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Enlivening the Legal Community with Innovation and a Creative Spirit

Sam Bock

Recognizing that we’re now a full week into the final month of 2023, would you take a moment to reflect with me?

Perhaps your team is already engaging in some Stop-Start-Continue exercises. I won’t bore you by rehashing these (although, pro tip: it’s kind of fun to think of it as a garden instead—see exercise #3 in this article).

Instead of digging deeper into our own accomplishments, misses, and goals, let’s reflect from another direction: think back on the people who had an impact on you this year.

Consider your experience with your colleagues, mentors, and leaders in a few areas over the last 12 months by completing this free worksheet. Then, take the opportunity to make someone’s day with a little recognition. Reach out to someone who stands out from your reflections to say “thanks!” and wish them a joyful new year.

For us at Relativity, our Innovation Award winners are always at the top of our list of influential people year after year. In 2023, our list of winners includes:

  • Artificial Intelligence: Richard Finkelman, managing director, Berkeley Research Group
  • Customer Experience: Jeanne Somma, general counsel, Lineal
  • Education and Mentorship: Megan Daviduke, senior manager and senior counsel, Capital One
  • Inclusion: Rachel Williams, principal, Charles River Associates
  • Security: Aneesha Gupta, product manager of vulnerability management, metafinanz
  • Stellar Women: Natalie Lau, e-discovery consultant, Allen & Overy
  • Spirit of Innovation: Juan Ramirez, founder and CEO, NSerio
  • Best Innovation: Enterprise: Alston & Bird’s team for their app, MetaHistogram
  • Best Innovation: Solution Provider: Deloitte UK’s team for their app, Deloitte Audio Discovery powered by TrueVoice

All of these bright minds have helped our team—as well as their own, their clients’ teams, and their networks’ teams—learn, grow, and succeed throughout the year, and we’re grateful for everything they’ve taught us.

So, to celebrate that innovative and collaborative spark, we recently reached out to our individual winners for their reflections and wisdom on the Innovation Awards, the legal community, and what’s ahead for e-discovery and legal technology. Many of them shared some wonderful memories and insights, which you can read below. (Stay tuned for profiles on our technology winners over the coming months.) We hope it helps motivate and inspire you to dream big in 2024!

Jeanne Somma, 2023 Customer Experience Winner

What does innovation mean to you, and why is this industry ripe for it?

Innovation to me is turning the adage “we’ve always done it this way” on its head. It’s being curious and annoying enough to constantly question “what is” to find “what should be.” It’s looking at things in new ways to solve old and new problems in the best possible way, not just the way that is obvious. I think our industry is ripe for it because the data types that become evidence change so quickly that we must innovate in order to simply keep up. We have to move at lightning speed to get our clients what they need and there’s no way to get there without some serious technology uplift.

Prioritizing positive relationships is so critical in this space. What’s one simple way legal professionals can improve their relationships with their clients?

Listen—really listen. It’s an easy thing to say but much harder to do. We must take the time to cut off distractions when our clients are talking to us and have the understanding to put ourselves in their shoes to truly understand their message. When we do that, everything comes together.

Juan Ramirez, Inaugural Spirit of Innovation Winner

Tell us a little bit about what it means to win an Innovation Award. How did you feel when your name was called at Relativity Fest?

Apps that we developed have won awards over the years. NSerio has never actually won any awards, but we’re satisfied knowing our customers are winning awards and achieving results. But winning this award has been extremely rewarding. I am humbled by it since it wasn’t something we campaigned for, or ever expected to get. For me, it’s like a lifetime achievement award. It really represents the value Relativity places on the ecosystem and the journey we have all gone through in its evolution.

We heard from so many people at Fest about the creativity and technological advancements you’ve championed in this space, and you emphasized the team effort all those accomplishments have represented. Why is community such an integral part of innovation?

I think community is the cornerstone of innovation in our space. Not only does our community present us with the challenges they are facing, but they also allow us to learn from their experience. Our approach at NSerio is to speak less and listen more. This allows us to truly understand the problem, and thus design the best solution. Our annual hackathon has become something our team and our clients look forward to. It’s one of the highlights of our year and it demonstrates that at our core, we love what we do. I’d like to think that between our projects, our events, our customers, and our passion, innovation is constantly nurtured within the community.

Natalie Lau, 2023 Stellar Woman Winner

Tell us a little bit about what it means to win an Innovation Award. How did you feel when your name was called on stage at Relativity Fest?

It’s such an honour to even be nominated, let alone win this prestigious award, and certainly something I could never have imagined when I took a chance opportunity 12 years ago to change career paths. I was working as a lawyer at a large international firm in Sydney, Australia, my first full-time job out of university, and decided (rather suddenly) to move jobs and cities to work at a Melbourne-based litigation support vendor of just five people at the time.

Winning this award has made me reflect upon my career and how I got here, the places it has taken me (I am now living in London and working in-house at Allen & Overy), and the people I have met along the way, many of whom have become great friends. I thought about my own mentors and I do hope in some way that I’ve been able to, and continue to, pass on what I have learnt to mentor the next generation.

The Stellar Women community is full of women who challenge convention and lift others up as we grow. What advice can you share with leaders? And what advice do you have for women just starting out in this field?

In e-discovery we are fortunate to have a high proportion of women entering and being retained in the industry, with many in leadership positions. Having female representation in positions of leadership is already one of the best ways to encourage and inspire women to grow in the industry.

As for management styles—and this applies to managing teams from any gender—it is important to provide positive feedback and call out examples of good work. It is often too easy to focus on only providing constructive feedback when an error has been made. Further, to help your team develop, it’s important to delegate a variety of work to challenge your teams, not only to delegate in a siloed fashion (e.g., because someone has done the task before and is good at it).

In a similar vein, my advice to women starting out is to be eager to learn, seize any opportunities that come your way, and put yourself out there for tasks that are not necessarily part of your day job (or that might not come naturally) in order to grow and develop. For example, I am not a natural public speaker but when an opportunity comes my way I am always up for the challenge.

Finally, e-discovery can be a very stressful and high-pressure industry. Don’t be afraid to set boundaries to look after your own personal health and wellbeing, which is so important if you want to have a long-term career in the field.

Rachel Williams, 2023 Inclusion Winner

What does innovation mean to you, and why is this industry ripe for it?

Innovation is about new ideas in an ever-evolving industry. And this is where diversity and inclusion are integral. We’ve all had different experiences that led us to e-discovery, different paths within the industry, different areas of focus, and different strengths. It’s important that we continue to foster an environment of belonging within the industry, because our differences drive innovation.

We frequently hear that inclusion and diversity in the legal realm have come a long way, but there is still a ton of progress to be made. How can professionals work together to make this a more welcoming space?

Professionals within our industry can contribute to diversity and inclusion in many ways. Participating in employee resource groups at your organizations is a great start. They provide support for employees but also great leadership and professional development opportunities at your organization. Getting involved with our industry organizations like Women in eDiscovery and Black eDiscovery Network also provide great opportunities to support DEI beyond your company and within the e-discovery industry at large.

Richard Finkelman, 2023 Artificial Intelligence Winner

What does innovation mean to you, and why is this industry ripe for it?

Innovation to me is being able to see a better way to do something. Technology itself doesn’t change things, it’s the people who figure out how it can change things and then go forward and implement those changes who define innovation. This is especially true with artificial intelligence; it’s incredible technology, but people still must create innovation in our industry.

Our industry will be one of the most influential groups of people to help build out the AI digital economy. The knowledge and skillsets that are required for AI to be impactful solving real business problems will help our industry evolve more quickly than others.

Those skills include, data engineering, data privacy, sophisticated software technical skills—including working with AI tools like Relativity’s. This experience prepares all of us to have bigger roles in the broader build out of commercial AI applications. Already, I have worked with data scientists who are shocked that we can deliver engineered data that can immediately be used in a machine learning model.

Few topics du jour are as buzzy and pervasive as AI this year. What are your thoughts on where the industry is right now in terms of AI development, and where do you see us headed over the next year or so?

I have been helping clients with machine learning AI models for the last 4 years and am genuinely in awe that as of October 26 there were 180 million users of ChatGPT. I think that AI evolution might be more like an AI revolution whenever the dust settles. I think the rush to regulate AI might be premature, but I know that some guardrails are probably needed to safely build and deploy AI applications.

Over the next year or so, I think the industry will be split over the development of brand-new AI applications versus the development of augmented AI applications. Applications like Microsoft’s Copilot will see broad adoption and are a good example of augmenting existing applications with AI. My sense is we will see more augmented AI applications in e-discovery than original applications, but the ability of people to develop and deploy new AI technology may prove me wrong.

I am a big believer that the future of AI will continue to be breathtaking, and I am more certain than ever that those of us in this industry are better prepared for the future than most. I believe that this year’s momentum and adoption of artificial intelligence marks the beginning of a golden age of legal technology.

Graphics for this article were created by Kael Rose.

Making a Difference in the Law and in Your Career through Service

Sam Bock is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.

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