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Geoffrey Vance on the AI-Human Partnership, Collaboration, and Compassion

Jack Perrin

The most promising potential in artificial intelligence comes not from what it can do in a vacuum, but how it can work side-by-side with human collaborators to deliver insights neither could’ve attained alone. For AI Visionary Geoffrey Vance, a litigation partner at Perkins Coie, this collaboration results in not just better technology, but better decisions, better lawyering and, best of all, better results.

The legal function has a reputation for being slow to embrace new technologies. What are some of the structural barriers that keep the legal sector from adopting new technologies? What interested you in AI?

Slow to embrace new technologies? That is an understatement.

Some might say lawyers are stubborn and set in our ways. We repeat what has been successful, and most of our success has been accomplished without the use of—or perceived need for—innovative, advanced technology. And that’s too bad. It gives us a false sense of comfort.

What fascinates me about artificial intelligence is that, when used correctly, it helps make me a better lawyer. I make better, more informed decisions with the AI insight. I’m far more efficient. I can do more with less and be persuasive, responsive, and effective while doing it.

Computers are far better at recognizing patterns than people. So far, people are better at unstructured problem solving, triaging what’s relevant and what’s not, and expressing empathy and leading people. This AI-human combination makes for a formidable legal team.

What fascinates me about artificial intelligence is that, when used correctly, it helps make me a better lawyer. I make better, more informed decisions with the AI insight. I’m far more efficient. I can do more with less and be persuasive, responsive, and effective while doing it.

What were your interests early on and what drew you to the practice of law?

I knew I wanted to be a lawyer since I was five years old. I loved watching courtroom lawyers. They were so smooth and charismatic. They could synthesize complex situations and reframe them into a basic storyline that everyday people could follow. They were quick-witted and quick on their feet. That’s what drew me to the practice of law. It looked fun and I wanted to find a job that I’d enjoy.

The irony is that what drew me to the legal industry and what has kept me here are completely different. What has kept me in the practice of law was the realization that all of that wasn’t just innate talent imparted at birth—it comes with hard work, commitment, focus, teamwork, and preparation.

In my case, that’s where the military comes in. I’m a proud Navy veteran. I learned about the importance of all of those things in the military and now strive to demonstrate them in every room in which I’m present, whether it is a conference room, boardroom, or courtroom. My path has taught me that the likelihood of my success is directly tied to the extent of my hard work and preparation.

You’ve had an illustrious career. What wins are you most proud of and why?

There are a lot of big litigation wins of which I am very proud, but there are two big wins I’ve achieved that you would never read in a verdict form, judicial opinion, or newspaper.

First: I still love what I do and love going to work, whether it’s in my home office or a law firm office. I really enjoy working with and managing teams of lawyers and technologists and feel very passionate about making sure all law firm employees love their jobs—not just lawyers. That, to me, is a big win.

Second: Relatedly, I am very proud of championing people at law firms who do not have a juris doctor degree. Major international law firms would be neither major nor international without the help and effort they receive from people who never went to law school, including people with all sorts of college degrees in HR, technology, marketing, and finance. In a lot of US law firms, you’re categorized as an “attorney” or “staff.” At Perkins Coie, we’re all legal industry professionals, and we are all vital to the success of a billion-dollar law firm. Socializing that collaborative spirit is really important to me, and I’m proud to have done it throughout my career.

What do you do when you are not working? How do you decompress?

My answer would be much different if you asked me this two years ago. Back then, I would have said golf or sailing. Now, it’s taking advantage of my time (a) alone by using apps like Headspace, and (b) with family by replacing computer screens with board games and engaging in other activities that can be done without electricity or batteries.

I’m thankful to report that I feel more connected with my friends and family today than I was before we ever heard of that thing called COVID-19.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Wow. I had to think long and hard about this, and still don’t have a perfect answer. I’m not sure I truly identify with any historical figure, but I can tell you about two historical figures whom I’ve admired since the day I first learned about them in grade school: Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy. Both were articulate and passionate. They had guts and courage. They took unpopular positions because they were the right positions to take. They risked their lives to do the right thing and literally changed the world for the better. We still have a lot to learn from them and their legacies.

What do you consider the most underrated quality or skill?

This is another answer that is different now that I’ve experienced a pandemic. Two years ago, my answer would have been something like “drive” or “persistence.” It would’ve been a total gunner-type answer.

But now, I’ve learned that it’s empathy and compassion.

Lawyers want to identify issues and figure out how to fix things. I’ve learned the hard way that, quite often, people who share their personal challenges or mental health issues with me don’t want me to help them “cure” their problems. They just want and need compassion and empathy and even some vulnerability in return. They want some acknowledgement that they’re in a tough spot and have options from which they can choose a path forward. This is why I really like the title “attorney and counselor.”

Being a great lawyer takes more than knowing the law inside and out. It takes an ability to truly counsel other people with their best interests in mind, rather than simply telling them what they should do.

Jack Perrin is new business director at Relativity.

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