At White & Case, thanks largely to AI Visionary Janet Sullivan, an exceptional client experience and high-tech case strategies go hand in hand. Read on for Janet’s perspectives on how document review and data discovery can be made easier with AI (and a little hockey-inspired grit).
The legal sector has a reputation of being slow to embrace new technologies. But you stand out as an early adopter of AI. What are some of the structural barriers that keep the legal sector from adopting new technologies? How and why did you take an interest in AI?
Learning new ways of working, particularly for lawyers who have been highly successful to this point, can be challenging. Notwithstanding, the legal sector’s reputation as being slow to embrace new technologies is changing. The biggest impetus for change is clients’ increasing expectation that their outside counsel provide more innovative ways to deliver legal services without sacrificing quality.
My own AI journey began a number of years ago, when I had the benefit of being on the front line of machine learning development and use while at one of the Big Four. As a trial lawyer for over two decades, the significance of this breakthrough was not lost on me. We rapidly began to develop case studies and refine the offering—mostly tailored toward the discovery phase of litigation.
With the proliferation of electronically stored information (ESI), including the widespread use of email, the ability to cull non-responsive data sets from a document review population was transformational. In my current role as e-discovery counsel and global director of practice technology, we strongly encourage the use of AI technology and advanced analytics in our firm as a standard practice to accelerate the pace of document review in both disputes and transactions. Concept clustering, predictive coding, data categorization, and data visualization have enabled our legal teams to find more efficient ways of delivering top quality legal work. Client demand and the desire to enhance the client experience will continue to be a catalyst for change.
The legal function is often considered an expensive cost center. Can technologies like AI help you uncover and demonstrate more value to clients? How?
Opportunities to bring greater value to the legal function through the use of AI are endless. Within the matter context, getting to important information faster to better inform the legal strategy is critical. Powerful technology in the hands of top-notch legal talent is a potent combination.
In addition, more consistent work product, risk mitigation, and predictability are key to the legal function’s value proposition. AI and advanced analytics can make sense of “big data” in real time, enabling legal teams to make data-driven decisions throughout the matter lifecycle.
Getting to important information faster to better inform the legal strategy is critical. Powerful technology in the hands of top-notch legal talent is a potent combination.
What have you learned from your experience at White & Case so far? What are the wins and contributions that you are most proud of?
My experience at White & Case has taught me the importance of working with strong leadership who believe in your vision and support and guide you through successes and challenges alike. White & Case is fully committed to the client experience, and our leadership fully supports finding new and innovative ways to differentiate our services.
The contribution that I am most proud of at White & Case is building a team of top experts in the legal technology field, comprised of data technologists, project managers, and lawyers—many from the Big Four—who are committed to delivering at the highest levels. During my short tenure at the firm, this team has successfully deployed market-leading, AI-enabled technologies to support both our disputes and technology practices on a global scale. More importantly, the team engages directly with clients and our legal teams on how best to apply these tools to their matters, resulting in better outcomes and efficiencies.
As a female leader at a prestigious law firm, how do you think law firms can foster more diversity in the workplace? What, in your opinion, have been the structural impediments to diversity at law firms, and how can these can be removed?
It has been shown that if you put a variety of worldviews into one room, you will come out the other side with better ideas. From a business standpoint, bringing a fresh array of perspectives to the table results in better problem solving, increased productivity, and greater innovation. As with most existential challenges, impediments to promoting not only a diverse, but an inclusive and equitable workplace, can be overcome through self-reflection, communication, and radical candor. Focusing on the benefits of an inclusive and engaged workforce, not only from a human perspective, but also from a business perspective, will continue to be a change agent.
What were your interests early on and what drew you to the practice of law?
Advocacy has always been very important to me, which is what drew me to the practice of law, and, more particularly, becoming a litigator. After decades as a trial lawyer, my career path has led me to legal tech.
Along the way, the notion of having to “prove” one’s case has been a useful and highly transferrable skill. Proving the benefits of successfully applying technology in the practice of law, and advocating for its use, are now my current focus.
What do you do when you are not working? How do you decompress?
Spending time with family, including my husband of over 30 years and our five children, is what I enjoy most outside of work. To decompress, you will find me headed “down the shore,” as we New Jerseyans like to say—or, in the case of this somewhat displaced Jersey girl, up the coast to “Glostah,” Massachusetts.
Which person (living or deceased) do you most admire?
Although this may sound clichéd, I would have to say my father (92 years young) is the person I most admire. Important life lessons regarding work ethic, living and staying true to your values, and facing challenges head-on, I learned from him.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest professional achievement over the course of my career in law has been the relationships I have made along the way, and in particular, with the young professionals I have had the honor to lead, whom I now consider trusted colleagues, peers, and friends.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Perhaps because I am a “hockey mom” to my sons and daughter, the historical figure I most identify with (or better put, aspire to emulate) is famed ice hockey coach Herb Brooks. Against all odds, Brooks led the underdog 1980 US Olympic men's ice hockey team to gold medal victory by hand-selecting a roster of players with raw talent, true grit, and the drive to succeed. When asked about his team selection process, he is quoted as saying, “I’m not looking for the best players, I’m looking for the right players.”
Drawing on this analogy, it takes the “right players” to bring transformational change to an organization, including disruption through the use of technology. The ability to anticipate where the use of technology can have the greatest impact on legal services and the client experience is not only a differentiator, but a “game changer.” Or, to quote another hockey great: “skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” (That one was Wayne Gretzky.)
What do you consider the most underrated quality or skill?
Courageous leadership in general, and servant leadership in particular, is an underrated quality. As a servant leader, the focus is on the needs of each member of the team and how your efforts can help them succeed and do their best work. Strong teams bring results. As Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”