AI Visionary Wendy Riggs, founder of SBO Consulting and formerly of Zynga, Twitter, and Airbnb, is no stranger to how the smart implementation of innovative technology can distinguish companies, departments, and careers. She’s helped her colleagues and clients leverage artificial intelligence to classify data, identify PII, implement data mapping policies, and more.
The legal sector has a reputation for being slow to embrace new technologies. What are some of the structural barriers that keep law firms from adopting new technologies? How and why did you take an interest in AI?
The primary barrier to law firms adopting new technologies is the ability to adapt quickly to changes in how their clients are structured and operate. Frequently, fast-paced, younger companies utilize a variety of applications across their organizations, making it more challenging to identify where relevant data resides. In my experience, law firms have not adapted well to the idea of co-mingled, disparate applications—which becomes quite the hurdle when navigating through the discovery phase.
When I was working on an in-house team, this drove me to want to improve our internal tools and data mapping because relying on outside firms wasn’t a complete solution. Outside counsel also often doesn’t see the in-house team as exceptionally knowledgeable, which creates conflicts between in-house and outside counsel in various ways.
What were your interests early on, and what drew you to the world of litigation?
I ended up in the legal world by chance. Still, I learned early on that I thrive under pressure and enjoy the strategic, creative, and problem-solving aspects of litigation and discovery (which I fondly refer to as reactive governance).
In addition, my discovery experiences led to my interest in data—particularly the tools required to access data for preservation and collection purposes, mapping data sources, and documenting our processes to ensure we are executing an efficient, defensible, repeatable process.
The legal function has the reputation of being an expensive cost center. How can these teams best prove their value to their organizations? Can technologies like AI help?
Companies can achieve considerable cost savings by adopting new and better technologies, including the costs associated with conducting discovery in litigation. But there are also cost savings to be found by proactively mapping data sources, ensuring proper data collection and preservation, and adhering to data retention and protection policies.
In my experience, using AI to assist with classifying data, identifying PII, and flagging data types (e.g., privileged communications, documents containing proprietary, confidential information, et cetera) is vital to achieving litigation and compliance requirements in a consistent, defensible, and cost-efficient way.
Companies can avoid costly discovery or regulatory mistakes that can result in penalties. In my experience, using AI to assist with classifying data, identifying PII, and flagging data types (e.g., privileged communications, documents containing proprietary, confidential information, et cetera) is vital to achieving litigation and compliance requirements in a consistent, defensible, and cost-efficient way.
How can legal professionals who are passionate about technology use it to distinguish their career?
Think creatively with corporate culture always top of mind. What works for one organization or setting may not work for another. By considering the task or issue at hand and being thoughtful about streamlining processes utilizing technology in general—and, more specifically, AI—you can achieve great results that are a win-win for all internal stakeholders, including lawyers, IT, compliance, audit, and finance.
A great example of this is one of my clients, a large global company, who tested and is successfully utilizing AI to assist with mapping data tables and elements to their records retention schedule. That benefits the organization—super creative and thoughtful use of AI technology to ensure compliance in a consistent and scalable manner.
You’ve worked in legal roles at various technology behemoths over the years: Twitter, Zynga, and Airbnb. What do you consider your most meaningful wins over the course of your career?
I’ve always strived to be a thought leader—which, in my opinion, means creatively solving day-to-day problems and proactively improving processes to save the legal department time and money in the near term and long term, without sacrificing quality but also in a sustainable manner. A few basic ‘wins’ I contributed to that resulted in saving team members’ time and outside counsel/vendor spend include:
- Development and implementation of outside counsel guidelines, and creating rules in our e-billing system to automate compliance with those guidelines
- Development of standard data operations practices and documenting those in playbooks (e.g., corporate data sources, details around our preservation and collection processes, et cetera), which would be shared with outside counsel—saving significant time and outside counsel spend
- Making it a priority to successfully partner with cross-functional teams to ensure the successful adoption of practice and policy across an organization
How do you think the legal sector can promote more diversity in the workplace? What, in your opinion, have been the structural impediments to diversity, and how can these be removed?
Diversity drives creativity and collaboration. Much like I value collaborating with cross-functional teams for the different perspectives that other groups bring to problems, I believe diversity in all areas of a company, law firm, or the entire legal sector benefits us all.
I think the legal profession has been slow to recognize the inherent value of promoting diversity. In addition, law firms have been far slower than companies to value the contributions of non-lawyers as highly as they should. The ability to afford law school is a barrier to entry and it should not, and does not, indicate an individual’s ability to excel at tasks that do not involve providing legal advice.
Which person (living or deceased) do you most admire?
Anthony Bourdain. He was troubled yet yearned to understand and connect with others—culturally and personally through sharing food. I believe sharing meals with others brings people together. I raised my sons sitting down at the dinner table and talking about our days. I was with my sons in Bali a couple of years ago, and it was a truly fantastic experience to connect with locals, experience their culture, and connect with them through their food and customs. These are memories we can never recreate but that I will cherish forever.
What do you do when you are not working? How do you decompress?
I enjoy relaxing with my two French bulldogs (Jax and Stella), spending time with my grown sons (Nick and Justin), and enjoying time with my close friends. Learning about wine, cooking fabulous meals for others, and travel are also at the top of my list. Of course, let’s not forget binge-watching amazing shows!