Podcast Transcript: Assessing Innovative Legal Design & Process with Bill Caraher of von Briesen & Roper

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, Design Thinking, Efficiency, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Podcasts, Thomson Reuters


Hello and welcome to the “Legal Executive Institute” podcast. Today we’re again featuring Charlotte Rushton, managing director for large and medium law firms at Thomson Reuters. Charlotte will be speaking to Bill Caraher, the chief information officer at the Wisconsin-based law firm von Briesen and Roper. Mr. Caraher recently participated in a panel at the Legal Executive Institute’s emerging legal technology forum. The panel was entitled The Pace of Progress, assessing innovative design, technology and process in law firms and corporate legal departments, and the panel focused on the various ways law firms and legal departments are incorporating enterprise innovation as part of a broader strategic plan. Charlotte?

Charlotte Rushton: Well, hello, Bill. Thanks so much for joining us today. Perhaps you can start us off by providing the listeners with a brief profile of the firm.

Bill Caraher: Happy to be here. I thank you, Charlotte. Von Briesen and Roper is a Wisconsin based and headquartered law firm. We have about 160 attorneys and about 300 professionals in seven offices all within the state of Wisconsin. We do have a national and international practice but we are very rooted in the Midwest and Midwest values and those kind of good things.

Charlotte Rushton: Well, great. Thank you. So, in your opening remarks I thought you described well, if you like, the zeitgeist of the current legal industry, so smarter and savvier customers, consolidation of services that are moving in house and consolidation of legal tech vendors, security challenges, migration to the cloud just to name a few, and as you said, doing nothing is not an option, but of course the question of where to focus with limited resources is ever looming. Could you speak a little bit about how you tackle that challenge?

Bill Caraher: Definitely. So, I would say from an IT leader’s perspective the challenge may be different than the business, so they need to first align with the business and meet with the executive committee or the board of directors. What do they see as the top three to five challenges from the business perspective? Are they external factors? Are they internal factors? Then you can refocus your time and resources on that list first, and I would add to that check in every quarter, let them know how you’re doing with the priority list and see if  anything has shifted. In addition, we can’t live in a bubble. The security factors and the changing privacy rules in the US and Europe, they must be planned for and executed timely to stay competitive, and if I had to pick one area I would say information security definitely needs to be top of mind and dealt with on a daily basis, on a monthly basis, having a plan, that should be– in my view — prioritized among all else right now.

The challenge is what are the threats and it’s a moving target, but one breach, one incident can stop the business flat, so you’ve got to at least have the bases covered for information security, but I would say that the key there is alignment with the business and what are their priorities and make them IT’s priorities.

Charlotte Rushton: That definitely makes sense. I thought your panel really delivered some great examples on how each of the respective law firms, and in one case it was a design firm, have been riding this wave of change, but most noted that it takes some work to get the wider employee population on board. I loved your firm’s concept of the Apple Genius Bar where  employees  can drop in, see new technology be demoed in a more low-pressure environment. Do you think that nurturing that kind of culture of continuous learning is really important to the future of firms?

Bill Caraher: I would say most definitely, and for any trademark people listening, we have dubbed it the InGenius Bar, not to get confused too much with Apple, but kidding aside, we definitely value input, a high priority on training. I would say in a lot of projects historically training is usually the first budget item to be cut or reduced to get a project to come in  at the financial aspects that are required, and I’ve seen countless examples of projects gone bad not typically from a poor implementation but a poor execution from a user standpoint and from an adoption standpoint, so this concept of the InGenius training is a five minute, short, quick focused training session where we basically have an open door policy, drop- in sessions where you come down and you meet with our IT department and we have a predetermined topic. We’re talking about it for just five minutes at a time and it could be a very simple concept. It could be an introduction to an existing tool, an introduction to a new tool or a new feature, and since we’ve implemented this in about 2013, we’ve seen a continual week after week 60 percent live in -person participation from our attorneys.

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Bill Caraher, the chief information officer at von Briesen and Roper

Not just the staff, but from the attorneys, and I’ve put a challenge out to the industry that if anybody can say, if you do the math on that, that works out to be about four hours of non-CLE IT training and I’ve thrown it out there to the industry and I said if any firm can claim that they’re training more than four hours of non-CLE IT training out there, I’d love to hear about it, but this concept of five minutes at a time really works for the schedules of the attorneys, and just to add to that that we’re investing so much in these tools, and these programs and solutions for our attorneys but they typically hear about them from their peers outside the firm not necessarily inside the firm, so we want to create a culture of talk about that new, cool tool, that new feature that you saw at the In Genius Bar and that will draw more people to our tools and start conversations around hey, if the tool could do this or I have a client need that is X, then we can have those conversations and start developing things that are really hitting home and adding value to our client’s day.

Charlotte Rushton: That’s fantastic, really turning a challenge into an opportunity it sounds like and I can totally understand and love that five-minute piece because we know that lawyers are very time stretched and anything that goes away from the billable hour is really difficult for them to focus on, so that sounds really innovative. So, you also observed on the panel that the relationship between firms and legal technology vendors is growing even stronger and that the vendor can often act as a consultant to co-develop a customer’s road map around innovation or product adoption. Can you talk a little bit more about what each side brings to the table in that relationship?

Bill Caraher: Sure thing. It’s very interesting that we’re starting to see a shift in even just the nomenclature talking about vendors and we’re starting to use the vocabulary of vendors as partners, and it’s strange because many other industries have already considered vendors as partners but legal, it’s been that way, and I think something that might be pushing that is that when law firms and attorneys are called vendors, they don’t seem to appreciate it because they’re more than just a vendor to another company, but they don’t like to see themselves as a vendor, so I think we’re sensitive to that now and our vendors are truly becoming partners in our challenges, so developing solutions that are able to be implemented and executed and solve problems right away. So, they may have, what I’ve seen in one of the workflow vendors out there, vendor/partners, has developed a platform that has a baseline of a set of tools, but the baseline is something that can be customized for each firm.

And so I see more of that opportunity where you’re given a shell of features but then you can pick and choose how you implement it, and that just speaks to we have an industry or a firm- wide problem but then it needs to be customized for the way that each firm operates, so I see more of that happening, and then as the vendor/partner and firm relationships strengthen there’s this feedback loop, so it’s no longer just a shrink wrap package that you accept and you wait for the hot fix or the next service pack. Firms are giving great feedback and the vendor/partners are listening and they’re implementing these features because if one firm has this challenge it’s likely that multiple firms have the challenge, and the best vendor/partners out there are creating strategic councils of advisory panels of law firms and law firm technologists, so you have an advisory committee, an advisory board that is giving you feedback on your road map, feedback on your features and your enhancements and saying here’s where you should prioritize from our standpoints and having round table discussions about that. I think that’s a great way to proceed.

Charlotte Rushton: You already talked a little bit about the importance of cybersecurity. I wanted to just ask about your thoughts on how the firms can go about forming the strongest defense and where do you think, is it each firm unto itself or is this a problem that requires cross-industry dialog?

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Charlotte Rushton, Managing Director for US Large Law at Thomson Reuters

Bill Caraher: I would say information security, as I said in the opening, it should be and is most firms’ number one priority right now just to make sure that the bases are covered and that you’ve got a strong team that has the defenses in place, that has a playbook and an emergency plan and a recovery plan and this is at all levels of the firm, so it’s not just an isolated IT challenge and for years and years we’ve been getting audited by any of our financial institution clients, health care clients, you get these surveys, are you doing backups? Are you encrypting data? Now these basic questionnaires, and the maturity of those questions has grown and the depth of the questions has grown which has helped the industry think about that and then when there’s incidents within our industry and outside our industry, I think a lot of the IT professionals in legal are definitely paying attention, and we’re collaborating. There’s definitely some great groups. The more we can learn, the more we can share. We’re going to all be better off for it.

Charlotte Rushton: So, my last question, I think everyone was interested to hear Meredith Williams who’s the chief knowledge management officer at Baker Donelson talk about a study that was conducted by Dana Remus and Frank Levy who analyzed time narrative records for two billion dollars in law firm billings and concluded that technology will have a strong or even replacement effect on about four percent of lawyers hours, so relatively small, but will have a moderate effect on an additional 39% of those hours and this goes to the fact of will robots replace lawyers, so from your technical vantage point how did this breakdown strike you and if it was true, would it allay some of the fear factor that’s out in the market?

Bill Caraher: Yeah, I think the futurists and survey conductors, everybody’s trying to guess at what’s going to happen, and I think a great place to start is companies like Thomson and other AI vendors who are in this space already and what have they already brought to market, and that’s a great place to start, and see what has been disrupted because of their innovations and what is on their road map and I think taking that information and intelligence and applying it to the industry and saying okay, maybe we can get too realistic numbers of what might be replaceable by automation and intelligent computing systems, but if you ask most of the AI vendors right now, they’re being very careful about their marketing messaging because they need the human expert attorney to help train the systems and tell it when it’s right and tell it when it’s wrong, and so they see it as a partnership and I think the attorney population should see it as a partnership because this is definitely not going to happen overnight.

It may be a faster pace than anyone had thought, but I don’t see this as a major disruptor in the next few years. It’s going to evolve over a period of years. So, the key there is augmenting not replacing the human attorney.

Charlotte Rushton: Great — that definitely makes sense to me. Well, Bill, this has been absolutely insightful, so thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. Thank you.

Bill Caraher: No problem. It’s been my pleasure and thank you. It’s wonderful to meet you and your team in Toronto. Thanks for having me.

And thank you for listening to the “Legal Executive Institute” podcast. You can hear more podcasts on our website at www.legalexecutiveinstitute.com.