A Lifetime in Legal: Technology & The Law in 2020 & Beyond
Expert Perspectives: The Inventus Expert Perspectives series features insightful interviews with thought leaders, technologists, and leading legal innovators at the forefront of the global business and practice of law. In today's edition, we interview Stephen Embry, of TechLaw Crossroads, on his 30-plus career as a practicing lawyer and the changes he's observed in the past few decades. This is Part I of II of our in-depth interview with Embry.
Technology & the law: An accelerating pace of change
Q: You’ve been a practicing lawyer for nearly 30 years and have become fascinated with the intersection of technology and the law. How have you seen technology change the practice of law over the course of your career?
A: The major thing I’ve noticed is the speed at which everything now moves. When I first started practicing, you would write a letter, wait for a response and then perhaps reply. That process could take weeks. In the meantime, you could reflect on the issues presented and what your strategy might be depending on the response. Now everything is immediate. You send something and get a reply often within minutes. But losing that time for reflection, that space within which to think, means that you are often reacting without thinking. This leads to misunderstandings and sadly, all too often, a lack of civility.
Advice for lawyers looking to stay ahead of the curve
Q: In less than a single generation, technology and the internet have wrought sweeping changes in both our personal and professional lives – and legal discovery is no exception. For one, we’ve moved from primarily paper discovery – with rooms filled with attorneys digging through banker’s boxes filled with reams of paper – to primarily electronic discovery. How has your advice changed for lawyers looking to maintain an edge in the competitive legal marketplace over the years?
A: Of course, lawyers need to keep abreast of technology and leverage those tools effectively. But we also have to be much more attuned to process management: how to automate tasks and get things done in the most efficient way. I was at a conference recently discussing the concept of businesses in the future needing to manage to the exception. In other words, business needs to leverage automation and process management tools so that C-Suite executives spend their time on the exceptional problems and issues, rather than the day-to-day.
And so it will be with lawyers as well. The other main thing I tell younger lawyers is to think of themselves as entrepreneurs. You have to be responsible for yourself and your career. The days of being a “lifer” either at a firm or a company or in many respects gone. So depending on others to bring you business, become better or find security is not a good path for success. Depend upon and be responsible for yourself. Define yourself, don’t let others do it for you.
Preparing for eDiscovery in the global economy
Q: As data volumes increase exponentially, with businesses becoming more global and saving more data in more places, it’s increasingly important for companies and law firms to maintain a state of readiness when it comes to their data. This is even more important when litigation, regulatory action, or internal investigations are involved. What have you seen the smartest legal and tech teams do to maintain a state of readiness when it comes to their potentially litigious data?
A: I think any entity – whether a company or a law firm – needs to get its arms around its data: what it generates, how it is maintained and how it is managed. In many businesses and law firms, data governance is becoming a full-time job, especially now. The smartest businesses are hiring data governance professionals whose job it is to be responsible for and knowledgeable about data. From a law firm perspective, offering advice to companies about how to manage and govern data could be a tremendous business developments opportunity. When a lawsuit comes or if there is a significant deal or merger requiring due diligence, that business would likely turn to the law firm and lawyer that knows the data and business the best-the one who advised it how to govern the data in the first place.
About Stephen Embry: Stephen Embry is a lawyer who practiced as a partner for nearly 30 years. He is the author of the TechLaw Crossroads blog, covering the intersection between technology and innovation and the law and the practice of law. He is a national litigator and advisor specializing in developing solutions to complex corporate litigation problems. He is co-chair of the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center, Chair of the Kentucky Bar Association’s Law Practice Task Force, and Webinar Chair and Steering Committee member of Defense Research Institute’s Law Practice Management section. He is Chair of the Data Breach, Privacy, and Cyber Insurance Section of the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel. He holds the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel (FDCC) certification of Technology Master Advocate.