Today, it takes a diverse team of experts to nail each e-discovery project—from lawyers to litigation support to clients—and a lot of trust between them all. AI Visionary Josh Zylbershlag, director of e-discovery services at Paul, Weiss, is adamant that the proper application of AI and other technology will not only add to all of these professionals’ skill sets, but increase their trust in each other and the e-discovery process.
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?
Given the legal requirements inherent within discovery, as well as the generally risk-averse nature of many legal departments and law firms, new technologies must meet a high threshold of demonstrated effectiveness, security, and predictability. Additionally, cost concerns also play a factor, since legal expenditures represent a cost center for clients and any additional expenses must be justifiable as a mechanism to otherwise reduce costs or improve outcomes.
My interest in AI, particularly machine learning, began in the late aughts when a number of service providers and technology vendors began to offer solutions that incorporated this technology. Early tools were somewhat clunky and presented numerous workflow limitations, but their promise was evident. The ability to conceptually group documents, to identify terms of art, and to draw connections between people and entities were all capabilities that I found appealing and which were previously difficult to execute without the use of machine learning. As AI and machine learning became routine features in consumer products and services, their utility and role in discovery became easier to explain and adopt.
How can technologies like AI help you uncover more value and how?
AI can provide value both directly and indirectly. The direct manner is by allowing us to gain insights and achieve successful outcomes faster, more cost effectively, and with reduced risk than through traditional approaches. AI has become so central to discovery that our clients now expect us to leverage it and we demonstrate our value to them by the sophistication of our approach in using it. An indirect value-add provided by AI is its contribution to enhancing the nature of the work of our professionals. By learning new tools and processes, discovery professionals have evolved considerably from button-pushing order-takers to highly trained and trusted colleagues who advise our lawyers and clients on how to leverage incredibly powerful tools to achieve their goals.
AI has become so central to discovery that our clients now expect us to leverage it and we demonstrate our value to them by the sophistication of our approach in using it.
Embracing technology is one thing, but finding the right technology partner is quite another. What do you look for in your technology partners?
We expect our technology partners to provide us with best-of-breed solutions while using mature, well-considered, and documented software development processes that consider security, confidentiality, and reliability as critical requirements. We also expect them to partner with us in a manner that fully comprehends our needs and seeks to address them without requiring us to cut corners or eliminate the quality control and auditing capabilities we rely on. Finally, we seek technology partners who are interested in a long-term relationship rather than a quick sale. Such a relationship requires trust, flexibility, and patience.
What project or major milestone that you completed at Paul, Weiss are you most proud of? Can you provide details?
About 10 years ago, we recognized that the effective use of machine learning and AI depends on the support and advice of highly trained specialists who know how to properly leverage these tools, while being mindful of the needs of a specific matter. We understood that this wasn’t a typical “litigation support” role, but required advisors who could confidently work with lawyers and clients to help them use these powerful capabilities. We set about to create our e-Discovery Analytics and Review Technology Team (eDART) and to staff it with experts in the field with substantial knowledge and outstanding communication skills. The eDART team has been a spectacular success and the advisors on the team are invaluable members of every case team. They ensure that every case benefits from a bespoke approach that considers how technology can be most effectively leveraged to ensure success and they collaborate seamlessly with our lawyers. This approach has meant that the use of analytics and advanced technology is now a matter of course on just about every litigation at the firm.
What were your interests early on, and what drew you to your line of work?
I have always been fascinated by technology, from the time I got my 486DX PC (if you know what that means, you’ve been around for a while) and used my AOL disc to go online, to my brief military experience in which I helped integrate new technologies, to my start in the legal technology field as a helpdesk technician. Over the years, I found that I was very good at reducing complex technical concepts to simple explanations so that I could work with laypeople and help them make good decisions without having to become technical experts themselves. This task, bridging technical and non-technical worlds, is one I truly enjoy and helps align my job with my values.
What do you do when you are not working? How do you decompress?
I love landscape and wildlife photography and exploring new places to take pictures. This pursuit combines my interests in technology, art, and travel. Going out on a weekend and getting pictures in nature is a great way to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of a busy e-discovery practice.
Which person (living or deceased) do you most admire? Why?
Despite his flaws, I most admire the late Steve Jobs for what he accomplished and his insistence on the pursuit of excellence. The concept of constantly seeking to improve what we do, with the customer experience as a paramount value, is one I can relate to and it shapes how I see my role. Quality and service are key drivers for my team and for me, and I believe it helps us provide top-notch support for our clients and provides value to my firm.
Which historical figure do you most identify with? Why?
I’ve always admired Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He became president during a period of great national distress and he skillfully navigated troubled political waters to bring about the New Deal, a project that left an indelible mark on our nation. He then brought the nation along to emerge from isolationism to becoming the champion of freedom and liberation in World War II in a struggle that unified the nation and cemented the US as a world power. The lessons I seek to learn from FDR are how even the most noble objectives require patience and skillful understanding of the motivations of people, and how to incentivize them to achieve the goals you seek.
What do you consider the most underrated quality or skill? Why?
One of the most underrated skills is the ability to work in an organized and methodical manner, to break down complex tasks into sub-parts, and to build a plan to successfully complete each. This is a key skill in many endeavors and an absolute predictor of success in the e-discovery field. Discovery includes both highly predictable tasks and events—production deadlines, deposition dates, and so forth—and plenty of “fire drills,” whether it has to do with scope changes, new evidence, or technical issues. Having a well thought out plan for managing discovery means that predictable events can be managed effectively and with the highest levels of quality, while unpredictable events can receive a rapid response that can utilize all available resources without the “headless chicken” effect.