Editor’s note: We spoke with Ron prior to his departure from Honeywell earlier in 2022. He has since joined Carvana as eDiscovery Leader.
When it comes to mountains of data and the nuanced understanding needed to make sense of it all, it’s no wonder that Ron Harry, AI Visionary and director of legal operations at Honeywell, believes AI is virtually required to get it all done. But the upside is that thoughtful use of technology to accelerate this critical work can help make legal ops teams the “powerplant” of legal departments everywhere.
The legal sector has a reputation of being slow to embrace new technologies, but you stand out as an early explorer of AI. What are some of the structural barriers that keep the legal sector from adopting new technologies?
I believe the trend of slow technology adoption by the legal sector is certainly shifting. For those still hesitant to adopt, it may come down to their own gap in understanding and fear of the unknown.
Law practitioners are used to having in-depth knowledge of a particular subject and being able to master the lingo a particular topic in order to be persuasive. However, with advanced technologies such as AI, this is an emerging field with continuously evolving lingo, advanced mathematical calculations, and a level of science many have a hard time wrapping their minds around; as such, this may leave some feeling uncertain and a bit out of control. This may also lead to a general sense of not having the time needed to learn this level of new technology to be effective.
How and why did you take an interest in AI?
My formal education is in computer science and I have always had an interest in playing with new software, analyzing data in interesting ways, and learning new skills specifically related to technology. With a strong desire to improve processes and drive higher levels of efficiency, I have always looked for opportunities to be an early adopter or beta tester of new technologies.
The legal function has the reputation of being an expensive cost centre. How can it best prove its value to an organization?
The core of all legal departments—whether you’re working in contracts, compliance, litigation, et cetera—is to help the business identify, reduce, and control risk. This usually comes at a very high cost due to the level of expertise and resources required to do this successfully. Utilizing AI to augment this work allows legal departments to drive better outcomes more quickly without sacrificing accuracy.
Can technologies like AI help you uncover more value? How?
With the continuous challenge of searching for the needles, reviewing the endlessly growing troves of data, and making the right calls with the utmost accuracy and speed, we must utilize the tools at hand to assist us. AI allows us to see the unseen and to make logical sense out of data patterns too large for the average person to comprehend.
AI allows us to see the unseen and to make logical sense out of data patterns too large for the average person to comprehend.
This level of “super vision” allows us to obtain insights about our data we have never had, push for levels of accuracy beyond the average human’s ability, and enhance our ability to identify, predict, and potentially prevent high risk situations. If that’s not valuable, I don’t know what is.
You’ve had an interesting career at Honeywell, going from working as a forensic investigator to e-discovery manager to ultimately becoming the director of legal operations. What have you learned from your time at Honeywell so far? What wins are you proud of?
Convincing others of the value that technology plays in time, waste, and cost reduction is easily demonstrable with the right level of data and basic analytics.
Passion for winning and becoming a technology leader requires data driven decisions. Honeywell has embraced the use of technology and AI and is weaving it into the fabric of our culture. As far as wins go, I have had tremendous success utilizing AI to drive down litigation review time and costs, utilize it for the identification of critical data in the migration and upgrade of our contract management solution, and continue to look for opportunities to hybridize and augment our processes with technology, automation, and AI capabilities.
For legal professionals who are passionate about working with technology (particularly AI), what opportunities do legal operations offer?
A strong legal operations team can be the powerplant and efficiency engine of the law department. This means there is an abundance of opportunities to leverage AI in new and creative ways, many of which departments have yet to explore. Today we see the use of AI in nearly all functions within the department, from contracts and litigation to data privacy and security.
What do you do when you are not working? How do you decompress?
My family and I have a variety of animals on our small farm in Gilbert, Arizona, including a goat, sheep, donkey, a few dogs, and a number of horses (both big and small). I also really enjoy riding my mountain bike at night in the desert foothills of Phoenix and Mesa. (Yes, I have bike lights and good safety equipment!)
Which person (living or deceased) do you most admire?
I am not sure that I have a single most admired person, but the traits most common in those I admire are loyalty, honesty, humility, responsibility, and kindness.
What do you consider the most underrated quality or skill?
I am not sure it is underrated but perhaps under taught: the ability to collect and organize data for the purpose of general data analysis. This is such a critical skill for so many aspects of our life today in this age of information, yet it’s barely covered as a topic in most of our school systems.