Reinventing legal: moving from a task-based to a business-minded focus
Ari Kaplan discusses how legal issues associated with the cloud have evolved with technology law attorney, Bert Kaminski: the value of law firm practice experience, the mission of the Quantum Strategy Institute, the value of certifications, skills that enhance competitiveness, and the changing dynamics of legal education.
MEET OUR GUEST
Bert Kaminski is a seasoned technology law attorney, serving as a senior advisor to all levels of business and executive management on a broad range of technology related legal issues, including Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, artificial intelligence, data science and machine learning.
Attorney and Legal Industry Analyst
Ari Kaplan is an attorney, author, and leading legal industry analyst. As the host of his own long-running Reinventing Professionals podcast, he has interviewed hundreds of leaders in the legal profession since 2009.
Director, Legal - Google Cloud
Bert Kaminski has served as an in-house attorney to various technology businesses – Google, Oracle, GE Digital, and ServiceMax, Inc.
Welcome to Reinventing Legal. I’m Ari Kaplan, and I have the privilege today of speaking with Bert Kaminski, a director of legal for Google Cloud and a member of the board of directors for the Quantum Strategy Institute. Hi, Bert. How are you?
I’m great. Thank you, Ari for having me here.
Oh, it’s my privilege. I’m looking forward to this conversation. Tell us about your background and your work with Google.
I am a technology lawyer. I’ve been working in-house for about 20 years. Maybe it’s 21 years at this point. Prior to that, I was in private practice. I’ve always worked in the New York area even when most of my companies have been based out in California. So I’ve been at Google for about 18 months and I have to say that I’ve seen the Google offices in California and in New York. They’re fabulous offices. I’ve seen them for exactly two weeks before the world shutdown in March of last year and basically have been remote ever since. But it is a great position and I enjoy being here.
You worked with a large law firm for several years before moving in-house where you’ve spent most of your career. What type of experience do you gain with a firm that serves you best in-house?
Having law firm experience is pretty valuable to being an in-house counsel in any practice area that you might be. Now, it’s not essential. I have some people on my particular team who have not been in law firms. They’ve been in government practice for example. I know some others who have gone directly into in-house, but I find that for myself over the years. I have hired many people from different cross-sectional experiences and practice areas of law firms.
What I like about the law firm practice is that it introduces a very client-centric mentality by working on projects and billable hours. It forces one to use time very efficiently. One becomes very cognizant about how much time one expends on work. And one is incentivized to do that with the maximum efficiency in mind. And it does encourage a culture of meeting deadlines and intellectual rigor.
I happen to have been the litigator. So when I came out of law school, I was looking for a corporate background. I graduated in a year that corporate hiring wasn’t that much. I did an MBA along with my law degree. So I ended up going to litigation and I learned a lot of great skills. I’ve hired a lot of litigators over the years, even in-house in the legal tech positions.
I like the advocacy, and writing skills, the issue spotting, the ability to be nimble and identify issues very quickly and become quick studies on different topical areas.
You mentioned adding talent to your team. What type of technological competency are you most interested in?
I am interested in attorneys who have a business mindset. I want people who are very client-focused and have a technology-focused mind of operating nimbly in a rapidly changing industry. I’m a little less concerned if they are not coders or they haven’t actually worked in the technology industry in the past. So I’ve had people on my team who certainly have been physics majors and the like, but others who have experience or majors in music and philosophy and government sector, and just a whole cross section. I find for my team and for any successful team, you want to be able to have the team of many different talents, many different experiences, a diversity of sort of cognitive diversity, and that creates a much better success and creativity. So I don’t really put any preconditions on any technology or technological expertise in what we do.
You’ve been addressing legal issues related to the cloud for two decades long before it was common. How have the legal challenges evolved?
The legal challenges have evolved dramatically as the industry has evolved. When I started off in this industry, Ari over 20 years ago, mostly high-technology was done through software licensing that you would get a stack of CD ROMs and that you would install that into an IT system that you as a company would operate. And over the years, the entire tech and business environment has changed that companies have moved to early on to an outsourcing model. You’d hire third parties to come in and maintain and operate IT systems or data centers.
Then that sort of changed even further where you would hire them not to operate the entire technology stack, but the applications you use, application service providers. That evolved further into more like online programs. And that became a bit, in other words like on demand and things of that sort. And that morphed into cloud.
Now, as cloud computing became more prevalent that it shifted a lot of the architectural aspects of technology. And that changed aspects of who controls the operation? Who is responsible for outcomes? How does one manage regulatory compliance? How do you manage performance and even sort of the operating costs and things of that sort? That’s all led into changing legal requirements?
Now, the nature of your operations have changed, which implicate legal issues, but also the legal environment has changed. So over the years as we moved from on-premise traditional computing to cloud computing and now to artificial intelligence and into the future with quantum computing.
Security issues have become insider threats, external hackers, illegally issues involving availability, service levels, privacy, regulation. There are many regulations on the privacy and security side involving reach notification. The GDPR in Europe came up. New York state regulations and New York DFS regulations involving cyber security.
HIPAA, the healthcare privacy law evolved over these years. So you’ve got all of those changes in the regulatory realm. Plus all the changes in the technology realm, which have really shuffled a lot of the… And changed the landscape of legal issues and made them much more complex, Ari. It was a simpler world. We didn’t realize it back then at the time, but the world has become so much more complicated, including in the regulatory environment and to operate in the technology space since.
What changes have law departments and companies needed to make to address these developments?
Companies have been hiring specialists in many areas, new areas, such as a privacy compliance, a compliance groups have become a lot larger and more specialized, but companies have also been including hardening their security profiles. So one can’t operate in the technology space and just do this by having good lawyers.
The company has to invest in proper three dimensional, multi-dimension defense in depth of your security footprint. So you have to have all the right firewalls, all the right subcontractors that you can audit and keep control over. You have to have disaster recovery, encryption and the like. So companies have been moving toward a much hardened and auditable cyber security footprint. And meanwhile, from a legal perspective, we’ve also been shifting our views in terms of how to deal with our customers and have been re-inventing our contracts to make these contracts much more responsive to the needs of the industry, reflecting all these changes.
How can in-house lawyers best maintain pace with all of the different regulations, the shift in the laws, the developments in technology to stay ahead in terms of their work?
An attorney has to take a position of lifelong learning. By the way, law schools are starting to pivot to this as well as they’re offering courses and certificate degrees and the like for attorneys to be becoming much more up to speed and current with all of these rapid regulatory and technology-related changes. Personally, I took a certificate course at MIT on artificial intelligence.
I was certified by the IAPP for a certificate on European data protection, and I’ve been pursuing other positions outside of strictly legal work becoming members of the board of directors of a couple of companies, including as you mentioned, the Quantum Strategy Institute.
In that way, my goal personally is to stay on top of the trends from a regulatory standpoint, from an industry standpoint, from a technology standpoint. And it requires a continuous investment in time. My goal is, and I really believe that attorneys should pursue the same approach is to become members of communities and groups and organizations that are beyond the narrow legal practice area. And that puts our work much more in context for us in a better way to serve our clients.
You mentioned the Quantum Strategy Institute where you recently became a board member. What is the organization’s mission?
It’s a not-for-profit organization. It is intended to bring together experts from around the world to demystify quantum computing. Quantum computing is a brand new type of computing that is being developed and placed into a company productions where it is essentially able to outperform what classical computers can do in optimization problems. We use quantum computing potentially to solve encryption issues, how to optimize everything from aircraft to scheduling to healthcare and routing and solving problems that mathematically would take a classical computer, in fact years to do that.
Quantum computers can do this much more quickly. The real business use cases for that are still being developed. The technology is still being developed. It’s such an early stage technology and so disruptive in the industry that this institute was created to bring together experts and leading thought leaders, so we can participate in industry events, share publications and educational materials, explore business used cases and value propositions and the like.
I’m so glad that our listeners are hearing you explain quantum computing, because it just makes me think that if we had had this conversation 20 years ago, you would have had that same passion in your voice for the cloud. And I wonder, do you see quantum computing following that same trajectory?
Yes. Once they solve some of the significant technical issues with quantum computing, the answer is yes. You would not replace classical computing or cloud computing with quantum computers as such. There will still be roles for classical computing. For example, emails or other things, other processes that are kind of broad, and you’ve got pretty much simple decisions on which way to calculate. Classical computers are perfect for that.
Quantum computers will be handling some of the unsolvable problems in the world today. And I mentioned it could even be things like climate change or how to cure cancer. And yes, I think that this will augment computers, classical computing in the near future. It will also be cloud-based to some large degree.
So it won’t be an either or, but it just is part of the trend where technology is becoming increasingly powerful at an increasingly fast rate that from a legal point of view is where we’ve got to keep on top of these trends, because what we’ve done as lawyers, how we’ve looked at issues in the technology space a few years ago really rapidly becomes outdated. We’ve seen that with cloud. We’ve see that now with artificial intelligence, and we’ll see that this all the same with quantum computing.
What do you hope to contribute as a board member?
Oh, I hope to contribute as a board member is to give my thoughts and guidance in terms of the strategy of the institute and figuring how we can best serve the business market. I’m not a manager or an officer of the organization. So the day-to-day of that is being done by the professional management. But I hope to give my cross-domain input both as my experience. I’m not there as a lawyer, but in my background and experience in large and small tech companies or whatever I can give to help guide this institute in its approach to this area of technology, that’s what I’m here to help in any way.
You mentioned earlier an array of professional skills that you’ve developed beyond your legal acumen. You’re also a certified information privacy professional. How does a certification enhance your work?
It helps a little bit with the credibility of whoever gets a certification. It helps, of course, in gaining some knowledge as you take the courses for it and gives you some sort of focus in your practice area. But I tell you the biggest value of this, and as an aside, I ended up becoming the chief legal person for the privacy area at GE Digital before I left. And partly of course because of that certification. But I think the real value of these types of certifications is that you become part of a community and you can join up with other professionals like-minded in that same industry.
Go to conferences, meet other people and network, and you just learn more. You have more contacts in the industry. You are more on the developments. You’re able to share ideas and hear more ideas. I think by joining organizations, obtaining certifications, going to conferences on this I found to be extremely valuable more than, for example, if I would have just gotten a certification, put it on my wall and really didn’t do more with it.
Are there particular skills that you think legal professionals should obtain to remain competitive?
I think to remain competitive, an in-house lawyer has to keep a laser focus on the problem solving and business centric skills of being a partner with the clients. Clients are increasingly looking for lawyers who are not just going to give a technical response to things, they are depending on lawyers to be a real counselor, providing insights into the context, reframing problems.
I think a really valuable area for lawyers is to bring in cross domain experience in whatever your practice area, if you’re providing advice. And that advice is going to be providing suggestions for solutions that you can draw from other areas in life, and including public policy and business issues, even psychology or economics. All of this will be really valuable.
Lawyers are expected to give more than just technical advice or doing road skills. Some of that will be automated going forward with legal tech. So it really behooves us to act as real counselors and business partners to some large degree.
You talked about the emergence of certain kinds of programs and law schools. Do you expect legal education to adapt, to accommodate changes in the way laws practice now?
Law schools from what I’ve heard are actively working to adapt programs. They were much different than when we’ve gone to law school many years ago. I think law schools are now a very cognizant. It’s not sufficient to teach case law because there’s a lot of impact coming from the policy area. So you don’t just teach and rely on case law, but it behooves schools to give courses that dive into legislative processes and regulatory processes.
Globalization has really been a huge impact. So if you just focus on very narrow US aspects of law, you’re missing a whole context around the world. So global issues, comparative law in other words is going to be important. And courses, I think these days are going to be focusing on more complex problem solving skills. So I believe that’s going to be bringing in on cross-domain aspects, which I mentioned like policy or business or psychology and the like. I think by drawing on those other resources, that’s going to better equip young lawyers for beginning their career.
How do you see artificial intelligence impacting both education and the future of the profession?
McKinsey had said that about 23% of a lawyer’s job can be automated. Altman Weil has estimated that about 48% of the big law firms are implementing technologies to replace what legal staff were doing in the past. Now, a lot of that is going to be in the rote areas. But whether in law schools or starting in one’s practice, aspects of legal practice that may involve document review and legal research, and as some aspects of contract writing and contract review, and contract management, redlining, and things of that sort, we will be subject to automation.
Companies are looking for both cost controls, but also vast increases in efficiency and some competitive advantages. So, again, lawyers need to then focus on upskilling in terms of making sure that they have the skills to give problem solving business centric advice, and not just consider the practice being a task-oriented profession.
Just to geek out here for a second. You’ve mentioned that you were at the Google flags, that you’ve worked at GE Digital. And I know you spent a lot of your career at Oracle. Such a fascinating array of experiences. We’re talking about quantum computing and artificial intelligence. What do you like most about your work?
What I love about the work is changes all the time. What we did two years ago is ancient history. What I love about the work is the ability and the expectation to be agile and dynamic in what we do to really keep on top of industry events and to be that really close business partner of clients. That’s what I liked. It is not so much focused in tradition. It’s not focused on so much of doing more of the same. It’s not focused on the fact of just we need more output, and that’s all we’re looking for.
With this pace of change in the industry and in the technology, what makes working at Google for example great is that there’s expectation of us improving continuously, inventing continuously and leading to better outcomes. Both for the company, but also for the world. So it’s a great job to have and I’ve enjoyed the same in other technology companies I’ve worked at.
This program is called Reinventing Legal. How is your work impacting that objective?
My work is looking to reinvent legal by trying to keep my teams and the company in a forward-looking position that we are evolving and adapting to the best practices in the industry that we’re listening to our clients, our partners, our regulators. And in that way, we’re going to be not just responsive to what we see out there, but we also help frame the conversation and the direction of how the industry goes, how the law goes and how business goes.
In that way, I’m moving the legal function and our practice more from giving advice that is strictly legal, but contextualizing it, putting it into how does this affect our competitive position? How does this lead to successful business outcomes? How could we achieve better things and better growth and better success for our customers, our partners, and for the public at large? I put the reinvention of legal as moving it from just a narrow task-based focused, but much more of a business-minded focus.
This is Ari Kaplan speaking with Bert Kaminski, director for legal for Google Cloud, and a member of the board of directors for the Quantum Strategy Institute. Bert, thanks so very much.
Thank you for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.
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