Welcome to Legal Tech Matters, a Litera podcast dedicated to creating conversations about trends, technology and innovation for modern law firms and companies big and small.
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Welcome to Reinventing Legal. I'm Ari Kaplan, and I'm privileged to be speaking today with Jack Thompson, the Assistant Director for Global eDiscovery & Legal Operations at Sanofi. And a long-time volunteer for the International Legal Technology Association, contributing to its law department and corporate legal management programming and networking. Hi, Jack. How are you?
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Ari, how are you?
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I'm doing great. I'm looking forward to our conversation. Jack, tell us about your background and your role at Sanofi.
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My background really consists of being in the legal operations and eDiscovery space for the past 18 years. Working for four Fortune 500 companies by developing and supporting global legal department growth vision through innovation and strategy. With Sanofi, working on an international basis for a pharmaceutical company, deploying solutions, creating strategy for forward thinking and overall managing operations that exist for e-discovery, knowledge management, intellectual property management, eBilling matter management, and general M&A pieces, as well as incorporating some futuristic thinking with adoption of artificial intelligence and moving for our contract management analytics as well.
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How do you balance all of those responsibilities?
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With a very, very strict calendar.
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How has the alignment between eDiscovery and legal operations changed during your tenure at Sanofi?
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My sense is that over the past ten years and eDiscovery operations and management has transferred itself into an arm of legal operations, but the actual law and rules practice of eDiscovery remain the same. So, operations for eDiscovery has simply fallen, either for information governance in legal operations setting, where the goal is to support the operations and discovery and leave the actual law rule to the lawyers.
So it's been an evolution of taking more of the operational settings and moving them into operations and then allowing the law firms and the partners and associates, both internally and externally to a corporation to really naturalize the law and the strategy behind it. It's strategic and is one way and then the operations and is the other in the operations end is basically to support the strategy.
So, I see that being a natural integration, but simplistically separated.
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It seems like a number of professionals that have eDiscovery expertise as a foundational component of their skillset also either add or adapt to legal operations. What is it about that fundamental nature of eDiscovery that allows you to be so successful in legal operations?
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Well, my own career trajectory has started off in eDiscovery, but simply organizing with separate operational management components and then turning into more legal operations. So, it goes beyond just simply managing a budget for eDiscovery case, managing a technology platform that was very specific, but seeing potential in other areas where this type of process management could be effective and finally, pushing operational strategy beyond eDiscovery for case management and long-term data management, storage, and so forth.
And how can that information that has been collected and utilized in one case be leverage for future use? I think that those are very simplistic ways of seeing - it's been evolutionary. And where you become organized in one area, you can then become organized for many other areas because the business operations are becoming more and more of the same.
And so, it's really not so centralized eDiscovery anymore. How do you work with law firms? How do you work with contracts? How do you work with intellectual property? How do you work in integrating information governance with so many different strategies and so forth? So, from a corporate legal perspective, you're getting a lot more feel. We're getting a lot more exposure to technologies and processes that you never would have before in eDiscovery. And finally, getting more intake from your law firm counterparts and relationships that tend to want to give you more direction in terms of how do I deal with this particular strategy in a different setting altogether. So, moving a little away from comfort zone into more of an enterprise-wide legal thought thinking and how to organize, support and strategize for supporting all the initiatives going on.
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You mentioned the application of artificial intelligence for eDiscovery or contracts management. How has that effort impacted the role, whether it's eDiscovery or legal operations or some other component working in a law department?
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I would say that those two particular areas contract eDiscovery are foundations for legal artificial intelligence being introduced. One of the other things, too, is there's a financial component that's been around for a very long time, namely artificial intelligence being applied to imaging for cost management. So that's been around for a long time. And the same concept can be said for eDiscovery in general.
Now, contracts have entered the mix because it's literally technology assists your view just for very specific documents and for terms that are a simplified, but it's also predicting an outcome showcasing risk. One of the other pieces that I would say that's helped influence getting those conversations started, especially with your internal lawyers, is that a lot of law departments are becoming more part of their business units.
It's not just simply a corporate function. It's you're into interacting more with your individual business units, pharmaceutical industry and health care industry to some degree. So, there's a lot more of a push for digital health or privacy information. And these are conversations that our lawyers are having. So, the lawyers are coming back to say, well what type of information can we utilize in the AI space to help our function?
But also, where is it going to impact us when we're dealing with a business unit that wants to go into an artificial intelligence environment? So, it becomes a good driving point for understanding what is your business need and how can legal support it, and how do you throw the artificial intelligence piece into it? So I think it's been a very long coming conversation, but also becoming very more involved where legal ops is and eDiscovery to some degree in contract management, all of which are coming together to say, okay, we are finally at a precipice to utilize AI in different ways, but we want to start from one beginning and then accumulate more and more and then build out what you need for which purpose, and then attack the enterprise.
Trying to do everything at once has never been a very successful piece, especially with the AI. But nevertheless, I think that the US has a really great standing to introduce those one key moment build them out, utilize them, leverage them, and predict the future, but also assist in the business overall in their journey.
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What should law firm leaders know about the mission of teams like yours in corporations?
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It's an excellent standpoint. I think over the past ten years, legal operations have been silent but deadly role that we're set to law firms right now. Part of my job is law firm management or law firm relationship management. So Legal Ops and eDiscovery are a sounding board and voice of the client in the relationship between client and firm.
Client, namely myself. We have constraints, restrictions. Also, a wealth of knowledge management, which law firm does not. Therefore, as with any partnership, both sides are responsible to ensure that each is informed of everything going on, especially in a matter or a prospectus or an initiative. So, we're definitely relationship partners now rather than client firm, where everything is task oriented and or not so strategic.
But now everything is strategic where our company's growth is dependent upon our representation of our relationship partners. Legal Operations and eDiscovery, our support arms for those relationships and that growth strategy. But essentially being the keepers of the knowledge on a general global, larger scale that is administrative, operational, and compliance driven on several different pieces where firm and internal lawyers are usually focused on a very specific practice area or matter.
So, they may not have all of the information. So legal ops is there to be sort of the gatekeeper for projects, for interactions, for negotiations and for knowledge transfers and also reminders of where we may hit some sort of risks based upon a compliance rule or a privacy law or some for some other type of restraint. So, it's what our teams are doing.
Our teams are being those gatekeepers and ensuring that, one, we, we stay compliant, two we are maximizing our relationships, and three ensuring that everything is supported appropriately on both sides.
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Like you, I'm looking forward to having conversations that bring law department leaders and law firm leaders together at the upcoming 2022 ILTA conference. When did you attend your first ILTA conference?
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My first still to come on I believe was in 2010 and I actually was a speaker, and I was discussing taking early payment discounts and introducing AFAs to law firms and holding law firms accountable to what they put on their invoice in what they billed us for.
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Do you recall the reaction to that conversation?
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Being one of the very few corporate people on a panel. I got a lot of, I guess you could say quizzical looks from the law firm partners and their pricing. People had a few challenges with just discussions in general, but it was an overall well-received terms of, hey, we're looking at what you do. Be aware, but we want to make it as an easy process as possible.
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And over a decade later now, did that conversation lead to some type of change?
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Absolutely. It formed many different conversations where clients were taking their billing seriously. It wasn't simply a relationship between lawyer to lawyer. There was an operations group that was really heading the administrative portions of any type of relationship engagement and trying hard to simplify and centralize and make common processes more viable, but also trying to save money and enhancing the relationship and calling out areas of redundancy, waste, or bad behavior in some certain cases.
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What are you looking forward to at ILTACON 2022
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I am looking forward to the networking, meeting new folks, getting introductions to new players in the legal tech market, seeing the new start-up in companies and what their offerings are, and hoping to share some thoughts with thought leaders on what the future will hold for the legal industry and try to influence some strategic roadmaps for some of our providers.
As well as interact with our law firm counterparts and generally hold some court for what are we doing for the next five years. And how can we make it happen together?
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Does your team set specific objectives prior to an industry event like this?
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In my particular situation, I am the sole attendee and usually the innovator/thinker that goes back to the team and provides the information that I've gained. Both is looking forward to looking at the things I had just mentioned, but also thinking about new ways to take what I've learned and maybe hear something different, get a new idea, and then implant it on my team's radar and then start building our future.
So, it's usually a thought pass type of relationship for my team. So, you don't go in with necessarily a preconceived notion, but it's good to just keep an open mind and be open to new ideas and thoughts.
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How has ILTACON adapted to the increased interest from corporate legal professionals?
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ILTACON has typically been a very law firm centric event. However, there has been a presence from corporate legal department, government office and law school attendees. How it's become more attractive for increased interest, I would say that there's more focus styles sessions through education and bootcamps, as well as open forums and networking opportunities that are geared more for a smaller, more intimate session of like minds.
So, I usually used a host of very good legal corporate legal group and talk to them, get some insights, but also offer up some solutions to common problems or introductions to new potential service providers. So, it's usually utilizing networking to the best advantage for those that have been in this type of position for a long time. But really say, here's why you came.
Here's who you want to meet. Here's a great fit for you, or here's how you can ask questions to. And I hope we continue the conversation. And by the way, not only ILTACON, but other groups ILTA in general, CLOC, ACC and other types of organizations, they do have a good networking space for us to stay together. This is just a chance to meet in person as well as having technology or services presented to you all in one place.
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I remember being fortunate to facilitate a dialog during one of those roundtable discussions which sessions should be on the list of those from corporate legal teams?
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So, for corporate legal teams truly understand right now, based upon the current schedule, there is actually a legal operations bootcamp session that's being provided by the legal operations managers from the Cosmopolitan Entertainment and Credit Karma, the two legal operations. These are actually leading a boot camp. There's also several roundtables that are existing. One is definitely the eDiscovery and Litigation Support Roundtable, which anyone who is on the corporate side and does practice with eDiscovery - it's definitely a very good, valuable time.
Those types of open discussions are quite good. There's also a good deal of technology focus sessions that are related to operational platforms such as Office 365 and Google, which are very good from a firm as well as corporate law department, there are different angles in which stock we played. So, the good introduction of technology is there, plus a good deal of the business partners that will be showing up and sponsoring to ILTA are doing their own educational tracks as well as quick educational sessions that could be a good solution provider and they usually use case examples of here's how this work in this type of situation. So, it's definitely those are the types of sessions as well as events that would be very appealing for anyone from a corporate legal department as well as a government office or a law school - just to get an introduction here, the sounding board as well as I get to meet new people that might be your best friend in or saving your life.
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Practically speaking, what's the best way for an attendee to navigate the Gaylord National Harbor?
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The Gaylord National Harbor is large property with a Biodome, and their conference center is quite large I will say from past experiences, both being at their property as well as being, I guess you can say, a herder of members in attendees ILTA does offer a buddy system for first time attendees, which is always very helpful because you get to get to meet someone, get to show them around gotcha calls, say Here, come with me, I'll show you where you need to go.
There is an application that is very, very intuitive in terms of directional finders includes the agenda sessions, locations, and real time feedback on any session content. Also, social media platform, there are several different guides as well as ILTA start-up hubs. The vendor hall is always a great place to meet people and get to know a few vendors at the same time.
And other than that, there are maps everywhere just for those that rely upon that old directory that need to see something visually instead of just on your phone. So, navigating through is usually there's people, places, and technology to help in any which way you can think of.
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How do you take advantage of live events to connect with and learn from your teams Business partners?
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This is an absolute wonderful piece of ILTACON as well as any other conference where you do have a time to get together with people. I have always used ILTACON as an in-person meeting time with any of my business partners that I can use to just go over, I would say an annual check in - in person.
Go over future planning and see what else is out there and not to be overly competitive, but there are times when you can see who competitors are and who has what, when and why you need it. So, it's a good opportunity to have meetings and get introductions going. It's also a good opportunity to see how changes are occurring in the marketplace.
The most corporate legal departments are going through, most likely a staff crunch, and people walk out the door for retirement or find other jobs. So, this is definitely a marketplace to really look and utilize that time to see what the market looks like and see where your future providers may be for an area that you may not need right now, but you can get an idea of in the future.
So, from my perspective, it's good to know how that works and why it's there. So, taking advantage of it for that time is really worthwhile. And part of the reason I go is just to get my future planning taken care of and see who else is out there.
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What are some wellness tips for attendees?
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Stay hydrated. The air conditioning is very powerful, so just stay hydrated. We're comfortable shoes because you will do a lot of walking. Be comfortable. I think that's one of the main things, ILTA has always been somewhat of a more casual conference where you're going to be sitting for sessions or you're going to be walking around. So be comfortable in what you wear and how you feel.
You don't have to lug around your backpack and your laptop all the time. Take advantage of just being at a conference and sitting there and challenge myself that all that time to say, no, I'm not taking my laptop and going to the session. I'm going to stay there and pay attention instead of just working from a laptop.
There are a lot of networking opportunities for socialization so don't overwhelm yourself, but make sure you spend your time wisely and just enjoy yourself. There will be some. Usually, they have refreshments throughout the day. There also are they usually set up a massage stations, 20-minute massage stations, which is very, very helpful, especially if you sleep in a hotel for more than one night.
It's always good to have. And there's the outside, which is beautiful. So, get out, get some fresh air, or take a walk around, clear your head and then keep going back to it. So those are my wellness tips.
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What about time management? Any time management and organization strategies to maximize the value of being there?
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That is one of the best things about the time management. Everything is very timed accordingly. So, session's time for breaks. Time to go to the exhibit hall. Time to meet with other peers. There are a lot of schedule events that are very timely coordinated, so there's plenty of time to get from place to place. It's after the ILTA sessions stop, that's when the social events happen. So, one of the best things about the property of the Gaylord is everything is very close together, so it doesn't take long to get anywhere else. But don't overwhelm yourself with too many invite offerings because that can be your running from place to place and you may not enjoy yourself in the process.
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This program is called Reinventing Legal. How is your work ultimately impacting that objective?
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Legal is consistently being reinvented, especially on the operational side and challenged side, while laws continue to change, and rules continue to be adopted. Supporting those changes is consistently a reinvention where one way of doing something has to change because of whatever reason. So, it's rethinking, reevaluating, and reinventing how we work, how we process, and how we do business.
I would say that every relationship needs to be reinvented in order to maintain strength capability, accessibility, and adaptability. So, the work that I'm doing, both within my job at Sanofi as well as with ILTA as a board member, is to really provide as much strategic direction and capability output to consistently reinvent and rise to meet challenges. So, I would say that the impact is very strong for a consistent reinvention as well as getting more knowledge, getting more experience, getting more ability to really be a top performer. To be a top leader to your top guru whenever a new situation arises and rise to challenge, adapt, and overcome.
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This is Ari Kaplan, and it has been my good fortune on this episode of Reinventing Legal to speak with Jack Thompson, the Assistant Director for Global eDiscovery and Legal Operations at Sanofi, who is also a long-time volunteer for ILTA, contributing to its law department and corporate legal management, programming, and networking. Jack, thanks so much. And thanks so much for your service to ILTA.
Thank you for listening to Legal Tech Matters. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.