Asking attorneys to do the same thing over and over is inefficient, expensive, and, frankly, boring. For William McDermod at Boehringer Ingelheim, there’s a much better way to practice law these days: with AI. As an AI Visionary and a lawyer with a paralegal background, William is excited about the ways artificial intelligence can remove barriers for the legal community—if they’re willing to take the leap.
Hannah Baxter: Please describe your role in your organization and how technology plays a part in it.
William McDermod: I am e-discovery counsel for Boehringer Ingelheim USA and we utilize AI to help with document review in our litigations.
What were your interests early on and what drew you to your line of work?
I started my legal career as a paralegal and realized that I enjoyed, and was good at, case management and organization. It also gave me early exposure to e-discovery technology. When I became an attorney, I realized that these skills would translate well to an e-discovery practice. In that way, my paralegal career laid the foundation for my subsequent career as an attorney.
Any advice for those who are interested in following your career path?
Never get set in your ways and always question how you currently do things. I think many people never innovate or improve because what they have always done is familiar and comfortable. Maybe your current process is good, but you should always be willing to challenge the familiar.
Why does AI matter for what you do?
Cost management is a key concern in e-discovery and utilizing AI properly can significantly reduce costs. I have already seen cost savings from our utilization of AI in our work processes and I think that we are only starting to scratch the surface of what is possible.
When you think about your business or your industry in five or ten years, how will AI have affected it?
In ten years, I think many tasks currently performed by an attorney will utilize AI in some capacity. Take legal writing as an example. With AI tools like ChatGPT, why couldn’t all first drafts of legal briefs be written by an AI tool?
I am excited about what AI brings to the table. Rather than getting bogged down in mundane tasks, I can use my time to do much more exciting and substantive work.
What are some of the structural barriers that keep your industry from adopting new technologies? How and why did you take an interest in AI?
I think the legal risk and time constraints of litigation can lead individuals to be hesitant to embrace new technologies and processes. If something goes wrong with implementation, a deadline is missed, or a responsive document is not produced, this could have serious consequences for the client’s position in the litigation. But these are challenges we can prepare for and overcome.
At Boehringer Ingelheim, we took an interest in utilizing AI processes because we realized that our manual processes were creating legal risk and adding significant costs given the current realities of data—and we realized that AI processes could help us reduce both.
What’s your advice for organizations hesitant to adopt AI?
If you are an AI champion at your organization, take the time to do a proof of concept for AI implementation. Unless you have hard data that shows the benefit to your particular organization, I think skeptics can always step in and raise concerns, legitimate or not, that will pause implementation. Take the time to do the work to show the benefit.
In your opinion, what does the integration of AI mean for the future of the human workforce generally and in your specific industry?
Generally, I think AI adoption will be a tremendous boon for the workforce, as most new technology is. I think people sometimes get so afraid of how technology will affect their job as it is now, they fail to think about how technology can improve their jobs (and lives) in the future.
As AI takes over more of the mundane tasks in the legal industry, attorney work will become much more substantive, interesting, and engaging—and I look forward to that happening!
People tend to overestimate the quality of human work product and hold AI to an unreasonable standard. If people had a better understanding of the problems of human work product, they would be quicker to adopt AI workflows that reasonably approximate human results in an efficient and cost-saving manner.
Are you seeing an AI skills gap in your industry or organization, and if so, what will help to close it?
I do not think the industry lacks AI skill; I work with several vendors on the cutting edge of AI implementation, and I know they are ready and willing to help interested parties. I would say it is more a lack of understanding of what AI can do for them. People tend to overestimate the quality of human work product and hold AI to an unreasonable standard. If people had a better understanding of the problems of human work product, they would be quicker to adopt AI workflows that reasonably approximate human results in an efficient and cost-saving manner.
In what ways have AI implementations helped improve your team’s collaborations with other departments in your organization?
Embracing the use of AI has allowed my organization to streamline our discovery processes globally. Our AI work processes allow our global legal team to efficiently review and produce data in our ongoing US litigations and internal investigations, while allowing the organization to meet its regulatory obligations in foreign jurisdictions.
In an ideal world, what would you want to see developed in the field of AI to improve how you conduct business?
I think developing a ChatGPT for legal writing would be an incredible advancement in the industry. Making legal writing more efficient would dramatically save costs for the client and change the way law firms are structured.