Ones to Watch: Tom Yoxall, Litigation Partner & Executive Committee Member, and Eric Boyd, Director of Litigation Support, at Locke Lord

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In a new blog series, “Ones to Watch”, David Curle, Director of the Technology and Innovation Platform for Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, explores where innovative law firms are investing their resources in order to stay ahead of the competition while delivering superior results to their clients.

Tom Yoxall and Eric Boyd came at legal technology and their shared interest in applying artificial intelligence to legal problems, from different directions. Yoxall has been with Locke Lord for 25 years as a traditional litigator with a focus on financial services litigation, class action litigation, commercial litigation, as well as constitutional cases. He is also a long-time member of the firm’s executive committee. He’s always had an interest in technology and recently was asked to lead a subcommittee on artificial intelligence.

Boyd, on the other hand, took almost the opposite route, starting off building databases to support litigation, became involved in the early days of eDiscovery, moved in-house, then on to a computer forensic company, before finally settling in at Locke Lord where he was an early user of analytics in the discovery processes.

The Impact of Technology: Quality and Efficiency

Despite their different backgrounds, both agree that the most significant impact technology is having on the firm is on its ability to increase efficiency and hold down costs. “The cost of legal services is at the forefront of what you hear about the industry, and how expensive big litigation, class action litigation, and investigations can become,” Yoxall says, pointing to two areas where technology can play a big difference in efficiency: document review, and the legal research and briefing work that goes into handling major litigation. “Our goal at Locke Lord is to try to make things as efficient as possible for the client, so we can reduce the legal spend and, obviously, create long-term relationships with clients where they continue to come back to us, not only for great legal results, but for great legal results at an efficient cost.”

Join Locke Lord’s Tom Yoxall and Thomson Reuters’ David Curle in “The Ones to Watch: Insights from Law Firm Innovators”, a one-hour webinar held at 1 pm, on December 11. You can register here!

The firm’s interest in artificial intelligence, however, extends beyond just litigation. The firm’s AI Committee has representatives from the intellectual property, real estate, corporate, and tax practice areas. Each group sees the potential of AI through its own filters. “In real estate for example, there are applications in looking for key provisions in contracts,” Yoxall explains. “In a big due diligence deal, AI can be important when you’re going through hundreds if not thousands of contracts; and in IP, we’ve leveraged AI tools for searching patents.”

Some of the biggest returns, however, have come from applying analytics to pricing and predictions around litigation. “Our litigation team partnered with the finance side of the firm, the administrative side of the firm, and our technology folks to come up with our own proprietary system for tracking those cases,” Yoxall says, adding that the system tracks all the activity and costs in each case to determine, on average, how much those cases cost for the client.

ones to watch

Tom Yoxall, of Locke Lord

“That helps give certainty to clients when they bring us a case. Their first question is always, ‘What is this going to cost?’ Locke Lord clients face a lot of uncertainty, but with our analytics capability we can provide as much certainty as possible on the front-end so they know what certain types of cases will cost them.”

Data Investments Pay Off: Pricing and Prediction

That system is proprietary and holds Locke Lord’s data about its own matters; however, the firm is starting to leverage external data in its predictions as well. Yoxall says there are instances of Locke Lord lawyers using outside analytic tools to help clients understand how long a matter might take, what the project plan might be, and even obtain insight into how the judges in charge of a certain case tend to rule, and how long they take to rule. “So, we’re able to project, if you will, kind of a case plan and explain to clients, using that data, how long a case will last, what we think it’s going to cost, and what kind of outcome we expect,” he says.

Boyd is quick to point out that it’s not all about the numbers. The data supports the lawyers’ decisions and advice, but it doesn’t replace it. “This firm is full of experienced lawyers — and it used to be that we didn’t have as much access to data, and we really had to rely more on our own anecdotal experience in cases,” Boyd explains. “What we have been able to do is merge both the experience and the data to create these long-term databases that enable us to make forecasts and help the lawyers make those confident predictions.”

There are a lot of different skill sets involved in creating those kind of valuable predictions, and Yoxall notes that it’s a cross-functional team effort. “I would describe the response to an RFP as a three-headed team,” he says. First, you have the lawyers who have the relationship with the client and who work for that client. Then, you have practice group coordinators. For example, in our financial services litigation team, that coordinator is actually a lawyer, but she serves a business role. She works to identify who’s going to be involved in the RFP, on the staffing side of things as well as the rate side of things. And finally, your have the financial team to do the modeling and budgeting. In the end they help determine what makes sense for the client in terms of the cost and what makes sense for the law firm as a business.

Client Expectations

With all this new technology leveraged across all practice areas, how do Yoxall and Boyd see client expectations and demands evolving? Yoxall sees AI and analytics as table stakes — clients expect their firms to use these new tools and to drive efficiencies with them. “At Locke Lord, we expect to use the best technology, whether we partner with outside parties to use their products as efficiently as possible to predict all kinds of things, or whether we use our own proprietary system to help us handle our cases more efficiently for the client,” Yoxall adds.

ones to watch

And among clients, having a reputation for innovation is extremely important. “I think that any firm’s reputation on the technology side of things can always get better,” he says. “Our goal at Locke Lord is to push this as hard as we can.” The firm has a very strong administrative team, and that’s one of the things we pride ourselves on here, Yoxall notes.

“We allow our administrative team really to help the lawyers run the firm because sometimes lawyers are not the greatest business people in the world.”

The firm’s administrative team works arm-in-arm with the lawyers in pushing these issues, he explains, adding that Boyd’s team is a great example of that. “I mean, he’s really become the person at the firm who’s running with this technology. I think clients expect it, and I hope our reputation with the client is great,” he says.

“You can always get even better, so that’s my hope, that we can continue to excel.”

For more on how Locke Lord lawyers use technology to advance their careers, how the firm sees the use of technology as a competitive edge in the legal industry, and how its librarians support the firm’s success, click here.