Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and collaboration is an essential key to success in the legal realm. For Chris Haley, this knowledge has helped him establish two important habits over the course of his career: fostering a constant drive to keep learning and leaning on partnerships within and outside of his firm to accomplish more for their clients.
As for artificial intelligence? Well, it helps make all of that a lot more achievable.
Liz Roegner: Can you describe your role at Troutman eMerge?
Chris Haley: I'm the managing director of technology for Troutman Pepper eMerge and as such, my role is to assist our team in the delivery of our technology services. One of our core values as an organization is leveraging technology, which means we're constantly looking to technology, how it can solve clients' problems, and how it can make the work that we do in data management and discovery more efficient and effective.
What originally drew you to this line of work?
I have been in the legal industry for a while. Early on in the ‘90s it was more on the right side of the EDRM—doing more trial consulting, trial graphics, and presentation work. I had always had a great interest in technology. And so I transitioned my career in the early 2000s, combining the legal experience I had from the right side with technology experience and a lot of curiosity. The timing was lucky for me; the federal rule changes happened in 2005, and e-discovery officially took off as a thing in the mid 2000s. So I was in the right place at the right time.
Of course, like everyone in our industry, we probably didn't dream of the job we have today—or didn't even know it existed. I was lucky and fell into it. I also had great mentors, great team members around me, and great leaders who helped me throughout that time. Overall, I’ve found it very rewarding because technology is constantly changing and there is always more to learn. Keeping it interesting every day is a new case, a new problem to solve. The intersection of legal and tech—is really cool. So, it's been a very rewarding career.
When you're not working, what do you like to do to decompress?
I enjoy a variety of activities. I always like to stay busy. One thing in particular is that I'm a soccer fan; I follow soccer both internationally and here in the US. I'm a soccer referee for competitive youth matches, amateur adult, and college matches. I referee over a hundred matches a year.
I'm blessed! I have two daughters who decided to play soccer. They could’ve done anything, honestly. I probably had some influence in it, but they decided to pursue soccer. So you see, I get to watch a lot of soccer.
How would you describe the promise of AI and why it's not a scary concept to a skeptic or layperson?
The promise of artificial intelligence is to assist us with performing tasks that are repeatable and trainable and, in a way, how that enables us to focus on higher-level things that only we can do. How do we leverage technology and artificial intelligence and machine learning in a way that eliminates the redundancy of certain tasks and makes us more efficient?
Applying this to our team at eMerge, we need to constantly automate and find ways to be more effective and efficient. Leveraging AI can free us up to use our big human brains—which computers don’t have, now or in the future—to solve even bigger problems and challenges. The other part of it is to prevent the fatigue that results from these repetitive tasks in our work environment and deliver results faster.
The analogy I often use is like autopilot in a plane, or nowadays in cars. The current use of autopilot systems is not to fly or drive the car completely, autonomously, with no one there. Their purpose is to reduce fatigue for the pilot or driver by requiring less focus and attention from the human to take care of basic things. The driver or pilot is still there to take over and guide the autopilot, or take over completely for it, if necessary, when new or significant challenges arise.
You hear all these big ideas in the news—all this big tech on the horizon. But how do you bring it down to Earth for your team and your clients? How do you focus on just the basics of getting your firm’s work done?
We have to know what our users need, what our stakeholders and our clients want. And I need to know what RelativityOne can do, what our team of developers can do, so we can determine whether we can and should make those connections. For example, we developed a RelativityOne application called eMerge Xtractor, which won an Innovation Award at Relativity Fest in 2022. It leverages an existing AI solution from Microsoft. We didn’t invent the AI; instead we made the connector and built an interface in RelativityOne, so our users could leverage that existing machine learning technology to automatically extract information from forms and make it more easily useful to their projects.
One of our major focuses for 2023 is reviewing the entire catalog of Azure Cognitive Services and other AI technologies that are available to consume and determining how we can create more wizards and interfaces connecting to those services, so that we can make them available and easy for our users to leverage for things like natural language processing or image categorization. These existing AI technologies can be difficult and inefficient for the average person to learn and use in their current form, but when we make them available in Relativity, any of our existing users can put them to use quickly with little or no training. So instead of trying to invent the next AI technology, what existing AI algorithms and machine learning technologies can we help our clients tap into right away?
What are the key characteristics you think about when you look for technology partners? What qualities stand out—around the psychology, the products, the engineering approach—that really define successful relationships?
One of the things that's helped eMerge be successful is our approach to our partnerships with the people we work with. Not just our own individual team members, but the extended team members that we partner with—the partners some people just call vendors. They're our partners, and we treat them as such. And a partnership is a two-way street. It's not a customer or client relationship; it is a partnership. Finding providers who understand that, and are willing to walk that two-way street with you, makes all the difference.
In our relationship with Relativity and other partners that we've had at eMerge over the years, what makes us successful is that I’m not just looking for how I get the upper hand or the best price or whatever from them. Of course, I want the best for our team and our firm, but I also ask myself, “How can I contribute? How can I help make my partner more successful?”
To be blunt? If, when we first made an investment in Relativity as a firm, Relativity had not been successful, that would have been horrific for us too. We made a significant investment in the product and in making sure it's useful to us. And so, by giving back, and by being a good partner for them as well—providing constructive feedback, not just complaining about the things that aren’t quite right, but asking how we can work together to make this better—it’s mutually beneficial.
Another analogy—which maybe people would think was crazy—it's like a marriage. In marriage, you don't start off by thinking: “How do I get the most out of this? What's in it for me?” If you go into a partnership or a marriage with that kind of an attitude, it's a disaster, right? Instead, you need to approach things with: “How can we make things better together, understanding that neither of us is perfect, and we will both make mistakes?” You have to accept the imperfections, and be vulnerable with each other, in order to improve together.
eMerge is really intentional about your approach to partnership with your clients, too, right? How do you take all this knowledge and all this work you do with your technology partners, and put it to work for your clients?
First, it starts with building a relationship with the clients, because you need that partnership as I just described. You need to have that level of trust and vulnerability with each other. And you have to work at that; it doesn't come easily. Putting others first is not always human nature. Start by allowing the small wins to build into big wins and lay that foundation. From there, being open and looking for opportunities, and then being able to recognize them and act quickly on them—that’s what I’m grateful for in the way that we do things here at eMerge.
A business partnership is a two-way street. It's not just a customer or client relationship; it is a partnership. Finding providers who understand that, and are willing to walk that two-way street with you, makes all the difference.
We built eMerge to be innovative and opportunistic. Combining legal and technology expertise into a single organization allows us to see opportunities and solve problems better and faster for our clients.
When hiring new talent, what traits or characteristics do you look for? What would you encourage professionals who are new to this field to focus on?
A lot of what we look for in people to join our team is not necessarily the specific skill set. Many of the particular technologies and skills are learnable, if you have the right attitude, aptitude, and curiosity. And so those are the big factors that we look for when we're recruiting. Of course we hire team members at all levels of experience and skill, but we also have interns and hire individuals without any skills or experience, and give them an opportunity to grow into a career with us. I think it’s that aptitude and attitude and curiosity that will predispose anyone at any level to being successful in our industry.
If you're scared to try new things or are not curious or a problem solver by nature, those are challenging to overcome in our space. Here, every day, there's something new: new technologies, new laws, new matters, a new challenge. Every day, there’s a new problem with clients who have new systems we've never encountered before, with new data types. We have to solve those problems, ask good questions, be sure we understand the “why,” and be willing and curious to experiment in order to get there.