This past May, Women in e-Discovery hosted their first annual conference. Eager to put faces to email signatures, I attended the conference and brought the Stellar Women in e-Discovery podcast “on the road” from Chicago to Austin. Despite torrential downpours, spirits were high as female leaders throughout the industry caught up with colleagues and soaked in a wealth of information on technology-assisted review, the art of negotiation, and artificial intelligence.
I had the opportunity to catch up with two guests of Stellar Women in e-Discovery—Tricia Johnson and Joy Murao—for the podcast’s “On the Road” special edition series. In this episode, Tricia and Joy discuss what it means to be innovative in legal tech today and how they have paved a path of innovation throughout their careers.
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Mary Rechtoris: Hey Stellar Women in e-Discovery fans. I’m Mary Rechtoris, your host of Stellar Women in e-Discovery. Stellar Women in e-Discovery shines a light on female leaders making their mark in e-discovery. Some of you may be thinking, what is e-discovery? In short, e-discovery is about investigating electronic data to find out the truth.
This is the first of a two-part special edition series of Stellar Women in e-Discovery that we are calling “On the Road.” In this series, I connect with two stellar women in e-discovery guests at the Women in e-Discovery conference in Austin in May. Joy Murao and Tricia Johnson talk about all things innovation in this episode of “On the Road” Part 1.
Without further or due, this is Part 1 of Stellar Women in e-Discovery “On the Road.” So, Tricia, let’s start with you. How would you define or describe innovation?
Tricia Johnson: A new way of looking at something or a new way to do it. [It is] recognizing that maybe there's a better way to do something. It's not even always necessarily to fix something, but just being creative and taking a new look or a new approach.
Joy Murao: To me, it's being creative. Going outside the box and [doing] something that is not the norm. It is risky. So, how do you minimize that by having it be more of a calculated risk? This means looking at the way things are and what you need to change and again, be more thoughtful about how you design that change. And it should be positive. Because if it's negative, I don't think that's innovative.
MR: So, we are in an industry—legal tech—where attorneys and law firms, they don’t love risk. How is the industry moving toward more innovative thinking, or do we still have a ways to go?
JM: I think innovation on the law firm side is obviously being pushed by clients. I think we've always been pushed by clients. That's why we're not still in MS-DOS and we're going into Microsoft Word. Even though attorneys love WordPerfect and Shift+F7, we had to move so clients have consistently been the ones pushing us. And when you look at the adoption of cloud, what used to be “Oh, no, we'll never go there,” is now companies actually looking at and moving toward Office 365 and other cloud-based systems. All of a sudden, it does open the door for law firms now to adopt that kind of innovative technology.
For me in legal, I was doing practice support and litigation support. Specifically, I was working with technology companies to be “innovative”—and I'm using air quotes because was it positive change? Some attorneys wouldn’t think it was positive to have to do some of the work and front the cost that came with it. But for me, it was people. How do we bring innovation to my teams to make us more effective and efficient to streamline our processes? It’s like when we turn to technology and processes in general to make a manufacturer effective and efficient. It's like Toyota when you think about building cars. When you think about how a law firm runs, you have lawyers, but you have huge support departments, whether it's with processing or legal secretaries, or paralegals or litigation support. These are all people who have to work in concert together to be effective and efficient and minimize those costs for clients.
So how do you be innovative in bringing positive change to people? To me, it's about being innovative: How you look at job descriptions or fulfilling work orders, if you want to call it that? For example, if I have 15 people, are we all e-discovery project managers? No. I stratify that. We're going to have people who are intake people and we're going to have analysts to do tasks. We're going to have project managers who are focused on budgets, and some other project managers who are awesome at managing external vendors. We may have consultants, who may or may not be attorneys, but who are advising case teams on their cases. So how do you take a team and get creative and innovative on how you're going to actually deliver support and services to the attorneys and the clients? I think being brave and minimizing that risk is important in looking at how you train them.
That's why now, with what I do, I am really focusing on education and that best practice. For example, here is a team that is kind of diverse in its skillset and broad in what they're offering and that might not work for every law firm. Some law firms are really heavy into outsourcing everything. So, you might need three project managers who are all good at outsourcing projects. So those are different. You have to be innovative, but yet understand your audience to make sure you're bringing that positive change. And if someone throws a wrench, can you maneuver yourself out of that and say, “You know, we just got some new piece of information—we're going to now pivot and go over here.” It's not always just about following instructions and thinking you'll be okay. But what do you do when it's not okay? And where do they go? And how do they communicate? How do they ask for help? It is about teaching people. Don’t sit there for five days and not tell me you that you need help, because the deadline is in six days. If you don't have the solution, then raise your hand, go to someone you trust. If you don't feel like you can go to your boss, then go knock on your neighbor's door. But ultimately, you have to find help and you'll learn.
TJ: I just had a conversation the other day with somebody who is a sixth-grade science teacher. And she was talking about the fact that there was somebody in her class who wasn't doing well on the tests. But he knew his stuff. He did one test and completely failed it. She let him do it open book. And he passed it obviously with open book, but she was like: “I didn't just let him do open book. I had him show me the exact page and the exact paragraph that he used to do the answer.” One of the other teachers was upset that she let him do that. And I'm like, “why is it only in school that you can't look up the answers?” It's only in school that you were expected to know and memorize and have it right away. And frankly, for me, if I'm working with a vendor or partner and they don't want to go look up an answer and if they say this is the answer whether they're right or wrong and just put one down, then that's not a good partner to work with. [The open book test] was a different aspect of looking at that and teaching people how to think. I told her: “That's what you were doing. You were teaching this kid how to find the answer more than you were worried about him getting a good grade.” And I think that was a different way of doing it than the other teachers were doing. And I think it worked out really well.
JM: And that is not the norm, right? The concept of taking a risk and doing what's not normal for positive change because that child needed that.
JM: Otherwise, he would get pushed aside.
MR: And that gets into the whole issue of standardized testing and the ACT.
JM: Even looking at when I asked someone to research something, and they spend like six hours researching. I'll ask: “Where is the spreadsheet of all the links you went to?” And they say: “What do you mean?” When I go somewhere, I copy and paste the link into an Excel chart. When I'm done, I may realize that I didn't like that site and then I just keep putting the links as I go so that later when I'm done, I can say well, here, I'm going to filter by 1-2-3-4-5, and these are the best links and some great references for you. I now have a repository. There may be a link that wasn't good last time because it was so fluffy. But now we need fluff so let me go find all the fluff and say: “Here's some good stuff to look into.” It’s being efficient and effective. You can't track what you don't measure. With research, you can track [links] and then you figure out what was good. And then we find out what authors we like reading more because these certain people always seem to have in-depth articles about certain topics about our legal industry. So again, you can report and repurpose that information—so I teach people how to do that.
MR: Tricia, QDiscovery is all about innovation.
MR: You guys have QMobile, which was a Community Choice Innovation Award winner in 2017. It’s a really cool app. Are you seeing the same thing where your clients are demanding innovation? A lot of your clients are law firms, right?
TJ: Law firms and we do have corporations, as well. I definitely would say a lot of the innovation comes from what are the clients looking for. They're willing to do things a little bit differently and want to see things differently. For QMobile, we were looking for a solution for how to get stuff from mobile into Relativity. Our team sat down together, and we had our project manager who said we have clients who want this. We looked for what was out there [on the market] and couldn’t find anything, So, the project managers sat down with our forensics team, some of our developers, and our processing team. We had this great group of people from across the company come up with a solution. It took a few trials and errors. I think that that's part of innovation is looking at one problem but also looking at the processes, and that’s why I love your idea, Joy, of the innovation with people. What's the workflow? Can you be innovative without creating a new piece of technology? When you think innovation, especially in legal tech, you're like, oh, what's the new technology? What's the new hot thing? Where are we going? And there is a lot of that. But I think there's also a lot that fits around how I am using this technology and determining where I can make it better. How can I apply my process and my workflow to Relativity, and can I be unique and innovative and different about it?
MR: Joy, what's a time that you've been very innovative in your career? What's a moment that sticks out?
JM: Hmm, very innovative…
MR: Or, just innovative.
TJ: Less pressure.
JM: Inventing myself and being innovative with where my career was going. And, what I'm doing with my career in regard to positive change. If I create something that no one uses, is it really innovative? Because it's not if it's not creating any change. So, for me, [innovation was] starting my own company and focusing on education first. It took looking back and seeing that we've been struggling with, which was hiring new lit support or practice support people. These people—who I now coin paratechnicals—can bridge that gap between lawyers and IT to make sure we're using the best technology and working with the best vendors out there for our cases. Where are we getting those people? For our cases, it used to be saying we'll just take one person from one firm to another firm and will slowly introduce one or two people that somehow fall into it like I fell into it. All of a sudden, it's not just for the big law firms anymore. It's all law firms need lit support or, rather, paratechnicals. You have vendors who need these people and you have software companies who need these people. Now, you have government agencies who need these people. All of a sudden, we needed to bring training and education to our industry and be innovative in how we train and get people onboarded into our legal technology arena faster. Even at corporations, you have legal operations teams now taking people from the lit support team because they're working in their own Relativity or RelativityOne instance. They are actually working with outside counsel and some of these outside counsels don't have a support team because they don't have access to resources to bring them on board. I teach at UCLA’s paralegal school and I try to make sure we're giving a broad understanding of legal technology—not just the specific e-discovery courses—but also information governance, M&A, and all the different things that we use in the legal practice. To me, my business was what I did to be innovative for myself, but hopefully innovative for our industry to help create this pipeline of new people in our work environments.
MR: Love it. Tricia, what about you, whether at QDiscovery or another time?
TJ: I would say the couple of ways that I've been innovative is walking into a company that hasn't had marketing before. So, I was being innovative in how they deal with marketing. At QDiscovery, I was the first full-time marketing person, and it was the same case at a couple previous positions where I've been that full-time marketing person internally. It's really trying to be innovative about what I'm doing. [For] positive change, it was helping a company realize what they're really good at, and I have picked companies that I think are pretty cool companies that are doing some fun and innovative things. It is helping them recognize that yes, this is innovative, and this is a little bit different than what else is out there. We're a pretty cool company, so let's talk about ourselves and take that approach with marketing. The innovative thing is taking that leap of faith to walk into a company that doesn't have a set marketing department and create it and build it out. Get people thinking about marketing and thinking about how they should talk about the company and promote the company in a way that people realize how cool of a company we are.
MR: Jumping in with a quick plug: the Stellar Women in e-Discovery podcast is celebrated at Relativity’s annual fall conference through our live awards ceremony in Chicago. Each year, we recognize the stellar woman in the field who embodies this podcast’s core values: elevating women in tech, breaking barriers, mentoring others & paying it forward. Know someone who comes to mind? Nominate her at relativityfest.com
MR: Last year [at Relativity Fest], we added the people-centric Innovation Awards. We've traditionally done only technology categories for the Innovation Awards. What was your initial thought when we added these awards and what value do you think they bring?
JM: It was real. All these companies and innovations involve all different people, whether it's the UX design people, the front-end people, the back-end coders, or the project managers. All the innovation regarding technology is built by individuals. I thought it was so awesome to have individual categories. I didn't even know I was going to be nominated. It was this awesome celebration that someone is actually going to recognize individuals. To be even nominated is an honor—that’s like what they say during the Academy Awards. I think it was special in that I was really happy that Relativity continues to bring [together] and build a community. It reinforced more this concept of thinking about others. Take a moment and think about who did affect your life or who did bring positive change to you as an individual. What lawyer is this great evangelist going out there outside their comfort zone? Or, litigation support professionals who are really (and I don’t want to say killing themselves) but working all the time.
MR: Killing it.
JM: Yes! Killing it. In regard to Stellar Women, I thought, as a female, I think we have these innate abilities of being a nurturer and taking care of others. With our demeanor, our patience level, and our ability to speak to different levels of people with more care, I think I tuned to my audience. I'll speak differently to different groups. I think those are traits and qualities that come from me being a woman and being more in tune with myself. I can be this maternal, strict person, or the fun-loving person, or the caring person. To me, the Stellar Women award was all-encompassing. I just thought that it was a beautiful thing. There’s a wide range of women who could be nominated for that and should be nominated because being stellar is so much. It’s a very broad category. It doesn’t have that label because you do this one thing, or you built this tool. It's so much bigger than that. What Relativity does is such an important part of our community. And, Relativity has been such a big part of our community for so long that I'm glad that they're giving back and paying it forward to all the members of the group.
TJ: I love that more encompassing idea of the Innovation Awards—having multiple categories for people and for the technology that's out there. Obviously, we're in legal tech, so the technology is important. But, it's not the only thing, so I like that recognition of [the people]. And when we won, I think we had eight people up on the stage. Our team was all there. We’re so excited, and everybody just ran up. [It's about] not replacing [the tech] but adding to it and making it more all-encompassing.
MR: And we added a new award this year—the In-House Tech Evangelist Award.
JM: It does take those evangelists to go out and ring that bell and say: “This is out there and here's how you use it.” [And if people aren’t using it], they are breaking down barriers and asking why. Is it a mindset situation? Is it reluctance to change? [If so, they’ll say] “Let me help you.” Those people really have a lot to do to with the success of innovation in their law firms, in-house [corporations], and in our industry. It does take someone who can take rejection. I joke that they’re like my Roomba when it's trying to get underneath the table.
MR: The vacuum?
JM: Yeah! He moves forward and then he hits the wall. He backs up, turns a little bit, and goes forward again. And that's kind of like what an evangelist does. You keep at it and try and find the right formula to hit your thought home with that person that you're talking to.
MR: And, they’re very effective like that Roomba.
TJ: It vacuums way longer than any person would.
MR: It’s sustainable. It’s a great analogy.
MR: Thanks listeners for tuning into part 1 of SWIED On the Road. Part 2 will be coming your way soon and we will talk about why we need to celebrate and elevate leaders in the industry. Please help us spread the word about female leaders in the space making a difference by continuing to listen to the podcast and nominating stellar women at relativityfest.com. And with that, for Stellar Women in e-Discovery, I’m Mary Rechtoris, signing off.