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AI Visionary Bobby Malhotra Urges Lawyers to "Embrace Innovation, Disruption, and Change"

Phil Naess-Gross

Sorry, tortoises of the world: there is no “slow and steady wins the race” in e-discovery. Munger, Tolles & Olson e-Discovery Counsel Bobby Malhotra is an AI Visionary for the way he turns toward the constant, ever-changing challenges of e-discovery with an eye for how technology can help case teams jump emerging obstacles with greater confidence and speed.

The legal sector has a reputation for 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 law firms from adopting new technologies?

There are a few barriers that I think keep the legal sector from adopting new technologies.

The first is legal culture. It is no secret that we, as lawyers, are creatures of habit, rely on precedent, and don’t like change.

The other challenge is trying to get lawyers—who aren’t the most cutting edge group to begin with—to believe and trust that AI works and delivers just as good (if not better) work product than the traditional manual workflows they have been using for years. Offering proof points they understand is key.

How and why did you take an interest in AI?

I was really intrigued by the value proposition of AI and how it can enhance the speed, precision, and efficiency of traditional legal work while at the same time reducing spend. I was also struck by the flexibility of AI and how it can be used in just about every industry and vertical to help solve some of the most challenging problems—from AI tools identifying likely fraudulent bank transactions, to machine learning algorithms helping technology companies classify and identify important source code.

What have you learned about the field of e-discovery from your experience at Munger, Tolles & Olson?

My experience at MTO has taught me what it takes to be a successful e-discovery lawyer—and that is flexibility, humility, and grit, combined with the right background and attitude.

A successful e-discovery lawyer needs to understand that this is a practice area that’s intimately tied to innovation, disruption, and change. As such, you need to be able to roll up your sleeves, change directions on a dime, learn new skills and technologies, and be flexible enough to adapt to new environments. You need to embrace the innovation and the disruption and the change. Lawyers who understand, appreciate, and are thoughtful about these issues tend to be successful in the e-discovery world.

A successful e-discovery lawyer needs to understand that this is a practice area that’s intimately tied to innovation, disruption, and change. As such, you need to be able to roll up your sleeves, change directions on a dime, learn new skills and technologies, and be flexible enough to adapt to new environments.

For me personally, I think my technology background, curiosity in keeping up with the latest legal tech developments, service mentality (to both colleagues and clients), and drive have helped me flourish in this industry.

What are the wins and contributions that you are most proud of from the course of your career?

Being in the trenches with our financial institution clients in the litigation and investigations arising from the 2008 financial crisis. I am proud and honored that I was able to be there for them in their most challenging times, and provide them with cost-effective and innovate solutions to the unique e-discovery challenges they faced in high-exposure matters arising out of the financial crisis.

What were your interests early on and what drew you to e-discovery?

The only constant in e-discovery is change. And that was just fascinating to me, because it gave me the opportunity to practice in an area where no two days are the same. Legal rules are constantly changing, case law is rapidly evolving, and vendors are continuously consolidating. I felt right at home in a field that I knew would never allow me to get bored. In terms of interests early on, I was particularly focused on sharpening my expertise in designing effective document retention and litigation readiness plans.

For legal professionals who are passionate about working with technology (particularly AI), what opportunities can e-discovery offer? 

There are a plethora of diverse and meaningful e-discovery opportunities out there for legal professionals with technical acumen looking to get into the AI space.

As data volumes continue to increase and new data sources continue to emerge, it is no secret that e-discovery can be costly. In many ways, your best defense to minimize cost is to utilize defensible technological solutions, including AI solutions, to the maximum extent possible. These AI tools, whether focused on classification, sentiment analysis, anomaly detection, natural language processing search, or complex neural network architectures, help to streamline and expedite the document review process, while also getting key documents into the hands of attorneys faster.

Your best defense to minimize cost is to utilize defensible technological solutions, including AI solutions, to the maximum extent possible.

Given the importance of these tools, there is opportunity at all levels in this space—whether you want to work as a software developer integrating AI into review and analysis platforms, as a machine learning engineer tweaking and calibrating models, as an e-discovery software end user implementing the technology in the real world, or even as a sales engineer or business development representative. The opportunities are truly endless.

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

I enjoy traveling, watching and going to sports games, playing in fantasy football leagues, reading self-help books, and spending time with my wife and two boys: Raj (who is 5 years old) and Jaydin (who is 2.5 years old). I am also active in community projects and bar organizations that promote public interest initiatives.

Which person (living or deceased) do you most admire?

Barack Obama, since I believe he is a true agent of change and we both share common ties to Chicago.

Which historical figure do you most identify with? Why?

Albert Einstein. I relate to his serious love of philosophy, his hard work ethic, his unconventional ideas, and his ability to think outside of the box. And in many ways, physics and AI share the common goal of formulating models based on observations.

What do you consider the most underrated quality or skill?

Data-driven decision making, which I find is one of the least talked about but most critically important skills in the business world. People and organizations who are skilled at collecting and leveraging data to make informed and strategic decisions, rather than relying on past practices and assumptions, will be well suited to take advantage of this digital revolution that we are currently experiencing. Also, as time goes on, successful leaders and organizations will need to move from data-driven to AI-driven approaches.


Phil Naess-Gross is an account executive at Relativity.

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