Innovation in AI is real and making an immediate impact
Joe Borstein talks with Evan Shenkman about innovation in the legal industry, which has seen an explosion of talent and start-ups in recent years. Tremendous advances are being made, for example, in leveraging parallel search to find similar concepts in cases rather than using keywords. This is a huge help to litigators. Closer to home, Fisher Phillips’ COVID-19 Employment Litigation Tracker is the go-to resource for information on the uptick of claims across the US
MEET OUR GUEST
Evan Shenkman is a Member of the Board of Directors of Pioneer Knowledge Services, providing KM assistance to charities. He frequently writes and presents on KM and Legal Innovation topics.
CEO of LexFusion
Joe Borstein is the CEO of LexFusion. Also, columnist for Above the Law and Advisory Board Member for Penn Law’s Future of the Legal Profession initiative.
Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer
Evan Shenkman leads the Knowledge Management, Innovation, and Library functions at Fisher Phillips. He was an ILTACON Program Committee Team Leader, Program Committee member, and co-chaired the NYC Practice Support Lawyers network for 5 years.
Welcome to LegalTech Matters. A Litera Podcast dedicated to creating conversations about trends, technology and innovation for modern law firms and companies big and small.
Hi everybody, and welcome to the Future Law podcast. I’m your host! Joe Borstein, CEO of Lex Fusion, and certified total freak about the world of legal innovation. Together on Future Law each week we discuss the tectonic forces bubbling under the surface of the $800-billion legal industry. First, we have globalization, allowing lawyers and allied professionals all over the world to collaborate seamlessly on legal work.
Next, we have technology automating the routine legal processes of today and relentlessly crawling up the value chain. Legal regulation is currently being questioned and changed, allowing professionals outside of the bar associations to work right alongside lawyers to solve legal problems at scale, and also to enjoy some of the profits of traditional legal work.
And finally, outside investors are taking note and pouring in from Silicon Valley VCs to New York private equity funds to public stock offerings. The investors see an opportunity to make a broken legal system dramatically better future. Peter Diamandis likes to say If you want to make $1,000,000,000 figure out how to help 1,000,000,000 people.
Law affects every single solitary person on this planet. There are a lot of people to help, and there’s a lot of money to make in the process. So, whatever drives you, idealism, greed or even just excitement, we beg all lawyers and allied professionals to pay a little bit of attention to this legal innovation space. You might just find your purpose here.
So today I’m here with Evan Shenkman, chief knowledge and innovation officer at Fisher Phillips. Evan has an amazing story. You practice labor and employment law at two of the great firms, Jackson Lewis and Ogletree, where he ended up partner. We want to hear about his story and how he moved into innovation and KM. So, Evan, thank you for joining us.
Hey, my pleasure. Thanks, Joe.
So, tell us about your extremely exciting journey into the world of legal innovation and technology.
Sure. So, I started my career as an associate like a lot of other people do. I was a labor and employment associate. I then moved through the ranks and became a partner at it my second labor employment firm. As I was going through sort of my life realizing how things were shaking out while I was good at it, I became a partner, which was great. There were really certain aspects of the practice of law that I didn’t love.
I wasn’t one of those folks who after ten years said, “Man, I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life.” There were aspects of the practice that were just very confrontational. There was a lot of gamesmanship. There was a lot of negativity and battles that were really only battles for the sake of posturing and just trying to make the other side’s life miserable. And I didn’t enjoy that after a period of time.
So, what I was looking for from my career was to be doing something different, something that would help me help other people but get out from the constant fighting. Kind of like a boxer, after years and years might realize that you know what I’d rather start to help other boxers box better rather than getting punched in the head every day. And that’s sort of the realization I came to. And along that time period that now we’re talking about eleven years ago, there really started to be a movement towards KM innovation. KM specifically where law firms were starting to say, “Hey, let’s look to have a dedicated focus on doing things more efficiently, doing things better, smarter, faster.”
So, that sort of coincided with when I was coming up with my own struggles as to do I enjoy being a lawyer? Is there something better for me? And I at that time transitioned to something that really hit my sweet spots. The KM profession is really for somebody who likes aspects of the law. They like thinking like a lawyer. They like the client relationships. They like doing things well, doing things efficiently and also helping people do things better, helping people find what they need more quickly. Helping people find better technology for getting things done, helping people find a better way to collaborate and sort of making the practice of law, lower hanging fruit. Which is good for the attorneys. It’s good for our clients. So, I moved into that profession and haven’t looked back. I’ve been a KM person and an innovation person now for the better part of my career. I actually now have been on this side for longer than I was a practicing attorney, which is kind of funny to think about now.
Oh, it’s an amazing story. You know, I don’t think I’d ever heard of someone making partner moving into legal innovation before I met Hayley Altman at Litera actually. But now more and more, I’m hearing those stories. That’s really incredible. So, there’s two parts to your title, KM and Innovation. I think most attorneys and probably most of the audience are a little bit more familiar with KM. That’s a title that’s been around for a while. But Chief Innovation Officer is relatively new, and there seem to be more and more people getting that title. What does that mean for you and Fisher Phillips?
So, I’ve been at Fisher Phillips for a little over two years and for the past year and change. I’ve now been elevated to the C-suite in December of 2020. So, with that elevation to the C-suite, it was important for me. It was important for the firm to really appreciate the fact that innovation has really come front and center to what I do and what my team does. Knowledge management is still there and it’s sort of the foundation for a lot of things that we’re doing.
It’s all about sharing knowledge, finding knowledge, helping things run more efficiently. But there’s really been over the past few years an increasing percentage of my day-to-day life and my team’s day to day lives, helping attorneys do things in ways that were never done before.
A lot of times that’s with the help of technology. Technology has just skyrocketed over the past few years in terms of what it can do, how much of a dramatic change it is now from the KM technology of five years ago, six years ago. So, we thought it made sense to add that to my title because it is now a real focus of my day to day.
That’s fantastic. And one thing we talked about before the show was this absolute explosion in the number of for lack of a better word, I’m going to call them innovative legal companies. And, you know, by that, as loosely as possible, we mean technology and services companies, non-law firms, right, that are seeking to improve the practice of law in some way. Again, some are through technology, some are through better workflow. But they’re all seeking people like yourself to, you know, partner alongside them. So, I guess let me turn that rant into a question. How do you handle that absolute explosion of new ideas and turn it into actionable events for the firm?
Sure. So first of all, let me just say I love it. I love the fact that we’re now in a time period where there are so many smart people that could be, you know, doing really anything with their brains.
But they’ve decided now to start looking at the legal space and using their brains, using their technology, using their creativity to help lawyers do things better. They’ve been using that creativity to help in medicine for years, to help predict the stock market for years, to help rockets and space for years. But it really is only the past three or four years that I’ve seen this explosion of that talent, that external talent, the vendor talent pointing towards law. So, from my perspective, I love the fact that there are so many really sharp vendors out there with fantastic ideas as to how they could help lawyers do things better, help lawyers make better predictions, help lawyers do things more efficiently, help lawyers not have to spend five hours to get to a point when a robot can get them there in 15 minutes. So that’s just sort of my preface.
We live in a fantastic world. If you’re someone at a law firm, especially someone in the KM innovation space, because now we have so many opportunities to bring fantastic benefits through technology to our lawyers and to our clients. So as far as sort of weeding through them all. Sometimes it can be a challenge because there are so many different vendors out there. There are a couple of things I guess I like to do. One of the things is I love to take calls and emails from a lot of these folks, a lot of these start-ups, I’m not afraid to do so. It does take some time. There are a lot more start-ups now than there used to be in the legal tech space, but I’ll take the calls. I’ll check out their product. I’ll listen to what they have to say. I’ll see demos. I’ll chat with people because unless you do that, you’ll never know what’s out there. I’ve been blown away by some big, well-established companies and what they’re doing in the legal tech space, and I’ve been equally blown away and sometimes more blown away by some of these young upstart folks who had a brilliant idea and came up with something that, you know, I just never would’ve thought of. Their competitors never would’ve thought up. So, I don’t have a threshold, you know, you have to have been in business for five years to talk with me.
You have to have the business of a half of the AMLaw 200 before I’m going to answer your call. I want to see that you’ve worked with, you know, five of our competitors before. It makes sense for me to subscribe or sign up or listen because I don’t want to miss out on something that can really add tremendous value to the attorneys at my firm and to our clients. So, I listen. But of course, you know, trust, but verify – listen, but verify. I definitely want to hear more than just a great idea. And I want to know that they’ve taken some concrete steps towards seeing that idea come to fruition.
Doesn’t even have to be something that’s completely, completely finished. Sometimes great ideas are 80% of the way there, and they’re looking for a law firm to partner with to get it 100% of the way there. And I’ve taken those opportunities, too. We’ve partnered not just subscribe, but we’ve partnered with a lot of great vendors to try to bring a product from 70% of the way there or 80% of the way there, or sometimes 0% of the way there to somewhere where it’s a viable product that really can benefit my firm in ways that signing up for some tool that was already ready to purchase off the shelf might not have gotten us there.
I want to follow up on a few threads there because that was amazing. So, you know, as someone that’s in business development and legal tech and legal innovation for a decade, that’s obviously a breath of fresh air to take. But as I’m sure you know, and this is kind of for our audience, it is more on the legal tech side. There’s been a series of articles recently about how annoying business development people can be in the legal text space.
And the truth is, I agree with that. The other side of that coin is it takes two to tango, right? Like you talk to anyone on the legal tech side. They could have the greatest idea in the world and often cannot get a meeting with anyone in the top 50 firms. Do you have any pointers for them? How do they get that opportunity to show truly good ideas to people that would really care while simultaneously not driving everyone nuts?
It is a tough tango. It really is. You know, obviously shameless plug for you, Joe. If they can get in with a group of folks who could vouch for them or, you know, show that it’s a product that has some backing from other thought leaders in the industry. That helps. A lot of times, you know, if it’s an email and I really can’t get the feeling that it’s something that would help my firm. If I get one of my colleagues who I respect in a role such as mine, we’ll talk about it at a conference, will reach out to me and say, “Hey, I heard at the last, at the last KM group leaders meeting or whatever meeting you got together with some folks. Oh, you guys are looking into, you know, dock automation. Have you checked out this tool? It’s fantastic. Or you might want to look into this.” That happens a lot and legal in the legal tech industry, in the KM community and the internet is fantastic for sharing information about successes and folks that people should work with. So that’s a way to do it.
I tend to when I get a lot of these emails, I’ll ask for some information upfront. Sometimes I don’t have time for a phone call, but I’ll say, hey, can you shoot me an email with some info about it?
Let me know what you think you can add to my firm. Let me see some screenshots. If you have a video I want and I’ll watch that and then I’ll reach out to you, we’ll talk about it. I know that some people don’t have the time for phone calls. I would say yes, of course, all of us could get frustrated if they have seven or eight emails in rapid succession from someone who we haven’t talked to before.
But, you know, a nice LinkedIn message with a quick elevator pitch about what you do, how it could help my firm in particular. I work at a labor and employment firm. If somebody reached out to me to via LinkedIn and talks about how they can help with due diligence reviews for commercial transactions, I’m not going to respond to that one, most likely because they didn’t realize who I am, what my firm does and so on. So, for the vendors out there, if they can target it in a way that resonates with me, if they know hey, in the labor and employment space, this could really help you because we’ve come up with software that can analyze X, Y and Z and let you do this from it. I’ll answer that call every time.
Yeah. Now that’s. That’s great advice. So, you said something on the last question that you actually have worked in the past with companies to get them from 70% all the way across the line and even earlier than that. You actually wrote an article recently about how you like being an early adopter and that the ability to kind of steer products and steer things. Tell the audience a little bit about what makes that exciting and beneficial to the firm.
Sure. Yeah, I love it. I love being an early adopter of products that haven’t necessarily gotten full scale penetration into the legal market. From my perspective, when you’re an early adopter, there are a couple of benefits. One of which is we got to really help them develop the tool in a way that makes sense for our firm. If you’re an early adopter and you reach out to a tool and say, hey, I love what you’re doing, but the way you have your table set up, it doesn’t work for lawyers because their general workflow is to look left to right up, to do whatever. Whatever the issue is, I’m just throwing them out there. But lawyers like to see the cases on the left and then filter by the circuit, and they like to be able to filter by the judge, but also be able to determine whether it’s a class action or not by clicking a radio button. And that’s a great idea. We’re gonna build that right? So, we’re able to really make some positive adjustments to what a product already is in a way that will help my attorneys find an answer more quickly or use the product more. If we buy a tool and our attorneys don’t use it, it was a waste. So, if it’s an early adopter type of product, we often can ensure that they listen to us. Early adopters love having their first couple of big clients, so they do whatever they can to make it an optimal relationship.
That includes often making the tool, tweaking the tool in ways that work for us because they like it too. They like the free R&D of our feedback because they’re not that established, so it’s working for something a particular way. That’s good information for them to know. You also tend to get good pricing if you’re an early adopter, if they want to have those first couple of clients to vouch for them. So, you tend to get some good pricing and that will sort of carry through. You tend to, you know, make a lifelong friend with some of these people. I have terrific relationships with some of these companies that I’ve worked with forever. I could talk about that in a bit, and I think I mentioned in that article that I was an early adopter of CaseText and through that relationship. It’s just been a really great opportunity to work with them on other things that they’ve rolled out. I’ve had great opportunities, speaking engagements, both them speaking with my attorneys, with me speaking with them, to the general public.
You know, they’ll connect me to other people that have tools that complement their tool in a way that makes sense. Working with folks, giving them essentially their big break, hey, they now have an opportunity to work with a big firm. That relationship really is richer because of it, and it’s one of those things you don’t think about. But it really does help advance the ball for your firm, and it helps advance the personal brand of a KM innovation person who is willing to take a chance on a product that becomes wildly successful. It’s nice to be working with them for a long time.
Yeah, it’s incredible to be part of the story as it really is. So, I mean, I feel like you’ve begun to answer this question already. But what are you most excited about? That’s new or relatively new this year that people could take a look at.
Yeah, I think there have been some dramatic advancements in natural language processing, machine learning, natural language processing, especially, I think it is just going to be taken over things. I think it’s going to be huge with legal research – legal research where you could find things based upon concepts and you could find things based on the context rather than just keywords, I think that’s huge. And I’ve been especially impressed, you know, partially because of that. They’re coming out with something, or they came out with something called parallel search, what I think was terrific. And it actually helps you essentially find similar concepts in cases and opinions that don’t necessarily have the same keywords, but they’re conceptually similar. So, if you’re trying to find some sort of a case out there where someone was talking about somebody wearing a sweater and harassed them because their sweater, it might find people who are annoying somebody because of a cardigan they were wearing.
And so, it knows what you’re talking about. That’s just a silly example. But you know, if you are trying to find cases where somebody was nervous or uncomfortable, it’ll find cases where somebody said they felt squeamish, and it just got an icky feeling about X, Y and Z.
And that’s just taking you so much further along in legal research when it finds legal concepts and just figure of speech concepts in a way that for my eyes is just really advancing how we’re going to go about searching and actually we just came out with something called WiSearch where you could now create an artificial neural network on your own, not just relying upon case law, but you can throw your own documents into Wisearch. And then, you know, whether it’s documents having to do with a particular case or documents having to do with a database of forms or a database of agreements or whatever. Then conceptually search within your own documents and things like that, I think are really exciting. I think using natural language processing for research and for actual case specific analysis and dock review is probably the next place where legal tech is going. They’re just the first to do what I’m sure others might come along as well. But it’s just super exciting times.
Yeah, that is incredibly exciting stuff.
And I’ll also quickly point out that that same technology, you know, it’s not just used in a vacuum, right? I see that same technology being used to help data analytics projects move on, right? Because data analytics projects with unstructured data, there’s a large component that is reliant upon finding similar data points throughout a huge, unstructured dataset. And if you’re relying upon keywords which a lot of these data analytics tools are doing, it’s only going to get you so far to finding all the data points that you need. But if you can build on top of that layer on top of that, the natural language processing, artificial neural network type, conceptual, contextual search, and it’s going to make the data analytics projects we’re all working on all the better. So, technology is just fantastic. And again, in the past two or three years, this stuff has just gone from zero to, you know, blowing your mind. I can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
Then and then you can stack, you know, technologies on top of each other like, you know, parallel search on top of things like predictive coding to help find more documents that fulfil a certain issue and then utilize both at once. Then you can really come up with some things that would be truly incredible.
And that’s exciting stuff.
Yeah, it really is. So, this is awesome. You know, I still think that a lot of people struggle with innovation within a law firm context, like, could you give the audience a clean example of an innovation project just working for the firm and just doing good for the market, good for the firm.
Yes, so I guess a good one. If we go back now about a year, but it’s had legs up until today and hopefully beyond. Once the COVID 19 pandemic hit. One of the things that we realized, we’re the labor and employment firms. Our clients are employers. Our prospects are employers. We realized pretty early on in the pandemic that employers were nervous about and wanted to know about what lawsuits were being filed that were COVID 19 related.
So, what types of lawsuits, where the lawsuits were coming? Who, what? What types of industries were being hit by these lawsuits? What size employers were being hit by these lawsuits, how the lawsuits were resolving and so on. So, what we did was we rolled out a COVID 19 employment litigation tracker and we were the first firm to really focus on employment litigation and in a data analytics tracker and put it on their website. We did it hoping that it would help. We did it, hoping that employers would find value and it would help them sort of confidently bring folks back to work knowing what areas got to worry about and what areas they need to resolve to stay out of court because our goal is to keep employers out of court. Mm-Hmm. And we also hoped it would, it would show employers and prospects that we know this area of the law.
We care about helping employers and we’re the subject matter experts on this area of the law. So, we built a litigation tracker and we put it on our website. Took us about a week to do it using some search terms for some of the tools that we have that lets us know what cases are filed and use Power BI to put it on a heat map and put it on our website. Very quickly we realized that we were really onto something, and it blew our minds that the level of success that that tracker was able to achieve.
It immediately went to number one on Google for COVID 19 Employment litigation brought so many folks to our website it started to be relied upon by some, some universities reached out to us and say we’re showing our students how data can be used to help in the workforce.
It was something where we were receiving messages from nonprofits, saying Thank you so much for putting this content on your website. It’s helping us bring people back to work. Your KM resources are really helping us. We still now are about a year and change later, and we’ve been iterating this over the past year, adding more content and so on. And we’re still the top of Google for employment litigation, COVID 19 employment litigation. We were in Forbes, we were in CNN, we were in Law.com, and I couldn’t believe you know how exciting that was for KM innovation people, right?
We did this to try to help folks and to try to let the world realize that our firm was there to provide guidance during a tough time. But just knowing that a KM and innovation project like this can have that much of an impact on the success of a firm in terms of getting its message out was terrific. Our KM and innovation team was just thrilled to see, you know, how helpful it was to the general public and how helpful just to our firm.
That’s such an amazing story, and we’re running a little bit out of time, but I want to stay on that for one more minute because it seems to me from that quick version of the story that the innovation came from bringing tools, process, and legal expertise together. You mentioned Power BI, I know what that is. I’m sure a lot of people do, but also a lot of people don’t. That is now something that comes with the Microsoft Suite. And it’s something that’s incredibly powerful. Am I right in my thinking that that really the ingenuity was in putting the things together? This was not like a high-tech process.
Yeah, that’s exactly right. We tried to do, with this litigation tracker. We wanted to roll it out quickly. We wanted to not have to go and spend weeks and tons of money to develop it. This is something that, you know, we were able to essentially MacGyver together within a short period of time without spending anything with tools we already had, right? We already had Power BI. We didn’t have to go out and pay for them – one of the expensive data analytics and data visualization tools, you need a really good team. We have a terrific team, our KM innovation team, our data, folks.
All right, folks, they’re all brilliant and creative. So, without having people who know how to use those tools, then you may have to struggle a little bit to learn it on your own or go outside for some help.
But yeah, this is something where we combined really smart creative ideas with attorneys who are able to help evaluate case types and get to the heart of where the cases were coming from and how we should include it, how we should categorize it with some terrific data folks at our firm who know how to use those tools with great focus on our library, who could help quickly figure out the industries. We used APIs for these projects to try to manage to take some of those manual aspects of it out and essentially click a button to update these things automatically.
So, all of these things really helped make a project which could have been very time consuming and very difficult, something that was relatively painless to roll out. Some projects take three or four years and then you get some good ROI on them. With this one, essentially in a week, we were able to do something that turned out really special. And that in of itself, I think, is the beauty of innovation. Sometimes it’s not something that costs a ton of money, take a ton of months, you’ll do a POC, you’ll do a pilot group, you’ll go and you’ll whatever. Sometimes you can get really big value to your firm and to, you know, to the world, to your clients, to everyone in a modest, very modest amount of time, very modest amount of resources. And hey, if you can get one of those each year, you know, life is good.
Yeah, exactly. Well, Evan, this was fantastic. Great story from, you know, becoming a partner in one of the world’s great firms to moving into to KM and Chief Innovation Officer at another one of the world’s great employment law firms. So, this was fascinating. Love to hear about the wins and we’d love to have you back on.
Hey, my pleasure. Thanks so much and always having a chat with Jeff. Thanks, Ivan.
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