Joe Borstein, LexFusion CEO and LEGALTECH MATTERS host talks with Joe Green about his journey from lawyer to legal tech startup expert to Chief Innovation Officer at Gunderson Dettmer. He discusses his vision of how technology can make clients and the people who deliver legal services happier by focusing on, among other things, improving interoperability, creating an ecosystem of tech providers, and using AI to automate output currently handled by lawyers. Read transcript
Joe Green sees legal tech innovation clearly making a differenceOn Fri 10 Mar 2023
Meet Our Host and Guest
CEO of LexFusion
Joe Borstein is the CEO of LexFusion. Also a columnist for Above the Law and an Advisory Board Member for Penn Law’s Future of the Legal Profession initiative.
Chief Innovation Officer at Gunderson Dettmer
Joe is a startup lawyer and law firm executive. He writes, teaches, and speaks about startup law, the business of law, legal technology, and the industry’s future.
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.
00:00:13:15 - 00:00:38:20
Hi, everybody. My name is Joe Borstein. I'm the CEO of LexFusion and certified total freak about legal innovation today. And I'm here with Joe Green, chief innovation officer at Gunderson. Hey, Joe. Hey, Joe. Good to see you. Good to see you, too.
Before we jump ahead to the interview, I want to set the scene a little bit and remind everybody about the macro forces which are changing the legal market fundamentally and making today's talk really exciting.
So the way we see it, four tectonic inter-related forces have bubbling under the surface of the $800 billion legal age. First, globalization today is a lot of lawyers and allied professionals across the globe to collaborate seamlessly on legal work. Second, the money. You have outside investors pouring in from Silicon Valley VCs to New York private equity firms. They even public stock offers.
These investors see an opportunity to make pretty broken legal system dramatically better and make a little money in the process. Third, legal regulation is being questioned and changed, allowing professionals outside of the bar associations to work for lawyers and solve problems at scale and enjoy some of the profits of traditional legal work. Imagine with the full weight of the US capital, this juggernaut sees that it can participate in this economy.
Last but certainly not least, technology is automated routine legal processes of today and crawling of the value chain. As of the time this recording goes live, I think many would argue that we are close to the break of artificial general intelligence by a neural nets and large language models. But I think everyone's predicting a large impact on the legal industry in particular.
This is a massively underserved market with a lot of people who are priced out, a lot of people that aren't getting access. So hopefully with these forces, we could all do a little bit of good. So, what let me roll to Joe Green. Joe, tell us a little bit about your background and how you ended up as the chief innovation officer at Gunderson, which is really the go to law firm for high tech start-ups and B seats.
00:02:14:10 - 00:02:34:03
Thanks again, Joe, for having me today. It's been a journey like I started out of law school as a practicing lawyer. I was a corporate lawyer first at Simpson Thatcher in New York, and then when I was about a third or fourth year associate, I lateral to Gunderson Dettmer's New York office because I want to work in the startup space and wanted to work with startups and VCs investing in those startups.
And that was a really cool time to be coming into the New York startup ecosystem, in particular a lateral to Gunderson Dettmer in 2011. And the New York tech scene was really just starting to explode at that time. And as a result, Gunderson's New York office really kind of exploded along with it. So I got a lot of really great experience working with tech startups at all different stages from formation, all the way through to exits, M&A, IPO, as well as working with investors who are investing in those companies here and around the world.
I did a lot of work in Latin America, Brazil in particular with RBC clients investing in Brazilian startups and representing startups in Brazil too. Then my career took, you know, I won't say a detour, it's actually it's the reason that I ended up where I am. But I joined Thomson Reuters- their Practical Law Business as a subject matter expert in startup law.
I was really just there to write about how to be a startup lawyer for Practical Law, which is a fabulous product. And then I really sort of fell into the into the world of legal tech. And I always had an interest in technology. That's why that one of the things that attracted me to working with startups and working in the tax space, but legal technology in particular, being in a place like Thomson Reuters, I really got kind of a bird's eye view of the industry, what was going on, things that were happening in the business of law.
I started writing about it, I started speaking about it, I started building products, working on product at Thomson Reuters as well. And that's ultimately what led me back to Gundersen, where I still had many friends and saw a great opportunity to take a firm with, you know, a really market leading position and, you know, in a fast growing area and try to build the law firm of the future.
Think about what that looks like for a very tech savvy clientele who are constantly looking at ways of disrupting every industry that they look at. So it's been a really fun and almost, I guess, over three years now. I rejoined just before the pandemic and was recently promoted to Chief Innovation Officer, which is the first time Gunderson's had someone in this role.
00:04:31:07 - 00:04:47:11
Yeah, so I did think that to that in a couple of different ways. First of all, if you don't mind me asking you - what year did you go to law school?
Well, if you don't mind me saying you're pretty young to be a C-level. And Chief innovation officer you are at and a global brand.Hey, do you think about that? So is everything about the way the firm views the future of law and how important it is?
00:04:55:15 - 00:05:24:24
You know, I think every firm that's investing and having someone full time in this role and building out an actual function underneath them is really thinking about, you know, where the industry is headed and what firms will need to be able to do in order to compete in the future. You know, many of the things that, you know, I think people maybe thought of for a long time as nice to haves are, you know, things that will get around to it or will move kind of incrementally or, you know, quickly becoming table stakes and the pace of growth is exponential, you know, and the expectations in the space, I think, are going to grow exponentially. So, you know, I think it's certainly a vote of confidence. Jill's great to, you know, feel like the firm is now behind the work that we're doing. But there's a huge team that I work with that we've built over the last three years that are focusing on how we could do everything that we do better and helping to enable all of our lawyers and everyone who works at the firm to provide the very best services we can to clients.
00:05:45:07 - 00:06:04:04
That's great. So for the lawyers out there, I think the last ten years, at least from the LexFusion point of view and the Joe Borstein point of view, there's a lot of need for education about the world of legal tech and legal innovation from the vendor point of view that there are businesses out there in practical law, obviously, Litera.
This podcast, large, often multibillion dollar businesses that are frankly saved and ways to make a really nice living. But now there is this proliferation, I think of roles either within law firms, roles like Chief Innovation Officer that are necessarily practicing law, but who work extremely closely with practicing lawyers and also, you know, help bring the legal industry to a new place.
Now, I think for a lot of our listeners, they would like to understand a little bit more what is involved with being chief innovation officer. You know, what are you trying to achieve in that role?
00:06:40:05 - 00:06:57:20
Yeah. So when I came back to the firm, I kind of tried to stake out a vision with, you know, the rest of the folks that was working on these innovation and initiatives and, you know, a group of our partners who have really supported this work and who are, you know, really focused on what this firm looks like, you know, for the future of their careers.
You know, some of the more junior partners and what it looks like for each firm. You know, you find each firm kind of in whatever place that they're at. You know, they have certain tech debt that they may have to figure out how they're going to overcome. And, you know, kind of what the priorities are. There isn't really a one size fits all for what this you know, what this job looks like.
You know, different firms have different cultures and different limitations in that we represented a client base who is very pro technology and pro, you know, kind of encouraging us to, you know, to kind of try new things. And so that gives us, you know, a bit of a free hand. But from my perspective, you know, coming into this, there was a lot of kind of open waters in terms of, you know, areas that the firm hadn't really, you know, invested in certain kind of pieces of the technology stack, returning to different pieces of the workflow or kind of client facing technologies.
And so kind of took a look at all of that and started mapping out plan for how we were going to approach building out all of those different pieces of the stack while at the same time bringing everyone along with it and kind of keeping everybody focused on what the longer term vision of how this technology was not only going to make our clients happier with us and happy with the services that they're receiving, but also making the people who are delivering the services happier, doing it and making their lives easier.
And so there there's a combination of small wins, things that we knew that, you know, we could kind of roll out and that would be pretty easy for people to adopt and get started with. And then a lot more kind of long term infrastructure building to set the stage for some of the more interesting and sophisticated things that, you know, that we knew we would want to do in the future.
00:08:29:10 - 00:08:48:19
So, let's zoom in about a little bit. When I started in the legal innovation world, I did a column for Above the Law, and it was hard to even find new companies and new solutions to write it about. Fast forward today, by our best estimate, there's somewhere around 6000 companies that would categorize themselves as in some way legal innovation.
Most of those are tech. Some of them are kind of creative services play. But I think a huge problem for someone to be in your see has got to be interoperable. There are a lot of point solutions and most of those point solutions are solve the real problems. But how do we make them work together? How do we how do we make them a little bit more like the consumer technology all lawyers are used to like, know like their iPhone?
00:09:10:15 - 00:09:24:15
Yeah, I mean, it's been a major story line through the last, you know, how many years, you know, we've been we've been in this space where for a while it seemed like, you know, lawyers are just looking for, you know, here's a solution that solves this problem. Here's solution to solve this problem. There weren't that many of them.
And then those started proliferating like crazy. Can you forget which solutions you even have because it's too many to keep track of? So now a lot of the you know, the bigger players in the space are trying to kind of consolidate those into platforms. But, you know, large law firms that their technology stocks are complex. Right. And so, you know, no platform is going to do everything that a firm needs for every practice group, for every geography.
Right. You know that. And that's where this kind of question about integration, you know, really comes to the fore. And for my part, the thing that we found that is, you know, the major thing that holds back interoperability is a lack of standardized, structured data. Every system has its own way of organizing data, and that just makes it really hard to build the pieces in between to make it a really streamlined process.
So I think having these data standards and as much as possible, making them kind of open source industry wide data standards is sort of a free requisite in many cases to have in the kind of interoperability that I think people in my kind of role dream about.
00:10:22:22 - 00:10:42:00
So from a non-data nerds out there that don't know why hitting on the data nerds would be listening to this. But if they are give us a few examples of the types of data that you want to work across, you know, different tools and different practice groups and, and then I would love an actual example or two of what you're actually doing at Gundersen to drive that interoperability.
00:10:42:12 - 00:11:18:12
Yeah, totally. So, I mean, you know, for example, there's a group called Sally – SALLY, that have been working for a number of years on up on an ontology, kind of a whole bunch of categories of legal work trying to map all the different types of legal work that there is out there using a standard classification. And that not only can help firms internally better manage their business, but also any vendors that are looking for a kind of common, a lingua franca, you know, a common way of referring to those things that everyone can kind of buy into who is touching that the kind of information that relates to different types of legal work.
It just makes it, again, you know, very complex things, creates an ecosystem of technology providers and data providers who can all plug in to the same thing, knowing that it's going to be structured in the same way. And that really just opens up a ton of possibilities. One similar kind of initiative that we've been very involved with at Gundersen is the Open CapTable Coalition.
So, we work with startups and metric capitalists. You know, one of the most important things in the startup space is the capitalization table, which is what keeps track of who owns the startup nicely or cares who owns the founders care. The investor, whoever is going to buy them cares where they're supposed to be a very, very important thing that's maintained.
You know, used to be maintained just on Excel nowadays are maintained on a variety of different technology platforms, you know, using software to help with that. But there are a whole bunch of different users, whether it's lawyers or different providers of different services or products to or to tech startups that rely on capitalization. They then need it.
But getting it from one system to another can be very messy because they all are structuring it in different ways. So, we come together with most of the other major law firms and in the start startup venture capital law space, the firms that we're opposite all the time are competitors as well as big banks. The software vendors add on a whole host of other ecosystem players who need this data or have potential use cases for this to develop an open source data standard that will allow you to define in a structured way that technology can understand and that software can ingest and deal with what is a cap table.
One of the all the different information that you need in order to have.
00:12:57:20 - 00:13:11:07
A right to execute it. It seems to me like that, you know, that simply creates liquidity in a market, but it will give you standards that everybody understands in less friction transaction costs. He's shocked me crazy.
00:13:11:12 - 00:13:37:12
Those yeah and I mean really we're just looking to what's happened in the technology space, right. I mean so much of the explosion over the last decade, decade and a half of how much the cost of creating new tools, new software, new businesses, the cost of creating those has fallen so much, in part because you have open source software that lets you get started with standard frameworks and ways of doing things that you don't have to start from scratch on everything.
So just, you know, helps you get to value so much faster and so I think we're trying to take a page out of that book and start to ask.
00:13:44:10 - 00:14:08:16
Anything else you want to jump into about the kind of the work you're doing internally at Gunderson Before I unleash the 800lb gorilla in the room of large models, bring up bring on the gorilla room at Gorilla. And I want to get said in the intro because we have to because it February 28, 2023. It is the law of the land that you must talk about lawyers I would models and truthfully it is very interesting.
I think we've all been blown away by this wave of generative AI, whether it be in art and creating sound. And now, now with language. Does Gunderson have any particular view on that? I'm curious covers his view from the point of view of being a law firm and now by the impact, the practice of law, but also as an organization that deals with some of the most high tech companies in the world.
I'm curious about the point of view of your clients and how they're looking at the next couple of years.
00:14:36:12 - 00:15:00:18
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we serve the innovation economy, so this is certainly a topic that we run into quite a lot as well. So part of our business and have been thinking about it as well and how we leverage it, you know, as a business ourselves, I've had a whole bunch of conversations with different VCs who are spending quite a lot of time looking at new AI companies that are looking at ways to leverage generative AI and other these types of models, algorithms.
And, you know, I don't think that's new per se. You know, this has been a category that's received a lot of investment for quite a few years. But I think we're just seeing some step changes in interest and kind of as the general interest really increases and the use cases start to proliferate, there's going to be just a whole host of different kinds of business models and ways of leveraging that technology that I think a lot of these VCs are very rightfully excited about.
00:15:25:11 - 00:15:45:21
So that's kind of the external view. What about the internal view in terms of the practice of law? You can't go on Twitter without seeing people either saying, Oh, this thing is too stupid, you can't let it do anything, or make what I think is a more robust argument that things like chat GBT are v1 with known flaws and that, you know, this is what av1 could do.
The subsequent versions should really have an impact on the way we process operation. That was a word solid. So let me form that to a question. Where do you fall in the spectrum of cab? Do we bloom or it said for how it's going to affect the practice of law specific.
00:16:01:14 - 00:16:28:18
I'm definitely long term camp excitement with short term, maybe camp realism. So first of all, you know, it's undeniably cool and undeniably powerful what you can do with ChatGPT. And it has flaws that people are very especially with the interest and usage, are very quickly discovering. You know, the main thing that I when I talk to people internally or externally about generative AI and AI more generally, that was word salad that.
00:16:28:18 - 00:16:29:16
Was good is.
00:16:29:16 - 00:16:48:15
That this is not new in legal right. I mean, using AI and legal is actually decades old, right? I mean, legal search algorithms have been using AI for decades. The e-discovery space, as I know, you know, using AI for a very long time, using in it due diligence in transactional deals is more than a decade old at this point.
And so there's quite a lot of kind of muscle memory, I guess, and proven use cases for AI and legal generative AI is obviously kind of the newest thing. We've also been looking at large language models from kind of an extractive point of view. So being able to use large language models as a way to extract data, structure data from documents, also a very excited use case that isn’t, you know, obviously getting nearly as much popular attention.
But when we talk about the generative models, you know, I think that right now they are kind of immediately useful for subject matter experts. If you know the answer to the question that you're asking it or the thing that you're asking it to do, and you can spot the areas where it's wrong, it's potentially an incredible timesaver. It can produce a whole bunch of work that maybe in the past you would have relied on a junior associate or a paralegal or, you know, something else to do to give someone who senior really knows things a very quick head start.
But this is where the drawbacks come into play. It's not always right. And it's it doesn't know whether it's right or wrong. And it's and it's also quite confident and it's answers. So, you know, kind of the uninformed, you know, whether it's a junior lawyer who doesn't quite know what the answer to what they're looking for or can't spot the mistakes or clients or someone who is trying to use it to get legal advice potentially in a place where they get just terribly, terribly wrong information.
90% of it's perfect and then 10% of it's just wildly wrong. But you can't tell that unless you know the answer.
00:18:16:11 - 00:18:31:12
And if you haven’t and read the New York Times article from the weekend, from last week. I had also some grounds tells you about soup over and over, which I didn't know I was lucky to breach it through in order. Might be really nice to be told, you know, someone cares that way, but it's like, Oh.
00:18:31:20 - 00:18:32:11
00:18:32:16 - 00:18:50:23
So obviously, you know, as these generative systems become more and more powerful, I can't help but think how it impacts things like track, right? Yes, This is something we've been dealing with for a long time to some degree. But I would argue at least that the cycles are about to get much faster. And we're going to have to get used to rapid change.
And I’m, curious your thoughts. And obviously it's early days, so a fair answer, but we're having a thought about it enough. But how do you think this affects motor training both at the law school level up of offer?
00:19:01:20 - 00:19:30:02
Yeah, well, I think about it all the time and I've been thinking about it for a long time, so I have plenty of thoughts on the subject. Actually, a colleague of mine share an anecdote the other day that I think it's useful here. So before there was redlining software attorneys, junior attorneys would have to literally take a previous version of an agreement and the new version of the agreements and take a red pencil and draw lines and mark up what the changes were between those two things.
And senior attorney thought, that's a fabulous learning exercise. Really see how things are changing and writing it down probably gets it into their muscle memory. They're like taking notes, gets you to remember things better. There probably was something to that. No lawyer today is going to sit down and do a by hand redline of a 180-page merger agreement.
Right. And there's a whole host of things that lawyers still do that are necessary work that has to happen in order for litigation to go forward. In order for a transaction to close, somebody has to do it, and it often falls to the lawyer. But it's not something that the lawyer went to law school because they wanted to do it.
It's not enjoyable work. And, you know, I think that the reality is, is that clients don't want to pay for that kind of work. They want to pay lawyers rates to do that kind of work anymore. And the technology is getting to a place, you know, whether it's LMNs or just basic automation type software, they're not going to have to because that's not going to be something that human beings do anymore.
Yeah, And that I think really does fundamentally lead us to a place where we have to think about how we get senior experienced, trusted advisers, partner caliber lawyers going through a way of becoming a lawyer that's fundamentally different than the people who are currently in those roles. And I think a lot of really kind of thoughtfulness and intentionality has to go into designing that process, whether it's shadowing those senior lawyers for the things that are really the high value things.
How do you learn the judgment? How do you learn how to communicate these things to a client? Those are the things the clients value and the clients are actually happy to pay for. Yeah. So why not focus more on that than on kind of the scout work, frankly, that yeah, sure, you can do 10,000 of those and you'll be really good at it.
Maybe some, some sort of knowledge will have seeped in there as well, but I don't know that that was ever the most efficient method for turning out good lawyers.
00:21:20:22 - 00:21:43:17
So, we agree that we are certainly entering a world. I think it's become obvious that at least some of the assets formerly handled by lawyers will be able to be automated and needed generated out through. I give me a couple examples of things that you are genuinely excited that lawyers will never have to do.
00:21:43:17 - 00:22:15:24
Many of them don't require the generative. I mean, you know, one example is that I used to have to do by hand was making signature page packets for closing transactions there. There’s fortunately now is some very good software including some that Litera makes that a whole lot easier. And I think that those types of things clearly are low hanging fruit that no attorney wants to be spending time on Paralegals want to be spending time on it either there are high value things that that everyone can be doing in terms of the things that the generative AI might be useful for.
Another colleague of mine actually recently said something along the lines of, boy, you know, wouldn't it be cool if one of these algorithms kind of had all the emails that we've sent over the years explaining things to clients as a knowledge base and then knew my style of writing things and I could say, Hey, write a reply to this email in the style of me something that sounds like I would say to a client that create the first draft of the kind of wing on the comprehensive knowledge of the firm.
00:22:43:10 - 00:22:44:01
00:22:44:07 - 00:22:52:13
Actually, kind of a way to get something started and obviously it needs to be tailored and obviously, you know, the human being needs to be in the loop, but that's a really exciting prospect.
00:22:52:13 - 00:23:10:04
Yeah, no, I totally agree with you. I think I call that the blank page problem. So much of this one, especially in the early years of practice, is the anxiety of staring at blank page and not knowing when to start. I think a lot of lawyers are fabulous editors and maybe not the world's greatest. Aside from my great work.
00:23:10:05 - 00:23:13:20
For lawyers in particular, we do anything not to start with a blank page.
00:23:15:16 - 00:23:20:04
I know this is fantastic. I mean, anything else you want to leave our audience with?
00:23:20:13 - 00:23:35:04
It's a brave new world out there, but I think it's going to actually lead to a place where maybe it's a whole lot more enjoyable and rewarding to practice law and legal practice starts what? Be a lot more like what we thought it was in law school. That must like the reality that many lawyers become accustomed to.
00:23:35:10 - 00:23:52:04
And if people are practicing law now and they're interested in coming into their firms or another firms, innovation folks maybe, maybe someday be chief Innovation officer, what kind of things should they should they keep their eyes on? What should they do to prepare themselves for a career?
00:23:52:04 - 00:23:55:17
Well, I mean, first I just have to say jump right in, The water's warm. This is a growth industry here. But I think anyone in a law firm and it doesn't have to be just lawyers, anyone in a law firm can start building the muscles, kind of finding a way to get into innovation and what the firm is doing in innovation just by looking for the things that cause them pain, the things that they think could be a little bit better, and then saying something or better yet, trying to do something, trying to find a way to solve the problem and involving the people who are working on that for the firm.
Because, you know, if you go off and solve it in a kind of a way that only works for you, as opposed to working with the people who are trying to solve things at scale across your whole organization, it's less valuable. Lots of people come up with little hacks that make their lives easier on a daily basis and they're silent about it.
And it's a huge missed opportunity. We've hired people into our organization who just were a paralegal or an attorney who just kept saying, Hey, I think I came up with a better way to do this. I think I came up with a better way to do that, because the other way it's not so great.
00:24:52:18 - 00:25:05:10
I think a lot of the paralegals add a little bit more to your associates, mid-level associates don't realize how much hunger there is for innovative new ideas that they're often they're coming up with. Then they're down just kind of keeping to themselves.
00:25:05:10 - 00:25:06:05
00:25:06:05 - 00:25:23:06
Joe Green, Chief Innovation Officer Gunderson, thank you so much. Is a fantastic conversation at a really exciting time. I think in our industry. I’m Joe Borstein CEO LexFusion. Thank you to the next time and thank you Litera as always for hosting - thanks.
00:25:23:17 - 00:25:29:09
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