Technology adeptness doesn’t have to look exactly the same from law firm to law firm. Kristin Hodgins joins Dennis and Tom to share her thoughts on the latest trends in legal technology and effective approaches to tech competence. She also discusses her career path, the distinction between access to justice and access to legal services, ChatGPT, and much more.
As always, stay tuned for the parting shots, that one tip, website, or observation that you can use the second the podcast ends.
Have a technology question for Dennis and Tom? Call their Tech Question Hotline at 720-441-6820 for the answers to your most burning tech questions.
Kristin Hodgins is project manager and product owner at Xcential Legislative Technologies.
Show Notes – Kennedy-Mighell Report #348
A Segment: Fresh Voices on Legal Tech: Kristin Hodgins
B Segment: Continued Discussion with Kristin Hodgins
More from the Fresh Voices series:
Intro: Got the world turning as fast as it can. Hear how technology can help legally speaking with two of the top legal technology experts, authors and lawyers, Dennis Kennedy and Tom Mighell. Welcome to the Kennedy-Mighell report here on the Legal Talk Network.
Dennis Kennedy: And welcome to episode 348 of the Kennedy-Mighell report. I’m Dennis Kennedy in Ann Arbor.
Tom Mighell: And I’m Tom Mighell, in Dallas.
Dennis Kennedy: In our last episode, we discussed whether the current approach to Legal Tech Conferences and CLEs, is actually a good way for people to learn about tech and tech skills or whether there might be some better ways. So, what are the desired outcomes from these conferences and do today’s approaches achieve them? In this episode, we have another very special guest in our Fresh Voices series. In Fresh Voices, we want to showcase different and compelling perspectives on Legal Tech and more. We have another fabulous guest, and okay, Tom, I’m going to admit it that I am I’m really enjoying this interview series even if it was your idea to do more interviews. Tom, what’s all on our agenda for this episode?
Tom Mighell: All right, everybody, and Dennis, this edition of the Kennedy-Mighell report, we are thrilled to continue our Fresh Voices on Legal Tech Interview Series. Can’t call it new anymore. It’s been going on for a while. With Kristin Hodgins, who is among other things, a consultant with Xcential Legislative Technologies, and a strong voice on social media on the legal technology space. We want our Fresh Voices series to not only introduce you to terrific leaders in the legal tech space. But also provide you with their perspective on the things that you ought to be paying attention to we’re getting a lot of great perspective from the people we’ve been talking to are really happy with the people that have been showing up for this podcast. And as usual, we’ll finish up with our parting shots that one tip website and observation that you can start to using the second bet this podcast is over.
But first up, we are so pleased to welcome Kristin Hodgins to our Fresh Voices Series. Kristin, welcome to the Kennedy-Mighell report.
Kristin Hodgins: Thank you very much for having me. I’m excited.
Tom Mighell: Absolutely. Before we get started, can you tell the audience a little more about yourself? What your role as a consultant at Xcential Legislative Technologies encompasses and kind of what you want our audience to know about what you do every day?
Kristin Hodgins: Sure. So I think we’ll dive more deeply into my background and career path a little bit later. But broadly, I’ve made a career out of leading enterprise transformation projects in the legal space. Largely focusing on technology and add users. I’ve been an enterprise buyer and implementer of technology, most of my career. But most recently, I’ve shifted to the vendor and product side of legal tech with Xcential.
So Xcential is a small US-based legal tech company. We’re about 20 years old. And the reason you probably haven’t heard of our company is because we operate in the rulemaking space. So, unlike most other legal tech companies, our primary clients aren’t law firms and legal departments. They’re national state and provincial legislatures. So, we primarily work with those government entities to modernize rulemaking, which involves developing technology for legislative drafting, using modern XML standards, publishing legislation in a way that’s accessible to variety of users, and also automating things like the codification process.
We’re also starting to venture into the rules of code space, which is where legislation is not only machine-readable but machine-executable. So, in my role with Xcential, I primarily work with those government entities to understand their business, their needs and how our products and services can help solve their modernization dreams, I suppose, and working with our internal development teams to either add to our core product roadmap or develop custom applications for them.
Dennis Kennedy: Great. Kristen, as people know, and I think you do as well. I sometimes get a little frustrated with how difficult it still is to explain technology, whether it’s an old technology or new technology, and its benefits to those in the legal profession. I think you’re great at this, especially with your background on the government side, and in — I would broadly call legal operations to some extent probably before it was actually called that and practical impacts of the technology.
I also think you have this great direct approach. I noticed on LinkedIn this morning, you had posted something about somebody we had talked about burnout and they were talking about like strategies to deal with burnout. And you made this comment that, you know, if you’re in a burnout situation, like the strategy is not how like how to deal with it. It’s like how to get out of it.
And I think that’s — there’s just such a fresh and direct approach. But would you talk about your typical approach to communicating with lawyers and others in the legal profession about technology?
Kristin Hodgins: Sure. So, I think my approach depends largely on the context and who I’m talking to. If I’m talking internally with an organization and trying to get my lawyers on board with technology. Lawyers really need to have confidence in knowing that you understand their business. There needs to be an element of trust there. And you need to demonstrate that you actually understand their pain points, and also their motivations and fears for technology.
Especially with lawyers in law firms, when you talk about bringing a new technology on board, the first thing they’re going to say is, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time for that” because every hour a lawyer spends learning new technology is an hour that they’re taking away from their billable work. So, it just means that they need to spend an extra hour this evening or this weekend to make up for that time. So, you really need to talk about it in terms of how it will help them and depends on what the technology is. But the easiest sell is technology that helps them with non-billable or administrative tasks, right? That’s the time they really, really want to save. If you’re talking about an in-house or legal operations department, then you can talk about more about the value proposition, efficiency, the cost. You really need to explain how it’s going to save time or money to an organization.
Tom Mighell: So, let’s take that a step further and kind of ask that, “How’s it going so far?” question. So, one of the topics that we talk a lot about here is technology competence. I say this, probably on all of our episodes. I describe me and and Dennis as the grumpy old man on the yard who are very skeptical about lawyer tech competence, that it’s not really going anywhere that nobody’s really paying attention to it. You’re giving opportunities to teach people about technology whether they’re taking that and actually learning is a different question where you’re sitting or standing, what is your kind of view of the current state of technology competence among lawyers?
Kristin Hodgins: My view is that we’re not very good at assessing lawyer competence generally, most jurisdictions don’t have any meaningful way to assess it after a lawyer passes the bar and even then, there’s some questions about whether that’s a useful measure. So, it seems bizarre to me that we are focusing on technology out of all of the areas of competence. You know, we can talk about technology adeptness and that’s a different conversation. And to me, you know, technology is just a tool to facilitate a business process. So, I think technology adeptness is largely a business decision.
Law firms can decide what skills they want their lawyers to have. And you know what role technology plays and whether they have other staff at the law firm, who look after most of that technology and use that technology. And likewise, clients can, decide what technology they want their lawyers to use. I’m not terribly concerned about technology competence in the broad sense.
Tom Mighell: I think that’s a great idea. I think making, you know, having the law firms set the standards for what they want their lawyers to do, or maybe the guidelines for how that is. Do you see law firms doing that? Because I don’t know that I see that that’s a thing right now. It should be a thing. But are you seeing that anywhere out in the wild?
Kristin Hodgins: Not in terms of guidelines necessarily, but certainly, when I worked at a law firm, there was certain technologies that all lawyers had to learn like their document management system, the knowledge management system, and their billing system. Like those are pretty basic technologies. So, I think it’s really a business decision from the leadership of a law firm to say, “You know what, in order to successfully practice here, you need to be able to do A, B and C. And then, you know, anything beyond that I think is probably up to the practice area.
Dennis Kennedy: You know, it’s interesting that you talk about technology adeptness as supposed to competence. And I’ve I’ve been using the term technology literacy. But I think you’re right that you know, what you’re talking about is that technology is a tool that sits in this much bigger environment and that it’s easy to overfocus on the technology piece of it.
I do want to go back into your career path. And that’s one of the things that Tom and I have found this has been truly interesting in this interview series is just learning about the different career paths that people have taken. So, I think these days are so much happening in legal operations and law-related both technology and business process basis that I’ve started something, I’m calling the New Legal Careers Platform at the Michigan State University Center for Law Technology and Innovation.
Could you tell us more about your own career path and the kinds of things you’ve done and maybe what made you move from one direction to another?
Kristin Hodgins: Sure. I’d probably describe it as less of a career path and more of a meandering wander through forest. But yeah. I have an undergraduate degree in law and I worked with a lawyer during my undergraduate degree and realized that I love law as a subject in the legal industry, but I really didn’t want to practice law. So, I didn’t go to law school and at that time, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do, but become a law librarian. So, I decided to do that and went to school, to get my Master’s Degree in Information Science.
So, I started my career as a law librarian with a large regional firm in Vancouver. And then I moved over to government. I was a law librarian with the Government of British Columbia for a while. And while I was there, I became more interested in knowledge management and cross-government initiatives. So, I moved into the director of legal research services role there. I did that role for a couple years.
At the time the BC government was looking to reorganize their in-house legal department of 300, lawyers and 300 staff. They wanted to adopt client-centered service delivery model and also institute a legal operations function. And that was the first time any government entity, at least in Canada, had attempted that. So, I was tasked with managing that project so I manage that for a few years and during that time I became a lot more interested in service design, organizational behavior and kind of the psychology behind change management and innovation. Very much focusing on the people side of innovation. That led to an innovation role with a law firm in Toronto. Unfortunately, I got that job offer, I think, March 10, 2020.
So, just before the pandemic, I worked for mostly for them for about a year but realized I didn’t end up wanting to move to Toronto. So, conveniently at the time, the BC government was hiring for their first director of legal operations. So, I did that for about a year-and-a-half. Had a short stint with the courts in an operations role and then started to think about where I wanted to go with my career and also, what skills I was missing.
And I had lots of experience buying technology and implementing it, working as a librarian, working with legal research tools. But I didn’t have any experience as a vendor. I didn’t have any experience building technology. So, I really wanted to get that foundation under my belt. So, that led to my current role as a consultant with Xcential.
Tom Mighell: Let’s talk about a different kind of technology for a minute. We love to ask our guests about collaboration tools. That is one of our favorite topics. And collaboration is something that most people can’t do their day job without. So, we wanted to get an understanding kind of from you, get your thoughts on, what are your favorite ways to collaborate whether it’s with legislative groups or with your internal colleagues or anybody?
Kristin Hodgins: Yeah. I think my favorite way is Is using a variety of different ways. I’m learning that lots of different people like to work in different ways and communicate in different ways. Some of us work better asynchronously. So, it’s not using one particular tool. For instance, we use Slack for a lot of our internal communication. But it’s finding that variety so that you can give everyone the best opportunity for them to collaborate. But with all of the technology tools available, I think nothing can replace the power of an in-person conference, having those discussions at the end of the day.
A lot of the collaboration tools focus very much on formal and deliberate communication but, you know, one of the things we do miss working remotely and you know, having remote conferences, is that kind of serendipitous interaction that you have to be very deliberate about remotely, but if you’re in person at a conference, you’ll just run into someone and they might say something that sparks something in you and that would have never happened if you were trying to communicate online or collaborate with them online.
Tom Mighell: Yup. You heard that Dennis? In person, in person, we had this conversation at our last episode. We have a lot more questions for Kristin, but before we do that before we get to those questions, let’s take a break for a quick word from our sponsors.
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Dennis Kennedy: And we are back with Kristin Hodgins at Xcential. Kristin, you have many interests and I know that one of them is access to justice. And what you’re doing at Xcential to me is a great example of access to justice, maybe in a way that not that many people think about but I just want to know if you talk a little bit about what is happening right now in justice technology that excites you or seems to have the most potential? And how might some of those technologies actually impact legal education as well as law practice? And maybe this is a softball, but should you as lawyers, be looking at what is happening in Canada or vice versa?
Kristin Hodgins: I’ll answer first part or sorry, the last question first. The problem with Canada and the US is, we’re both very large countries with lots of provinces and states. So, it’s hard to make an overarching statement that, yes, lawyers in the US should look to Canada or vice versa. I think Canada in general is doing some things pretty well, particularly with the executive branch of government. There’s a lot of good forward-thinking policy around access to justice and legal technology that’s coming out. For instance, the government of Canada just released AI standards for use in government earlier this week. So that was a pretty big deal.
BC government has been very innovative on the civil resolution tribunal front using online courts and meeting people where they are. However, in general, I think the courts in the States are far more ahead of Canada in terms of looking at things like legal innovation, legal sandboxes. I think the relationship between US Regulators, or sorry, lawyer regulators in the States and courts is much tighter than it is in Canada. So, well in Canada, our, you know, Law Society of Alberta might be looking at a legal sandbox for alternative legal services. The courts might not be involved in that decision at all. So I think that’s something that we could certainly take from the US is having a much more collaborative working relationship between the regulators and different branches of government.
Tom Mighell: All right. And it’s time for the obligatory ChatGPT question of the episode. The reason why I like, including this is with it — with our guest is, is that we’re getting different answers from everybody. And I think that’s — I think that’s useful for the listeners to hear. So, if you ever turn on a television or read a blog post or anything, it is impossible to avoid artificial intelligence, tools like ChatGPT. I’m curious what roles are you starting to see it play? Let’s maybe start specifically in kind of the lawmaking, rulemaking area first and see if that’s — what role it’s playing there and then if you want to extend it broader out into the legal technology field, I’d like to see where that’s headed to.
Kristin Hodgins: Sure. So legislators are actually a really good testing ground for AI, in part because our data is so structured. And also, we have so many checks and balances in place that you can’t really get bad data out of AI, because there are so many humans that review legislation, for instance. One of the areas that we’re using right now is in speech, recognition for transcription of legislative debates. So, previously you would have Hansard transcriptionist who would listening to recordings of the debates and literally typing, you know, every word by hand. But now, because of AI, they can automate that and automate the transcription and then you just have someone who does quality control. So, there’s lots of opportunities for legislation but some of the opportunities they’re automation but they aren’t specifically artificial intelligence which might be a meaningless distinction. But I think is an important one.
I think more broadly in the legal industry I would say I see the most applicability in the business cases that need it the least. I primarily see this with things like predictive analytics in large law firms that do a lot of high-volume transactional practices high-volume litigation insurance defense. One of the areas that current legal tech tools fall short is in quantum’s or quantum of damages.
You would say, well actually that information is really readily available. It’s always in court decisions and you are absolutely right, it is. But as we know, most litigation isn’t decided by a court, it’s decided by settlements. And so, these law firms are sitting on massive treasure troves of their own data that to date, they haven’t been able to make good use of. And so, I think some of these AI tools will really help them develop analytics and make them, allow them to make more informed decisions about how to proceed with a certain issue. I’m less optimistic about the use of AI in terms of access to justice. I think it’s actually going to increase inequality and increase the gap between those who can access justice and those who can’t.
Dennis Kennedy: Wait, follow-up. Say more. Explain what you mean, I guess.
Kristin Hodgins: Sure. So, I want to make a distinction between access to legal services and access to justice. often times when we talk about access to justice, what we really mean is access to legal services. For example, I am a small business owner and I want to incorporate and draft bylaws. They need legal services for that. That’s not a justice issue. That’s a legal services issue. And those types of problems are I think ripe for innovation and where AI can play a big role. But access to justice? Access to justice isn’t a market problem. It’s not a supply and demand problem.
And so, trying to apply market solutions to something that is fundamentally a structural problem isn’t going to work. The other problem with access to justice, at least for individuals, is most issues that everyday people have involved some interaction with the state right? Whether it’s a court or a regulatory body or an administrative body. At some point, you have to pass that membrane and into government. And a company can make all of the automation tools they want to, but the second something passes to government, they have no control over that. So, to me, you know, access to justice is much more of a public policy issue than something that AI can solve for.
Dennis Kennedy: You know it’s, I sometimes think of it as that, you know, a lot of especially the access to government services, to me feels more like an API problem, you know? So you like to have other things connect seamlessly to the government, but you’re putting — the API unfortunately has to come from the government, which at many places is the least likely place you’ll see that initiative. And I think that that is really a fundamental systems problem that we’re going to have to deal with. So, I’ve been writing a column today and it’s about how to upskill, re-skill and new skill your innovation knowledge. So, I’ve been thinking about how we learn new things and that was part of our last podcast. But how do you personally learn new technologies and stay up to date with current developments?
Kristin Hodgins: Listen to this podcast, obviously. I think again, it’s a variety. It’s talking to people as much as I hate to say it. Nowadays, it’s being engaged on LinkedIn. There’s a lot of really good solid information on there not just from vendors but from people who are posting about new technologies and their experiences. It’s going to conferences. Just being curious and wondering, “Oh what happens if I do this?” or “Let me Google that and search for something”. Sometimes it’s just a very simple matter of having that curiosity and wondering where it goes.
Tom Mighell: All right. Here’s another standard question we have and it’s also because we tend to run to the pessimistic about where lawyers are and where technology is. So, we look for rays of sunshine from our guests. And so we want to ask what for the future gives you optimism? Where do you see that legal technology is going and that gives you optimism that, we’re going to succeed, that lawyers will succeed, that things will improve in measurable ways because of technology?
Kristin Hodgins: I think the biggest thing is the sheer number of people in this industry who are either working in legal technology now or who are interested in it. It’s not just a niche field anymore. Almost any lawyer or any paralegal today, they have thoughts about legal technology. And they have thoughts about how legal tech can probably improve their practice areas. So, it’s no longer a niche and I think we’re moving away from the innovation as theater that we probably saw, you know, five or ten years ago and people are actually sitting down and doing the really hard work of designing for tricky problems and implementing those solutions.
I think the funding that’s available now, from VC and elsewhere. They’re now looking a little closer than they used to and some people might say that’s a bad thing, but I think that’s really good because I think the quality of legal tech companies and products that are coming on the market now is much higher than it was even three years ago in the height of the VC funding frenzy.
Dennis Kennedy: All right, we still have many more questions for Kristin. But before we get to them, we’re going to take another break for a quick word from our sponsors.
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Dennis Kennedy: And now let’s get back to the Kennedy-Mighell report. I’m Dennis Kennedy.
Tom Mighell: And I’m Tom Mighell. And we are joined by our special guest, Kristin Hodgins at Xcential. We’ve got time for just a few more questions. We’ll start with our best advice question. We like this question because we’re getting lots of good advice from our guests out of this. And so the question is pretty simple. What’s the best advice either that you’ve been given by someone as you made your way through your career or the best advice you might have for our listeners? Or both?
Kristin Hodgins: The best advice I have is quite simple and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a vendor or a buyer of legal technology or just a user, it always comes back to asking yourself, “What is the problem we are trying to solve.”
Dennis Kennedy: Perfect. I love that. I was also — I was thinking what you were talking about innovation as theater and I think I’m going to start to use AI as theater, because I think it applies in a lot of cases these days as well. So, my question is, we know a lot of people, but you know even more, and we’re trying to find more and more fresh voices in Legal Tech. And so who are the fresh voices that you use and you might single out and like to see as part of our Fresh Voices Series?
Kristin Hodgins: So, someone I’d like to highlight is Amy Conroy. She’s a data scientist with Mishcon de Reya in the UK. She’s an ABA Women Of Legal Tech Awardee for 2023. She has a Law Degree and a Master’s Degree in Information Science. And a lot of the work she’s doing at Mishcon is quite innovative. And also, I think bringing a lot of academic rigor and frameworks that have been sorely lacking in the artificial intelligence space.
Dennis Kennedy: Yeah, it’s a great suggestion. I saw her yesterday on Women of Legal Tech Summit and yeah, she’s definitely on my list.
Tom Mighell: We want to thank Kristin Hodgins for being our guest on the podcast. Kristin, let us know if there are listeners who want to get in touch with you or learn more about you, where’s the best place to find you?
Kristin Hodgins: For better or worse, I’m still on Twitter or X. So, just @kristinhodgins or on LinkedIn is probably the best place.
Dennis Kennedy: So, thank you so much Kristin. You’re a fantastic guest. Great information. Great advice. I mean, I take that you know, look to the problem to be solved is, say sometimes called jobs to be done, is so important and often overlooked. So, now it’s time for our parting shots that one tip website or observation that you can use the second this podcast ends. Kristin, take it away.
Kristin Hodgins: I have two books to recommend. We spend a lot of time thinking about technology and not always a lot of time thinking about design. So, I would recommend two oldies but goodies. The first is Design of Everyday Things and the second is, This is Service Design Doing. Two great books. I highly recommend everyone in the legal tech space to read them.
Tom Mighell: I am going to go to an oldie but a goodie theme for my parting shot. Guess what, speakers? I’m going to talk about speakers. I am especially excited that my favorite speaker manufacturer which is Ultimate Ears, they have a new speaker called The Epic Boom, that’s available. A little pricey, so I’m going to be thinking carefully before I get it but it’s kind of the right size for my computer desk. I didn’t want to get a set of two speakers for my computer, it’s a Bluetooth speaker I could bring other places but it’s small enough to sit on my desk. But big enough to have big sound in other places.
The other thing I learned recently about the, all of the different Booms, there’s a Wonder, Boom there’s a Boom, there’s a Mega Boom, there’s an Epic Boom, and a Hyper Boom. I don’t know where they’re going to go after that in terms of the boom. But you if you buy multiple ones of them, you can connect them together. So, you actually could set up a kind of a poor person’s home audio by having speakers in different parts of the house and connecting them all together via some type of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection. So I’m very happy with my speaker so far and I’m going to be trying out the Epic Boom soon. Dennis?
Dennis Kennedy: Two things, one I have a hard time imagining like what is pricey for you on speakers and then the second thing is, is there a betting line out there on the over-under on how many speakers are actually in your house at the moment?
Tom Mighell: Usable speakers or speakers in storage? Because the line would be different there.
Dennis Kennedy: So, I am returning to AI in in a new way. And so, I spent the whole summer experimenting with ChatGPT and generative AI in a lot of different ways and I went back and forth on whether to keep it to myself or just to opensource it all and put it out into the world and I recently came down on the side of just putting it out there.
So, I have a new whitepaper I did that’s about using prompts to create a set of personas that you put into groups to so that the groups interact or the personas of the group interact, almost as a mastermind group or as an advisory board and then actually make recommendations and advice to you and it’s it’s done through prompting, not coding and I have a whole whitepaper like 20 pages telling you exactly how to do that and I’ve unleashed it on the world. In time we’ll put a link in the show notes but you can also find out my blog very easily.
Tom Mighell: And so that wraps it up for this edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report thanks for joining us on the podcast. You can find show notes for this episode on the Legal Talk Network’s page for the show. You can find all of our previous podcasts along with the transcripts on the Legal Talk Network website. If you’d like to get in touch with us, reach out to us on LinkedIn. We are occasionally on X FKA Twitter or remember, you can always leave us a voicemail. We love to get your voicemails to talk about during our B segment. That number is 720-441-6820. So, until the next podcast, I’m Tom Mighell.
Dennis Kennedy: And I’m Dennis Kennedy and you’ve been listening to the Kennedy-Mighell Report Podcast on Legal Technology with an internet focus. It’s always a big thank you to the Legal Talk Network Team for producing and distributing this podcast. And we’ll see you next time for another episode of the Kennedy-Mighell Report on the Legal Talk Network.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the Kennedy-Mighell Report. Check out Dennis and Tom’s book, “The Lawyer’s Guide to Collaboration Tools and Technologies, Smart Ways to Work Together”, from ABA Books or Amazon. And join us every other week for another edition of the Kennedy-Mighell Report only on the Legal Talk Network.