In the legal space, thinking outside the box sometimes feels a lot like swimming upstream. But AI Visionary Katherine Lowry doesn’t let that stop her from innovating. At the helm of IncuBaker, BakerHostetler’s team of experts on augmenting the practice of law with advanced technology, Katherine has made a habit of making waves. Read on for her insights.
The legal sector has a reputation of being slow to embrace new technologies, but clearly you and your practice stand out as early adopters of AI. What are the structural barriers that keep the legal sector from more readily adopting new technologies?
Ultimately, I think it comes down to the traditional nature of the legal industry. When we think back to law school and how we were taught, it's very traditional. It doesn't read with a lot of opportunity to think outside of the box—except when we're thinking about structuring novel legal arguments.
For example, I remember only one “business of law” class back when I was in law school. There are more now, but that conservative nature of the legal industry hasn't really asked us to think outside the box on how to solve for modern impacts on our businesses and clients. Clients, though, are asking us to think outside the box. Sometimes they even ask us to turn time and material billing on its head.
So how can we solve for that?
I'm excited about technology and AI because it gives us the ability to segregate what work is most important, and what's most important are our bespoke capabilities. Lawyers analyze problems. So let’s create tools and solutions that allow us to reduce the amount of time spent on mundane, little-to-no-value work, so we can spend more time analyzing and doing the bespoke work instead.
An example is BakerHostetler’s cookie bot. We sometimes need to scan our clients’ websites to understand all the cookies used and what affiliation those cookies have, for privacy purposes. That takes a lot of time. So instead of a lawyer doing it, we built an RPA bot that will go out and scan thousands of pages and provide that result to an attorney. Then, they can analyze and help understand, from a consumer data privacy standpoint, what obligations exist.
Clearly you have a strong background in this as an incubator for AI solutions. What led you to take an early interest in AI as a whole?
BakerHostetler asked me to come in after consulting with them—and Bob Craig, our CIO, he and I kind of conspired to help bring the firm some awareness of what we saw as an oncoming wave of change. It was almost like we were watching a tidal wave, and it was coming fast, but nobody else on the beach really saw it.
That wave of change was driven by Gartner's Nexus of Forces. We would speak about it often, at every opportunity to get in front of attorneys. There were four catalysts: social, mobility, cloud, and information. And those things were converging at such a fast rate, impacting other industries, that we knew either clients were going to ask us to change, or the legal industry itself was going to change faster than we would be able to react.
I remember asking our partners, “Are you paying attention?” We would flash all this data on adoption and cloud and mobile to help them understand how things were progressing—and that we were going to face that change, and it would be better if we were prepared.
Our launch of IncuBaker was really meant to help educate attorneys and make sure that they were prepared for the wave.
If you had to summarize how the work that IncuBaker has done is core to what you're doing at Baker, what would you like to highlight?
IncuBaker was meant to be an educational program. We wanted to make sure that attorneys understood the technology moving us out of a conservative mode and into a more innovative mode.
What happened was that not only did that R&D work scale significantly, but our innovation team was doing a lot of learning as well. For example, I worked with different groups inside our IT department, Legal Content & Research Services, and our development team, focusing on what we needed to internalize to understand machine learning.
We took it upon ourselves to do several machine learning projects. For example, we did a client rank project to predict which clients would progress the most with us and which ones might not. We did a patent filing project where we took 20,000 patents and Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500, and tried to predict who would have the most patent filings in the next two years. We did a prediction on which task codes would be assigned to different engagement narratives so that we could speed up our billing process. We wanted to master how machine learning works, how much data you need, and how you structure it, to make it work best.
We also wanted to understand new solutions on the market. That educational period of IncuBaker really fueled our understanding of how emerging technology was going to be presented to us by vendors. Using our “black box studies,” we can lift the hood on each piece of technology, analyze it, and make sure that we have a good estimation of how we would actually adopt it.
We want to analyze these tools in line with our requirements because we need to establish that they actually work in production. It’s not just whether they’re capable of solving a problem, but can they be embedded in workflows that will be driven and adopted by our attorneys?
With IncuBaker, we focus on concepts like machine learning, data analytics, and blockchain, just trying to understand how they are going to impact our industry. Then, the black box studies help us take it a step further and say, “Okay, how will it actually fit into our firm? And would we adopt it?”
Today, we apply our rich history with emerging technology to serve clients through our legal tech consulting. As these technologies have grown under the spotlight of the past 6-7 years, clients too have identified a similar need, and our team is here to support them in this journey.
It’s clear you've learned quite a bit along the way from when the team was growing this emerging technology practice; what are some of the key lessons you’d like to share?
People are the most important part of the equation, hands down. We have always wanted to help our people understand that these solutions are going to augment, not replace, their efforts.
I think that, while we're technologists and legal professionals, we're really change agents. That's the biggest piece, right? How do we help guide our clients, our attorneys, through this chaos of trying to rewrite a process for greater efficiency? We have to be great leaders in that we have to see the vision and be able to articulate and communicate that vision.
That's probably what I love about my job the most; I have a special affinity for having a vision and being able to help demonstrate that to colleagues—and collaborate on it, because I don't think I always have the answers. Instead of always looking down and doing the everyday work, somebody's got to have their eyes on the horizon at all times.
What were some of your interests early on and ultimately what drew you to law and law school?
Fairness in relation to justice was a big draw to me. Plus, I love complex problems. I love the debate. You know, I really wanted to be a litigator. I could identify with giving opening and closing arguments, with memorizing facts and weaving them into a legal argument. I thought that was such an art and I wanted to be a part of it. When I got to law school, I was driven more toward rule-based areas of the law, like tax—love tax law. It’s like, “Oh, there's this rule, but there are also all these exceptions.”
Then, as a student, I had an opportunity to work for a large information vendor. They paid me 10 bucks an hour to test their software. I loved it. It was fun to try to break the software.
Unfortunately, at the time, law schools did not want you to be anything but a lawyer, a traditional lawyer. And it was really tough. I was always trying to find a path that was difficult to forge, because it really had no foundation whatsoever.
Still, I really was turned on to the technology side of the house and how it intersected with legal. So almost every part of my career touched on technology, to the point where I was consulting and helping with software development. And then I met BakerHostetler and the intersection of technology just accelerated.
What would you consider to be the most underrated quality or skill in your field?
Decisiveness. When you're a consultant and you're trying to help educate others on how to be good advisors, decisiveness is key. It requires a level of confidence and the ability to assess facts quickly. And I also think it has a strong play with your gut instinct, right? Just what feels right to you.
What person, either living or deceased, would you say you admire most?
Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, is somebody that I really, really admire. Generally people I admire face a lot of adversity and are successful in overcoming it, and certainly Colin Powell fits that mold. There's something about being a soldier coming up through ROTC, who worked really hard to get what he wanted, and ended up as Secretary of State. The trajectory of his career is so impressive for me.
You could probably overlay that on a lot of people. But let me tell you kind of why this goes back so far for me.
In undergrad, a roommate gave me the My American Story Book and it still sits on my nightstand today. I was impacted by this story in college, and I followed him after that. He developed the Powell Doctrine, which I think is just valuable to life, and you can apply it to the legal industry.
Ultimately, his thing was to solve conflict through negotiation and diplomacy before you have to use force. Obviously we're not able to use force in the legal industry, right? We have to negotiate, we have to use our diplomacy to communicate and move forward.
He also had the 13 Rules of Leadership and my favorite is the very last one: “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” Most people would think of me as a very optimistic person. And I love that. Trying to share a vision of technology is really about being optimistic about the possibilities, and sharing that will make other people passionate, too.