An AI Visionary and the inaugural winner of the AI Catalyst category at the Relativity Innovation Awards in 2021, Briordy Meyers helps usher in the many benefits of technology at pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim. How does he do it?
The legal sector has a reputation of being slow to embrace new technologies, but you stand out as an early adopter of AI. What structural barriers keep the legal sector from adopting new technologies? How and why did you take an interest in AI?
In terms of structural barriers to adoption, there are multiple factors: institutional or historical conservativism; the need to vet technology against relevant case law; Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 26(g) and ethical obligations for attorneys regarding technology; ability to show the return on investment and business case; data privacy laws and regulations; the emerging role of e-discovery or technology-forward attorneys in organizational hierarchies; key stakeholder buy-in; workflow change management; and reliable support acumen—i.e., having people implement your plan who know what they are doing and are invested as true partners to help you achieve successful adoption.
The adoption of new legal technology means not just getting over these barriers but doing so in a way that maintains enthusiasm for the change. Maybe another way to put it is to think of the law of entropy, the second law of thermodynamics: it can be tough to keep putting energy into the technology adoption effort, but you have to maintain that energy investment to effectuate a change and avoid the decay of your plan. You also have to keep your eyes open and remain objective, because sometimes the plan and the technology turn out to not be what you actually need.
It takes a lot of energy.
I became interested in artificial intelligence because, on balance, our challenges justified moving through all of the above. As e-discovery practitioners, the desire for the newest technology is an occupational hazard. The truth is you only need the right tools for the job you are working on. We needed a tool that could handle large volumes, significantly cut down manual review time, protect personal information alongside our workflows, and act as an automated privilege check. I like that TextIQ can analyze data, immediately act, provide feedback loops with minimal input, and do so rapidly across large volumes.
The legal function is often considered a cost center. How can these teams prove their value to executives? Can technologies like AI help uncover more value?
Any time you are saving money while reducing risk, you can show at least some value. Artificial intelligence can drive accelerated data insights both across and within data sets. There is value in being able to see privacy-related risks more transparently across your enterprise and automating responses in concert with your defensible data privacy workflows, for example. Reduction of left-side EDRM litigation spend with outside counsel or vendors is very tangible and measurable. AI can cut down significantly on manual identification of potentially relevant data across multiple repositories. The data transparency and manual time savings from AI combine to allow your organization to focus on analysis earlier in the typical workflow timeline. As a result, your teams can arrive more quickly at decision points that not only further minimize risk, but also inform the substance of whatever task you are focused on, whether those tasks are privacy, legal, or just business related.
If the big picture goal for your organization is to gain insight and understanding through data science, then AI, even broadly defined, promises to reduce that time to insight.
Embracing technology is one thing, but finding the right technology partner is quite another. What do you look for in your technology partner?
I look for a partner who knows their technology deeply, but can explain it in a way that makes sense to me and demonstrates a commitment to an ongoing partnership. Partnership is a good word because it connotes inclusiveness—that we are in this together. A lot of technology vendors really know their technology, but may not understand e-discovery. Some vendors do understand e-discovery but you get the sense that after they provide the technology or execute a task, they move on. So you need acumen, but also a partner who is committed enough to both understand your challenges and be there for you in the long run to face them together. Usually this means a partner who is excited about problem solving within the e-discovery context and can make work fun.
You’re not only the director of e-discovery at one of the world’s largest family-owned pharma companies, but also a certified privacy professional. Is there an inherent conflict between discovery and privacy? How do you manage the competing priorities between the two?
There certainly is a tension between realities like the broad scope of US discovery and the data minimization and protection obligations of the GDPR. Even bigger picture though, I think we are at a historic inflection point with discovery and data privacy: the enormous volumes and data types subject to discovery are rapidly exploding at the same exact time as governments are passing laws and regulations protecting data and the personal information of the consumer or data subject. There are inherent conflicts between both the mandates of laws and regulations governing data discovery and utilization, and the mounting task of implementing higher data minimization and protection standards in the context of increasing volume and variability of data.
However, I think the proportionality and burden limitations you see in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 26(b) parallel the data minimization principle in GDPR Article 5(1)(c) in practice. What this all means to me, especially if you factor in the burgeoning landscape of US data privacy state laws and the overall context of data explosion, is that one should always be asking at least these two basic questions: Why do I need this particular data set? What can I do to minimize my data set as early as I can in the EDRM?
A focused preservation effort, as long as it is comprehensive, can avoid over-preservation of personal information that is not even relevant to a case. An even more focused collection and then processing approach will continue to reduce the data set to only what is needed, justified, or proportional. There is a lot of pressure to just get tasks done in e-discovery that leads to over-preservation and over-collection. But good data hygiene, as well as the legal and regulatory maxims of US discovery and data privacy laws, demands that all of us continue asking these questions long before we get to review and redaction.
You’re an American working at a major European company. As a senior legal executive, how do you navigate the legal, regulatory, and cultural differences between the two worlds?
I am lucky because Boehringer Ingelheim is an amazing organization that is really committed to our values of empathy, respect, passion, and trust. There is a sense of service, a focus on community, and a concentration on planning for the long-term as much as quarterly returns. We also have been a global organization for quite some time, so are used to setting basic standards in Germany that are conveyed to local business units with the flexibility required to adapt to and meet regional variations in legal requirements or business cultures. What I am getting at is that while balancing multiple legal, regulatory, and maybe even cultural differences is not always easy, it is Boehringer’s internal culture that really allows us to bridge these differences. As employees of Boehringer, this means that we value each other as people but also are aware that innovation and long-term success depend on allowing for differences, if not missteps, in the short-term. I also just work with great people in both the US and EU who model Boehringer’s purpose and help me stay on top of everything.
What were your interests early on and what drew you to the practice of law?
Really early on I was only interested in baseball. But I grew up in a very progressive household with parents who were helpers, which I think impacted my career choice. My mom worked with AIDS patients in the 1980s and is the type of person who focused not just on social justice issues, but on advocating for people who were often marginalized. She worked as an occupational therapist and on “sick days” I would tag along with her and see the impact she had in people’s daily lives—things as simple as re-learning how to open a jar after a stroke. She also was an academic, getting her PhD at NYU when I was growing up, bought me tons of books, took me to plays, and generally exposed me to critical thinking and broader humanity through both art and real life. My dad worked as the head nurse of a nursing home care unit at a VA Hospital and is the funniest person I have ever met. I watched him heal people with laughter and humanity as well as his medical skills.
I went to law school wanting to practice juvenile law, and maybe teach or become a juvenile court judge. All of the exposure to my parents that I mentioned above sort of filtered this desire, I think, because I was attracted to leveraging a sort of humanistic academic approach to effectuate practical change for children in the legal system. I started out representing abused and neglected children in Chicago for the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office and often found myself channeling my parents when walking through a hospital, visiting a client in jail, meeting a foster parent in their home, drafting a brief, counseling a client, or arguing in court.
Which person (living or deceased) do you most admire? Why?
This is a tough question because there are a lot of people I admire, living and deceased, personal and professional, for lots of different reasons. I mentioned my parents and I certainly admire my children—their abilities to process information and get to the bottom line, play together, recognize beauty, revel in wonder, and move on quickly to the next thing are inspiring. I also greatly admire my father-in-law, who recently passed and serves as a model for the type of father, professional, and overall good person I want to be. I say that in the present tense because I think about him every day.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Why?
Thomas Jefferson is a complicated historical figure, but I went to law school at William & Mary, where he went, undergrad at the University of Virginia, which he founded, and gave tours at Monticello when I was wrapping up my history degree in Charlottesville. In some ways I see parallels: Virginia roots, progressive thinking, fascination with technology and inventions, love of travel, varied interests, and flashes of intellectual curiosity coupled with many unfinished projects. However, there’s also a lot about his life that I neither identify with nor would defend.
If Good Will Hunting were real, I would probably choose him.