other e-discovery attorneys across the nation, I would not be at Walmart.
2. E-discovery has matured, and many such vendor companies are merging. What do you see for e-discovery in the next few years and later?
I see vendors moving towards automating things that everyday users don’t know how to do, and removing the technical competency requirement — making the entire process more self-serve and less expert-dependent. I haven’t decided yet whether that’s a good thing or not.
Either way, I see the focus shifting to information governance, which may be the next big arena for the kinds of artificial intelligence being developed around e-discovery. Eventually, the cost of poor data hygiene is going to catch up with us all, and that risk will drive new priorities.
3. You recently spoke at The Cowen Group’s “SOLID” event in New York City. You spoke twice, on both AI and on innovation. You were a big hit! Can you tell us about your presentations?
I see two big struggles in almost all companies. The first is overcoming the fear of failure and understanding the important role that failure plays in innovation. The most effective learning comes when we don’t achieve something important to us, and we have to step back and examine why. That kind of thoughtful analysis is fueled by failure.
The other struggle is fixing broken processes that have been “Frankensteined” to respond to changes in ways of working over time. We tend to try to add on, rather than strip down and start again. We add layers of complexity that don’t need to be there, instead of remembering that the simplest answers are usually the best answers.
4. What advice would you give to young lawyers who have families?
I would advise lawyers with young families not to take advice from me! In all seriousness, the people I admire have worked when they had to, but have the ability to turn work off, even if only for 20 minutes, and devote themselves entirely to family.
I spent far too much time trying to work and participate with my family at the same time, so both suffered. One attorney I know cooks dinner with his children every night. They plan meals on the weekends and do the shopping together and they assign the different jobs. This guy then heads back to his laptop while his kids do homework or watch TV, but every night there’s a time when he and his kids are co-creating.
5. Where do you want to be in 5 years? In 10 years?
Gina Taranto’s talk about happiness at SOLID inspired me. She talked about research that suggests that, while we may define ourselves through work, it is not what makes us happy. In fact, the research shows that if we are happy, we tend to love our work.
So, in five years, or 10 years, I want to live with plenty of dogs and cats, practice yoga, ride a bike, read books, and surround myself with people I love. I hope I’m still looking for truth in data, but I know that whatever I am doing, it will be all about finding a story.