Leveraging AI to make an in-house team more successful requires collaboration—and the more the merrier when it comes to finding opportunities to innovate with technology. Medtronic’s Jennifer Swanton had plenty to share on building these relationships for better, faster results across many functions.
The legal function is often considered an expensive cost center. How do you prove your value to your organization? Can technologies like AI help you create more value, and if so, how?
With e-discovery in particular, it feels like we're always asking for stuff. We’re asking for documents and information. The people we’re asking never really see the end product, so it really does feel like we're a burden on the business.
When I think of providing value beyond the day-to-day work we do, I think of it in two areas.
One is being as efficient as possible and always looking for the best technology and processes that we can use to cost as little as possible.
When I first started at Medtronic, our e-discovery spend as a percentage of litigation was around 30 percent. At the time that was fairly normal; e-discovery was expensive, but it was getting cheaper. During my interview, we talked about how it was a race to zero for that per-gigabyte rate. My job, coming in, was partly to get our spend down as much as possible—not by using the cheapest vendors or technology out there, but by really looking at things on a long-term basis. How can we do our work as efficiently as possible, in the best way possible? And how can we give back to the company as a whole?
Second is recognizing that Medtronic is, at its core, a technology company. Yes, we're a medical device company, but as we grow, we are relying more and more on technology like artificial intelligence with our products. And so there is a natural kind of relationship between e-discovery and the rest of the company. These are technologies we're already using, that we're already familiar with. How can we partner with the rest of Medtronic to share that knowledge and help share those processes?
That's actually one of the things I'm working on right now: working with the legal function as a whole and making sure everyone understands these technologies, not just in terms of how they’re used for discovery, but how can they be utilized in other areas of the business.
Which of those adjacencies do you see as the biggest area of opportunity for technology to help improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness?
From the work that Medtronic does, it's really what we can learn from the use of our devices to help make them better. That's similar to the way my team already looks at data and documents; it's just looking at a different type of data and using it for a different purpose.
In e-discovery, when I'm looking at data with AI, we’re asking: what can this tell me without me having to read every single line or every single word of this data set? What does it all mean? What are the concepts discussed, and who are the important people?
You can extrapolate that exercise to many other areas—including medical device technology. The sky’s the limit.
Thinking back to what you said about how true cost effectiveness is not about just going with the cheapest option, what are some of the key qualities you look for in the right technology or partner?
When we've looked to partners here at Medtronic, we've looked toward groups that fit our vision and the work we do on a day-to-day basis. As many in-house teams are, we're very lean. So we look for companies or vendors who can be an extension of our team. That's not always easy to find because it's not a one-size-fits-all relationship.
When it comes to the technology, it's about looking toward tech that fits where you are as a discovery or information team. Much depends on where you are in that lifecycle.
If you're a company like Medtronic, utilizing fairly advanced technology on the majority of your legal matters or investigations, then you're looking for a technology partner who can support that on a wide scale on an almost daily basis.
Additionally, look at the needs of your data. For us, our data, as you might imagine, tends to include a lot of personal and privileged information—which means we're looking for vendors or partners who can help us deal with that. But there are going to be other companies where that's not much of a concern.
Another thing we've looked for is flexibility. We're a team who handles not just litigation, but also investigations and privacy matters. We might be throwing a ton of different stuff at our partners. Being able to move from a large investigation to a one-off product liability case is key.
What milestones or projects from throughout your career are you most proud of?
I'm going to go a little old school here. One of the projects I'm most proud of, and which has had the most impact, is the way that Medtronic has transitioned with initiating legal holds. When I first started 11 years ago, individuals placed on legal holds would receive a red sticker. It would be sent in the mail and they had to place their red sticker on their computer. Then we would know that they're on legal hold, and we’d get computers back with a hundred red stickers on them.
But we would also get computers back with no red stickers on them, even though we knew they were on legal hold, and would find random red stickers posted everywhere. We actually had a Christmas tree one year that we decorated with red stickers. It became this thing that had a life of its own.
So we automated our legal hold process, which at that time was fairly revolutionary. We began attaching holds to our Active Directory instead, which has changed our lives. People still actually ask about red stickers, which is kind of funny because they haven’t been around for a minute!
I think one of the reasons this project sticks out as one of the biggest I've worked on is that it had a huge impact on the way we work. It made our process more defensible, and started a new relationship with our IT team. We've only built more and more efficient and defensible processes together over the years.
Today, IT is one of our best partners—and one of our best advocates, too.
In your role, you wear many different hats. There are only so many hours in the day to decompress from it all. How do you spend your time away from work?
I love going to the beach. It doesn't matter what time of year it is—even if it means I'm just sitting in my car, looking at the ocean for a few minutes. I’ve been this way my whole life. I think it reminds me that there is more out there—there's a vastness out there that allows you to realize you'll get through even the stuff at work you can’t stop thinking about. There are bigger things.
My little five-year-old—he was born to live at the beach. That's his favorite place on the earth. So we spend a lot of time there. I also spend much of my free time traveling with my eldest for sporting events. I can't say that, when I first had children, this is what I expected my time would be spent doing, but it definitely is. And I love it.
Which person (living or deceased) do you most admire?
Through the pandemic, I've realized that working mothers, and working parents generally, don't get the credit they deserve. When you have a million different things going on and children who are also going through a pandemic and their own stuff, it's very difficult to manage it all.
My mom raised me by herself until I was in fifth grade. She went to college and she got a job and she raised me. And you know, she was just my mom back then, right? But looking back now, if I had to go to school on top of raising children and working, I don't know what I would do.
But there are some great politicians out there doing this right now, and a lot of CEOs who have built companies from the ground up and still manage to run households and have lives outside of work too. People who are able to balance it all are just truly impressive to me.
What about a historical figure who you'd say you most identify with?
Preparing for this question, I did one of those silly online quizzes on which historical figure I’m most like, and I got Mahatma Gandhi. And I was like, “Thank you, Facebook, but I can't imagine that I'm very much like Gandhi?” But then I did some digging and there are definitely similar interests that I think ring true: an interest in the law and the pursuit of justice obviously inspire me as a lawyer, but also just a vision of equality, of peacefulness.
Something I try to teach my children is that things aren't important—the bigger things are people and experiences and what you're able to learn in life. Those are way more important than having a fancy car.
So I think I’ll keep Gandhi as my answer, with a clear understanding that you can take it with a grain of salt.
Love that. Last question: reflecting back on your career and work in this industry, what would you consider to be the most underrated skill?
I think the most underrated skill is being able to admit when you are wrong. One of the things I tell my team all the time is that I don't care if they make a mistake, but I want them to own up to it. I want them to learn from it so that hopefully it doesn't happen again.
I’ve made mistakes, too, and I understand we are in an industry that moves very quickly. There are often gray areas in terms of what needs to be done. For me, when someone has made a mistake and then been able to own up to it, we can just learn from it and move on.
Coupled with that is keeping cool under pressure. One of my jobs is to, even when I’m completely freaking out in the back of my head over whatever is going on, calmly respond: “That's a good question. I'm going to look into that and get back to you.”
Never, ever is this a life or death situation in what we're dealing with on a day-to-day basis, right? Never is it that bad. As long as you can keep cool, you are telling everyone else that you're working on it—we've got this covered, we will figure it out, and we will move on. You instill confidence in the work you can do when you're able to just not freak out, even if you really want to.