For Ruth Hauswirth, special counsel and head of litigation and e-discovery services at Cooley, being at the forefront of integrating technology with the practice of law has been an integral part of her nearly 30-year legal career. And, in many ways, she believes we are still at the beginning of the transformation. Ruth is passionate about leveraging tech—including artificial intelligence—to make the litigation process better and more accessible, while dedicating significant time to educating the next generation of lawyers as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law.
Liz Roegner: Let’s start with your background. How did you get into the technology and e-discovery side of the legal industry?
Ruth Hauswirth: I started as a litigation associate at Cooley in 1995, working on a variety of intellectual property and business litigation cases. Back then, everything was still on paper, with email just starting to enter the discovery scene.
Early in my practice, I was working on a document-intensive case that also involved email, and I remember thinking two things. First, there has to be a better way to review email! At the time, we had no special review tools. Second, electronic information was going to fundamentally change the practice of law. This early experience sparked an interest to explore how technology could improve what it meant to practice.
Soon thereafter, I became the first assistant dean for Law and Technology at the Santa Clara University School of Law, where I developed their IP law and High Tech Law programs. I was beginning to explore how technology was reshaping legal practice and was excited to see where it would lead me in my career.
In addition to my litigation practice, I began to focus on educational initiatives for attorneys at our firm, zeroing in on the law-technology nexus. In the early 2000s, we formed a task force focused on evolving e-discovery legal issues and emerging technology software. That task force eventually developed into our litigation and e-discovery services department, which I have led since. We’ve built a global team of lawyers and technology professionals to provide strategic services and support to our lawyers and clients in managing their electronically stored information.
It’s been a wonderful career trajectory for me. In those early days, I didn’t know that it was going to become my professional focus—but what an interesting and exciting time to be involved.
How has your team built that technology experience specifically in service of meeting the demands of litigation work?
It was a steep learning curve for everyone in the beginning, but of course the learning never stops because technology keeps evolving. Fortunately, we have a lot of longevity on our team and developed our experience together, while also growing the team to add new perspectives and skills. As technology developed, team members naturally gravitated toward areas that interested them, becoming authorities on particular subjects and developing repeatable workflows that ensure advanced technology is deployed any time it can help. We have members on our team who focus not only on deploying the technology, but also in identifying opportunities to use it and consulting with our attorneys on the process.
On the proactive side, we’ve built out a counseling practice where we design and support our clients in implementing practical information retention and disposition policies, advocating the use of AI and advanced analytics to help our clients achieve their information management goals. We also are strategically adding to our tech stack of tools, so we are always advancing to meet our clients’ needs.
Today, we have this talented team to help our lawyers and clients leverage technology to make litigation—an already complex and difficult process—better. That’s how I see our group’s purpose within the firm: we apply our unique training, processes, and technology to help find key information more efficiently to achieve our clients’ goals.
With a team of experienced e-discovery attorneys and highly skilled technologists, we focus on why we are involving technology in the first place, so the tail doesn’t wag the dog. Tech is a tool to augment the legal process, not replace it. With the right tools in their hands, our lawyers can keep doing the things lawyers need to do, but better and more efficiently, especially with the massive volumes and various types of data we must deal with today.
What are some of your favorite use cases for automation and artificial intelligence during e-discovery?
When I started practicing, my clients could point me to file drawers of relevant information, and we’d quickly get our arms around a dispute. That isn’t the case today. Now, we have this huge universe of information, spread across many sources, that we can’t immediately access.
Machine learning and advanced analytics help inform our case strategy and the overall discovery process by quickly interrogating large data sets, providing early reporting, and pushing the most relevant information to the front of the queue. Through analytics tools, the data “speaks” to us. Being able to see the data—the relationships, concepts, and timelines—is a game changer. Who’s speaking to whom? When are things cut off? Are there any angry or coercive communications? What story is the data telling us?
Take prioritization and categorization; these tools help push what we need to see to the top. Concept searching, too, lets the data tell us more of the story up front. And then, it’s about finding what we need to build our case and fulfill our discovery obligations. With so many different data types, there’s no single way to do this. It isn’t one-size-fits-all. But I just can’t imagine going through the discovery process without using some of these tools to augment the procedures.
In your time teaching law school, how have you seen law students and new lawyers approach technology?
It’s been interesting to watch because I’ve been teaching now for a while, and new lawyers—those I’m teaching and those I work with—seem to embrace technology rapidly, which makes sense, as they never knew a time without it. The harder thing for them is recognizing how data and tech are disrupting traditional practice and that tech and law were not always intertwined.
They are learning the art of litigating in a unique time, where we have several generations of lawyers in practice: some who didn’t have to deal with technology in discovery much, and others who straddled both worlds—like me. That’s why I find it so important to integrate technology and a discussion of its impact on legal practice into law school education.
In my e-Discovery Law & Practice class, I introduce my students to some of the legal tech tools that attorneys use in litigation, and we incorporate the use of technology into the class. For example, through Relativity’s Academic Partner program, my students learn the basics of Relativity. And, through demos and guest presentations, I introduce them to an array of litigation technology tools that are reshaping legal practice. They love how practical the class is because we cover what they’ll actually be doing with data in their future practice and tackle the legal issues they will encounter. We also concentrate on how technology fits in the context of our ethical, legal, and strategic obligations as attorneys.
Again, we are still at the beginning of this transformation. Maybe not the very beginning, but we’re still in the early stages of seeing how technology will continue to reshape our world and legal practice. There is plenty of innovation and disruption to come, and I choose to look at that as a positive when the goal is to make things better. I enjoy mentoring the next generation to embrace that mindset.
With AI and analytics tools, data “speaks” to us. Being able to see the data—the relationships, concepts, and timelines—is a game changer. Who’s speaking to whom? When are things cut off? Are there any angry or coercive communications? What story is the data telling us?
One of the ways you like to unwind is through meditation. Could you tell us a little about your meditation practice and how you discovered it?
I’m so glad you asked about this! While my career in the practice of law and technology has been professionally and personally rewarding on so many levels, including getting to work with the best colleagues in the profession, it is also stressful and challenging at times. Let’s face it, just being human these days can be really stressful.
I found meditation about 12 years ago. At that time, I was juggling a lot of things, including raising my son, dealing with aging parents, navigating a long commute, and many personal and professional responsibilities. There wasn’t much time for my own wellbeing, which I learned the hard way. I started experiencing panic attacks and anxiety. A helpful therapist recommended I take a class to learn about mindfulness meditation as a tool to help. I took a course called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and it really helped. It’s not that meditation was a quick fix or cure-all, but I found it to be a profoundly useful skill to help me stay focused and grounded. To this day, I use it to decompress, to be a more present and authentic leader, colleague, partner, and parent.
Practicing mindfulness helped me so much, I decided I wanted to help others learn how to use meditation to support their wellbeing too. In 2020, I became certified as a mindfulness facilitator at UCLA through the Mindful Awareness Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. In a way, it fits with my overall story: with meditation, I became intrigued to study where modern neuroscience meets contemplative traditions of mindfulness, similar to how I became fascinated with how modern technology intersected with and transformed the law.
These days, I lead mindfulness meditation trainings for legal professionals and organizations. I feel like it is another way to give back to the legal profession, which has provided me such a fulfilling career journey. Cultivating calm and mindful thinking helps us to stay grounded and focused, and in turn, we can continue to thrive in our demanding, yet rewarding, field alongside the people and technology that help us to do our best.