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Susan Wortzman is an AI Visionary with an Entrepreneurial Spirit

Mike Allison

When Susan Wortzman founded MT>3, now a division of McCarthy Tétrault, she knew that adaptability, innovation, and a super fast pace were key to delivering unique and highly effective solutions to her clients. Today, as president of the division and partner at McCarthy Tétrault, she makes it clear that spirit hasn’t changed—and AI is helping her team deliver on it in whole new ways.

Mike Allison: What were your interests early on and what drew you to your line of work?

Susan Wortzman: My primary motivation was to avoid walking to the courthouse dragging an unstable metal cart loaded with boxes, while wearing high heels during a Canadian blizzard. A laptop connected to my entire practice was a dream at the time. Quickly realizing the courtroom advantage to having evidence well managed and at my fingertips put me in a key role on a trial team as a junior associate. The ability to leverage cutting edge e-discovery tools to manage complex, document-intensive litigation continues to be a differentiator.

Over the years, as technology has improved, I am drawn to continually learning about and participating in the development of new ways to use technology. A large part of that over the last five to eight years has been the integration of AI into the review platforms that we use.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

Building the team that is now MT>3. I am privileged to work with a brilliant and dedicated group of professionals who share a passion for e-discovery and its rapid evolution. Taking the risk of my team joining one of Canada’s leading law firms was a scary move for an entrepreneurial and agile firm. McCarthy Tétrault has embraced our ethos and the team has seen tremendous growth and been exposed to phenomenal clients and projects. This has been highly successful for both sides.

When you’re not working, how do you like to decompress?

Distance running and engaging with art and artists. I currently sit on the boards of several arts organizations and committees and am passionate about supporting visual arts and theatre. Additionally, my summer cottage on a beautiful Canadian lake is my favourite place in the world to decompress with family and friends.

How would you describe the promise of AI at a family dinner?

The promise of AI is to eliminate the need for people to do boring, repetitive tasks. AI is a tool that humans train to manage information. On its own, it is not yet smart enough to make intelligent decisions. The best use of AI is to combine it with smart people—that combo leads to powerful results in the management of data.

While someday AI may imitate intelligence, today it synthesizes loads of existing information and analyses it to perform tasks. And it is way faster than humans. The ability to analyse data so quickly and accurately offers use cases beyond our imaginations.

Why does AI matter for what you do?

AI matters deeply to my legal practice because it allows me and the MT>3 team to offer creative solutions to solve the challenges our clients face. AI is integrated in the work that we do every day at MT>3. From large document reviews, to deploying sentiment analysis in an urgent investigation, I love the challenge of working with our clients to respond to their unique legal needs.

What aspects or outcomes of AI are you most excited about?

I am most excited about the endless ways that we will deploy AI in the future. We are constantly finding new use cases and different AI models to help our clients analyse data. I get super excited when a client or a lawyer at our firm calls with a new challenge and we work with our analyst and development teams to build a highly customized solution that adopts AI to manage the information more efficiently.

Clients love hearing about the possibilities that they had never contemplated. I just had a recent call with a client in an industry that was new to me, as was the problem he needed to solve to respond to an information request from a regulator. Working with one of the MT>3 project managers, we were able explain to the client how we could build a customized portal for him to load data into and then we would use AI to assist in classifying the records to identify those he needed to respond to the request. He commented on how innovative the solution was and how uniquely placed our firm is to respond to complex technology needs from our clients.

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?

Lawyers are not always the most open to change and technology. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to adopt new technologies, as it was really the only means of communication during extended periods of time. We leapt 10 years ahead in educating many lawyers on the power of tech in 2020 alone.

Embracing technology is one thing but finding the right technology partner is quite another. What do you look for in your technology partners?

The operative word for me is “partner.” That says it all. I am always looking for a true partnership where the exchange of ideas, opportunities, technology, and thought leadership flows openly between us. Our best partners are the ones who see our relationship as a two-way street.

What’s your advice for organizations hesitant to adopt AI?

Get with the program! You do not want to be left behind. Your competitors will swiftly surpass you as they make data-driven decisions and improve their business efficacy. My advice would be to ensure that your organization has structure in place to foster a learning environment around how you can adopt AI into your workflows.

How do you encourage peers to understand the importance of continuing education in this area?

I believe that enthusiasm is contagious. When I have animated and excited exchanges with other lawyers about all of the opportunities that AI has brought to our clients, I hope they walk away wanting to do the same. For those who are interested: attend conferences and webinars, follow your peers, and keep reading.

And never underestimate the power of relentless networking.

AI is a tool that humans train to manage information. On its own, it is not yet smart enough to make intelligent decisions. The best use of AI is to combine it with smart people—that combo leads to powerful results in the management of data.

What’s a unique barrier to AI adoption that law firms face?

Many law firms and lawyers do not understand how to actually deploy AI in their practice. Generally, law firms are not always the fastest to adopt new technology—so it can be challenging to convince IT that moving quickly has advantages, especially as they try to balance security concerns.

When faced with hurdles like this, it helps to remember when the idea of cloud storage itself was anathema to law firms—and then consider where we are now. This, too, is just a matter of time.

In what ways have you used AI to solve unique client challenges?

One quick example was leveraging an AI model to identify emails and chats in a toxic work environment investigation. These models have both worked for MT>3, in combination with additional training from subject matter experts. More recently, we used AI to identify privileged communications and radically reduce the volume of a review project. In both cases, the use of AI saved the client a ton of billable hours.

How do you discuss the benefits of AI with clients who are hesitant to use it?

We take our role as a trusted advisor seriously. Many clients need to understand what is behind the black box. Having smart and articulate technologists on our team enables me to give clients the comfort that they need to validate that we are using AI ethically and effectively. Most clients embrace this opportunity when they fully understand how we deploy AI.

Mike Allison is a senior account executive at Relativity.