Data—and its challenges—abound in the world of business and the law. AI Visionary Kelly Friedman, senior counsel and national leader of Beyond eDiscovery, at BLG, has forged a career unafraid to tackle it from every angle. For Kelly, e-discovery, cybersecurity, and privacy need to go hand in hand to be able to practice effectively—and AI helps it all come together.
What attracted you to the practice of law?
There was no decisive moment that drove me to go to law school, but there was a tipping point when I knew I was meant to be a lawyer. I chose to go to law school, relying on student loans and part-time jobs, mainly as a route to finding financial security. However, when I worked in the litigation department of a law firm the summer after my second year of law school, I was hooked. I was so energized by the combination of creativity and intellectual rigor it takes to be an advocate, that I knew I was up for the challenge.
The legal sector has a reputation for being slow to embrace new technologies. What are some of the structural barriers that keep these teams from adopting new technologies?
To a law firm, technology is a cost—and with standard pricing models, it is not something that is easily recovered. Many clients think technology costs should be considered firm overhead and not charged to them. This response is frustrating, because my job is to make lawyers more efficient through the use of technology and best practices.
When lawyers work fewer hours, the client wants to pay them less. With the billable hour as the standard pricing model, anything that makes lawyers more efficient cuts into profits, so technology brings a double-wallop: it means incurring a cost in order to further cut into profits. First-class technology is expensive, and the law firm should be permitted to share in the efficiency gains brought about by the technology.
Over the course of your career, you have built a stellar reputation in e-discovery. With the advent of new technologies such as AI, how do you think e-discovery is poised for change?
The industry will continue to flourish. Widespread use of AI in our daily lives creates more data that needs to be analysed and can become important evidence. Of course, AI will continue to enhance our tools to perform those analyses. e-Discovery and AI are mutually reinforcing.
As an e-discovery leader with deep experience in cybersecurity and privacy, you have a rare vantage point. What piqued in your interest in cybersecurity and privacy?
When I began my career as a litigator, I was awakened to the reality that the facts of a case are monumentally more important than the law—which was not the impression I had gotten from law school.
I started to learn about e-discovery in the early days because I realized that the facts were soon going to be largely found in digital information. It was clear to me that some of that information was always going to be personal information, and that you could not become an expert in dealing with digital evidence issues without privacy expertise.
My interest in cybersecurity also grew out of my e-discovery practice. About 10 years ago, I was asked to join a committee of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). The Committee wanted e-discovery and privacy expertise, but their focus was on security, being the Canadian working group of the international committee for “information security, cybersecurity, and privacy protection” (ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 27). I was fortunate enough to work with incredible cybersecurity experts and learn from them.
How do you think e-discovery experts can help address privacy and cybersecurity challenges? What unique strengths can e-discovery practitioners can bring to bear on these matters?
These areas of expertise are cross-pollinating. You simply cannot practice in one area without bumping into one of the others. In fact, when I am working on a data breach mandate, cybersecurity, privacy, and e-discovery each play a crucial role. To succeed in each of these areas, a practitioner needs to demonstrate respect for the integrity and value of information, and keen attention to detail.
What has been your proudest moment in your career so far?
It was early on in my career. I was a young woman speaking to a room of over a hundred older gentlemen. Afterwards, I learned that someone for whom I had the greatest respect, now a court of appeal judge, said about my presentation: “I was kvelling.” Kvelling is a Yiddish word that means “bursting with pride.” Upon hearing that I had made someone kvell, I kvelled as well.
We feel very strongly about fostering diversity and, in particular, using AI to root out unconscious bias from the workplace. What, in your opinion, have been the structural impediments to diversity at law firms, and how can they be removed?
It boils down to socioeconomic factors and the discrimination that underlies those factors. I almost quit law school due to finances until someone lent me $4,000. That $4,000 made the difference between me becoming a lawyer or not. Literally. And I am a privileged, white, middle-class woman. It was because of that privilege that I had a friend with the money to lend me.
It is very hard to remove the structural impediments at law firms, which reflect the impediments in the larger society. That being said, I think that focusing on removing unconscious bias is key. Like chooses like. Blind job applications and interviews would be a good start.
What do you do when you are not working? How do you decompress?
I listen to music and dance like nobody’s watching. I also do pottery—albeit not very well—and find it very relaxing to work with my hands. And, last but certainly not least, I play with my dog, Bernie.
Which person (living or deceased) do you most admire?
The young American poet and activist, Amanda Gorman, impresses me beyond words. I was moved to tears by her recitation of her poem “The Hill We Climb” at the inauguration of Joe Biden and have watched that segment countless times since. I learned that Amanda Gorman has an auditory processing disorder, is hypersensitive to sound, and had a speech impediment as a child. She took those challenges in stride and, at only 23 years old, she appeared on the world stage, radiating an astounding level of grace and maturity. Her ability to write and speak so elegantly about difficult topics such as oppression and marginalization is exceptional. I look forward to watching this young human rights advocate change the world with her incredibly powerful voice.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I was stumped by this question, so I decided to do some research. I found online quizzes which asked a series of questions to determine which historical figure you were most like. I did two different quizzes, and they both came up with the same historical figure. I was struck by the conclusion of the first quiz, which said the following:
You are Alexander Hamilton, brilliant, self-absorbed, and argumentative. You have always known that you’re something special, and you’ve refused to let the world tell you otherwise, but underneath your certainty, there is moodiness, depression, and self-hatred. Like many founding fathers, you have a strong belief in the ability of mankind to do better for itself and to promote justice and equality. However, you also know the importance of money and the role of corruption and politicking. You’re an interesting mix of idealist and realist.
It would have been nice to find a Canadian historical figure to identify with instead of an American one, or a woman instead of a man, but there is no denying that that passage sounds a lot like me!
I then read more about Alexander Hamilton and found there is a great deal for me to identify with: Hamilton came from humble beginnings and went on to study economics (I studied finance) and law. He had a strong sense of social justice, having been active in ending the legality of the international slave trade. He has been described as confident and outgoing, and able to influence others with his passion and talent for self-expression. He had many successes, but things did not come easily for him, and he worked incredibly hard during his lifetime. He was also impetuous, emotional, and vulnerable.
One article I read said: “When hurt, he withdraws into a cloud of silence, eventually emerging from his reticence with jokes and laughter that cover up his true feelings. He can become moody and cynical when depressed.” Yes, that is me.
What do you consider the most underrated quality or skill?