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Adam Rouse Helps Walgreens Take Flight with Legal Applications for AI

Jack Perrin

Applying AI to the legal sector may not be rocket science, but Adam Rouse—director and senior e-discovery counsel at Walgreens—is interested in rocket science, too. Read his thoughts on AI-human partnerships, managing data lakes, and more below.

The legal sector has a reputation of being slow to embrace new technologies, but clearly you stand out as an early adopter of AI. What are the structural barriers that keep the legal sector from more readily adopting new technologies?

The roadblocks that immediately jumped to my mind are twofold. One, I think our legal practitioners very much like to keep traditions alive. A lot of lawyers still like to put pen to paper, write handwritten notes, and keep paper files. It seems that just sticks around out of some sense of tradition.

The counterpart to that, or perhaps more of the enabling part, is that we have judges who may not fully comprehend newer technologies. This is not because the judges aren't smart people, but because they have extremely full dockets, and taking a bunch of time out of their day to learn about all these emergent technologies is likely something they don't have time for and may not be interested in.

I imagine a fair amount of judges out there did not get into the law to study computers or advanced technology. They got in it to study law. But one of the driving forces in our current landscape is that technology has crept into our lives in such an interwoven way that now it's becoming impossible to separate or bifurcate technology from the law.

Adam, what were some of your interests early in your career, and what drew you to pursuing a career with e-discovery?

My background in technology drew me to e-discovery. When I started out my career, it was in the technology sector, with a very large bank. I worked as a technology engineer for many years and really enjoyed my time there. So when I chose to go back to law school, take the bar, and practice law, it led me down this path of finding a good place where technology and the law converged.

There are many areas now, certainly, where that convergence happens; but at that time, e-discovery was really it. When I started, it was about problem solving amidst these unique technological puzzles. So for me, being able to take my background in technology and sit in a room with both lawyers and engineers and say, “We've got all this data and we need to do stuff with it; let's put all the puzzle pieces on the table and see how we can fit them together”—that was the idea.

I enjoyed the challenges of tackling each problem, of putting the pieces together. And I really enjoy that the field is never stagnant. It is constantly evolving. Whether that's new legal tech that comes in and changes the game, AI, or new technology outside of legal that generates data, there’s always something.

Businesses are generating data at an absolutely exponential rate—most of which, at one point or another, will probably be relevant in some sort of litigation or legal dispute. The challenge of the e-discovery practitioner is how we manage this exponential data growth. Because we can't just tell the business to stop it.

It's up to us to understand what's happening, where the data's coming from, how it's stored, how we deal with it when we need to, when it becomes relevant, and when it becomes responsive. How do we protect the business, understand the risk, and operate in this field that is rapidly evolving?

It's this “never the same day, twice” sort of situation that I really enjoy.

Businesses are generating data at an absolutely exponential rate—most of which, at one point or another, will probably be relevant in some sort of litigation or legal dispute. The challenge of the e-discovery practitioner is how we manage this exponential data growth. Because we can't just tell the business to stop it.

To that last point around the mounting challenges of dealing with exponential amounts of data, what value do you see in AI to help?

I think the only possible way to keep up with data at the current growth rate is with a tool that can deal with and understand the data as it grows. While humans are fantastic, the human power it would require to keep up with that amount of data is staggering. That's where AI really has a chance to shine.

In near-real time, the AI is catching up. It's able to analyze, categorize, understand, and provide insight into this evolving data lake—and I think that phrase is going to have to be “data ocean” at some point, right? Lakes are too small.

Teams need an overall understanding of what this data means to their company from a legal standpoint, a risk standpoint, a records retention standpoint—so having an AI hive mind that can parse the data, understand it, categorize it, and help people understand what they're dealing with would be ideal.

If you look at any given organization, what percentage of the company is generating data? Probably 99 percent of people. But what percentage of the company is responsible for understanding and managing it all? That’s more like 2 or 3 percent of your head count. So it feels like a losing battle. But if you can engage AI in that process, it becomes much more manageable.

Ideally you have a human-AI partnership, where AI is doing a lot of the heavy lifting and humans can then do what we still do best—the lateral thinking and strategic insight that help steer the AI and the data growth, and understand the subtext, to make smarter long-term decisions.

If you look at any given organization, what percentage of the company is generating data? Probably 99 percent of people. But what percentage of the company is responsible for understanding and managing it all? That’s more like 2 or 3 percent of your head count. So it feels like a losing battle. But if you can engage AI in that process, it becomes much more manageable.

Thinking about your career and your hard-won experience within e-discovery, what are some of the wins or contributions that you're most proud of?

I think probably the contributions I'm most proud of are being asked by a couple of different companies to help them get their e-discovery program up and off the ground. To bring in legal tech, to revise the way the program did things, to reduce risk, to reduce spend—just being trusted by these organizations and their leaders to help them solve those puzzles. Any time you can come in and leave a place better than you found it, I would say you have the right to be proud of that. I certainly am.

When you're not working, how do you like to spend your time, and how do you decompress?

Spending time with my family, my wife, and our critters here is big. That's helpful to me, just to step away. When we eat our evening meal or make plans to spend time together in the evenings, I think it's important to unplug as completely as possible. That may mean leaving my work phone in the office for a couple hours, and not compulsively checking email or running to check statuses and things like that. When I do unplug, I try to unplug completely.

On that thread, I'm a big camper; I really like to get back to nature. It's interesting for someone who is so into technology. Even around my home, we've got smart devices and all that. That kind of tech is really cool, but completely unplugging once in a while—just putting a chair next to a campfire with a book and allowing the equilibrium of life to come back—is really important.

There’s also amateur rocketry, which I think is so fun. I’m often building rockets, or meeting with the clubs I belong to for a launch. It gives me a chance to have some creative outlet in the rocket design.

Plus, it's something I can do for its own sake. If I miss a session or I don't get a project completed on time, it's not a big deal. I can always go back to it. There is something calming to me about sitting down and taking some parts and putting them together into a whole, complete project.

Then, taking that completed rocket, launching it, watching it take off, disappear into the sky and then fall back to the earth, and recovering it—there's a sense of accomplishment just throughout that hobby for me.

What person, either living or deceased, do you admire most?

William Gibson, who is an OSI author—I really enjoy some of his early visions. It's really interesting to read some of his books and then see where we are today in our technology stack. He had some eerily accurate predictions about how technology, particularly AI and how it interfaces with humans, would affect our lives. He considered it not only on a social scale, but the whole world-building element: seeing how it affected governments, how it affected corporations and people and, and where, perhaps, we need to be careful with some of this really advanced technology.

We hear a lot of people talk about that now, certainly from a philosophical standpoint. The difference with William Gibson is, when he was talking about this, he was creating all these technologies in his head. When he wrote some of these books in the seventies and eighties, punch cards were still high-tech.

I certainly admire that: his ability to create.

What would you consider to be the most underrated quality or skill—something applicable to your day to day or just life in general?

This is a good segue from my last answer, because it's a skill that I don't always see validated. Creativity is probably the wrong word for it. It's part of creativity, but more specifically, it's this ability to see the world differently than everybody else.

If you ask a hundred people, they're all going to tell you that the sky is up, the earth is down, and that's how it is. But then you see the kid that everyone says is weird, right? They're standing on their head, and from that perspective, the earth is down and the sky is up. And maybe that new take leads them down a path where they can invent and do really cool things.

It's the ability to not constrain your thought and instead let your creativity flow. That's important in the business world, because those are the people who have creative solutions to problems. They're the people who tend to come and say, “Let’s attack this another way.” And it's super important outside the business world, too.

Beyond creativity, I think perhaps it's looking at the world with a certain sense of childlike wonder, or maybe childlike innocence, where you don't just take everything at face value. That leads into the ability to freely ask questions.

When I work with students both at high school and college, and even when I used to work with students at the law school level, it was amazing to me how I could see so many of them wanting to ask a question, but they wouldn’t, because they were, for some reason, embarrassed. The ability to ask why anyway, to ask all these questions unhindered, is underrated in business and in life.

And with people who do have this skill, it always fascinates me to have conversations with them. By being asked questions and having to formulate responses—it makes everybody in the room a little smarter. It engages those areas in the brain, encourages collaboration and understanding, and inspires us to cease approaching life from someone else's point of view.


Jack Perrin is new business director at Relativity.