Mr. Brandt started his career in the world of litigation support/eDiscovery. He has been a consultant, a vendor and...
Monica Bay is a Fellow at CodeX: The Stanford Center for Legal Informatics. She also writes for Thomson Reuters, ALM (Legaltech News),...
Working at a law firm doesn’t have to be all-consuming; technology can help you balance all your tasks. In this episode of Law Technology Now, host Monica Bay talks to Jeffrey Brandt about how he manages to write a daily newsletter while working full-time with a firm and the automation that allows him to be efficient. They also discuss the Association of Legal Technologists (ALT) conference, the types of content the conference covers, and what differentiates it from ILTA conference.
Jeffrey Brandt is the chief information officer at Jackson Kelly PLLC in Charleston, West Virginia.
Special thanks to our sponsor, Thomson Reuters.
Law Technology Now
Using Technology to Balance your Workload
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Monica Bay: Welcome to Law Technology Now and welcome to Jeffrey Brandt.
Jeffrey Brandt: Thank you Monica.
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Let’s start with your job in West Virginia and your role at PinHawk Law.
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, I am the Chief Information Officer at Jackson Kelly. We are a regional law firm about 200 attorneys, 12 offices, domestic US, pretty full-featured practice, pretty much anything that deals with technology, plugs, data, it is ultimately my responsibility.
On the PinHawk side my role is the editor of the Law Technology Daily Digest. It’s a pre-newsletter that comes out. I believe our subscribership is somewhere 16,000-17,000 people at this point. I take a number of different sources of materials, about 500 different news sources and identify the top news articles and write some commentary and highlights each day.
Monica Bay: How do you mix those two?
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, it’s funny actually. I started doing the PinHawk when I was consulting, had my own private consulting practice, and so for me, it was a fun thing to do and actually served as a marketing vehicle for me.
But, today, when I joined, I was asked to join Jackson Kelly part of what they knew me from was the PinHawk and the Digest and so on.
So, I talked to them about how we were going to deal with that whether I needed to turn it over to a different editor and they said, well, we really would like you to continue. We think that there is a lot of value and you reviewing those 500 sources of news every day, in terms of looking at strategically and tactically how to best move Jackson Kelly forward.
So, it’s been quite a ride, it’s been a fun thing to do and Jackson Kelly has fully endorsed and so I continue to do that. I get up at 5:00 – 5:30 in the morning. I get the newsletter out and come to work to my real job.
Monica Bay: That’s fantastic and I am one of the people who loves 03:24 it all the time.
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, thank you.
Monica Bay: Sure. Tell us a little bit more though about what your work is and how you balance that between those, and also which we are going to get to a little bit later the various things you are involved with some of the organizations?
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, at Jackson Kelly we needed to make some change. The elevator speech if you will that I have been giving our attorneys is that we are looking to move IT out of the plumbing business and back into the business and the practice of law. We did a lot of cloud services, a lot of outsourcing, and quite frankly as much as the firm loves the IT group, they are not going to double my staff.
So, we have been looking at automation and outsourcing as I said as well as some cloud services to try and reduce the amount of time we spend on the plumbing. The plumbing is important, infrastructure is important, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately IT departments that get wrapped up into being nothing but the next upgrade. There’s not a lot of return on investment for the partnership. For all intensive purposes, the partners don’t care whether you are operating on Windows 7 or Windows 10 or Office 2010 or Office 365, it really comes down to what percentage of the tools you are using.
So, again, part of my elevator speech, the hypothetical law firm uses maybe 20%, 25% of Microsoft Word as an example. And so, every time you do an upgrade you dip a bit and then you come back up and basically you are using that same 20%. It’s our goal to try and insert ourselves and partner with the practices so that we can begin to push that forward from 20 to 30 to 40 to 50%, so that we can really be doing meaningful projects that not only benefit our lawyers but benefit the clients of the firm as well.
Monica Bay: That’s really fascinating especially because a lot of big law firms are too difficult to get those sorts of opportunities. Is there anything else special about that into being where you are and so forth and so on, I am really fascinated by what you are doing?
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, we are certainly not the first firm that has gone Office 365 or Azure or anything else, but I think it’s something the difference might be that we do set ourselves apart in that it is our overarching theme. So, we have taken deliberate steps all within that same theme. We got rid of our on-prem document management system, went with NetDocs, and so we shed a lot of responsibilities; picked up a lot of great service and other things as part of that. When we moved to Azure, we got rid of certain server maintenance and so on as part of that.
Mimecast works really well for us and we are outsourcing to Alphaserve some services, we are looking to get security and get some better responsiveness and greater depth of bench by doing some outsourcing. I am a huge fan of EnTAP’s tools to automate and so what used to take three or four people in my staff hours to do we are now trying to do in seconds through automation.
So, I think it’s really the combination of all those things coming together that really is going to let us move forward with the business and the practice of law instead of just working on the plumbing.
Monica Bay: One of the things I am noticing a lot is that Artificial Intelligence is just blooming. How do you use that and how does it help with better, faster, cheaper?
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, there is a lot of different things with Artificial Intelligence. It’s a fascinating subject. I have done a couple of presentations. I chaired a Legal 07:15 IA Forum in London last year and I am going to come back going back again. This year at ALT I co-presented with Sally Gonzalez on the subject of Artificial Intelligence.
The first thing is to really get rid of the hype and separate that from what’s the phrase “The wheat from the chaff”. There is a lot of hype and a lot of misdirection around AI at this point. I mean every vendor seems to want to be able to use AI or Machine Intelligence as part of their marketing efforts, and quite frankly a lot of law firms are looking to ride those coattails as well and use it as a marketing effort.
Artificial Intelligence I think is very different than any technology that firms have implemented in the past. And by that I mean that most technologies have been a bolt-on. So, Document Management came along, there was a bolt-on to the way everything was done pretty much in a normal fashion. It augmented but really didn’t necessarily disrupt the way things were done. I think because of the cost, the care and feeding of Artificial Intelligence, that it is a tool that you have to look at and reexamine your staffing as part of that. You have to look in and say, okay, I can do this faster, I can do this cheaper but I need to change my staffing model, I need to change my workflows significantly as part of that.
At Jackson Kelly we are still looking at what the best tools might be for us and how we fit them in our culture, but I think it’s going to be an interesting piece to see how it ultimately plays out. I mean, you still have — I was just reading a story this morning, so the Law Society of London is looking at judicial algorithms to help the judges there, and I contrast that with the ABA here in the United States continuing to fight organizations like LegalZoom over unauthorized practice of law.
So, it’s going to be I think a pretty amazing thing. Again, part of it is educating lawyers on the fact that Artificial Intelligence is not what science fiction movies make it out to be, it can actually be pretty stupid, and so the care and feeding that goes into that is fairly significant and a lot of people will at least initially dismiss that.
Monica Bay: Yeah, it’s really very, very hot right now and this is fascinating to me. You are very involved in several organizations including ALT and ILTA. Let’s start with the new one, the Association of Legal Technologists.
Jeffrey Brandt: We just call it ALT. It came out of some, I guess I will call them disputes with ILTA over how to best provide opportunities and enrichment and networking opportunities for members.
Rick Hellers decided that there might be a better way, in certain point go old school but update it with some technology and so on. And so, it was really just a different way of looking at providing network opportunities for the legal community. And I would argue that probably the biggest distinguishing factor is who’s a member, if you will.
So, at ALT, you can be a member as a member of the law firm, Corporate Law Department, Government Legal Agency, but you can also be a member as a vendor, as a consultant, as a client, general counsel or someone in the General Corporation. And I think to me the epitome of that was shown at the premier conference. It was, I forget exactly how many people, 200, 300 people some, wasn’t huge.
But I was sitting in a room, I left the room I think three times, wants to go to the restroom, wants to get some water and I forget what the third one was, and again, there is a vendor display area, kind of like a mini tradeshow area and during the sessions, there was not a single vendor sitting outside at any of the desks or any of the booths.
They were all involved in the conversation in the ALT conference areas. So to me, that’s a big, big difference. I mean, you go to any show whether it’s ILTA, whether it’s Legaltech or anything else and the trade show is fully manned and fully stocked and there’s kind the members and law firm folks go to the sessions, the educational sessions and then come out to talk about product or service or whatever it was.
The level of conversation we had, so I was in a track that we’re talking about design thinking, Artificial Intelligence was part of that in the session that Sally and I led, and so, I’m sitting at a table with, I guess, it was about nine other people, and the conversation we were having because it wasn’t just my peers, fellow technologists and a law firm but the consultants and the general counsels and so on.
The conversation we had was in super-intense, I mean, way better than anything I’ve had where it’s just my peers, and I don’t mean that as a cut on my peers, have got great peers and some very smart people that I network with. But the fact that you can have that full 360° conversation, well, here’s what we’re doing as a law firm, the GC pipes up and said, well, that’s why this is not going to work for us or if I were you, the kinds of things that I look for in this are here.
And then you’ve got the consultants saying, well, yeah, we’re doing work with 50 different people and they’re leaning more this way as opposed to this way. So, I think the big thing with ALT is that full membership at the table that includes the vendors and consultant community.
Monica Bay: And I was there and it was really amazing. One of the things I never would have thought about is usually you get the thing you wear with your name and all this other thing, and they put only your name and your first name, your little one was if it was there it was very small, and it was amazing to me that it changed. I mean, because as a journalist, I’m always looking to see who they are, what they are, and I’m going like, Monica, that’s it. It was something so simple that really blew out. I mean, everybody could talk to everyone and you weren’t going, oh no, I don’t want to talk to her, she’s at that.
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, and it was designed that way on purpose to promote that networking. My badge only said Jeff Brandt. So, if you didn’t know who Jeff Brandt was before that, you didn’t know whether I was a vendor, a consultant, with a corporation, with a law firm or exactly what my role was.
So you had to ask questions, you had to — so it was, it did. I like that piece as well and I think it went really well that just added to the whole conversation and networking piece at the ALT Conference.
Monica Bay: Absolutely. Yeah, it was very intense and very interesting.
Moving on to ILTA, you have been very active there and something called LegalSEC. Tell us what your roles are there and what’s going on there? And, we’re coming up on their big conference very shortly.
Jeffrey Brandt: That’s true. ILTACON is in mid to late August. So, I’ve been a member, I mean, lot of people don’t necessarily know that ILTA actually dates back to the Wang VS Legal Users Group.
Monica Bay: I was there, yes.
Jeffrey Brandt: Yeah. So, that not just gives you an appreciation for how old I am but I took on a new role this year as one of the co-Chairs for LegalSEC. So LegalSEC is Legal Security Summit, the summit is the conference that we put on.
Pleasure to work with Rina Hunter and Peter Lesser and between the three of us and an excellent committee of dedicated members. The conference is all about security. They went off extremely well, we tried some different things this year but it is — ILTA’s Annual Conference, I think it’s the fifth year, I’m not a 100% sure of that, fourth or fifth year.
And it is dedicated to raising security awareness and sharing everything security related within the legal community, security as in direct hardcore security, training and awareness, information governance. I mean, we had three days if you include the pre-summit workshop, but three days of excellent content from really great speakers, all different kinds of security topics for the legal community.
Monica Bay: We are going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor.
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And we are back. So ILTACON 2018, which will be on August 19 through 23 is their major year-long one, will you be involved with that and is there any special thing that you are interested in this year?
Jeffrey Brandt: Yes, there is a lot of exciting things I think coming up with ILTACON. One of the things that I’m most excited to see is a young man’s session named Marcus Weinberger. He gave a session at LegalSEC that I was unable to see because I was shepherding a different session at the same time.
But Marcus is a 15-year-old and gave a standing room only presentation on how to hack a law firm. Literally, did live presentation using equipment that you probably threw away two or three years ago. It was very well-received, it was fairly early in the morning and people were still talking about at the end and the summary. I think the most exciting thing I’m going to do is see Marcus hack at ILTACON as well.
Monica Bay: Here’s a question that I give quite a lot. 80% of Americans can neither find nor afford lawyers, what can we do to get this fixed?
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, it’s a great question. I think that there is certainly an aspect of technology that can assist with that. I see a lot of things, small apps and other things showing up mostly in the United Kingdom and Australia. I think the big thing for us in the United States from the technology perspective and the marketing piece is to further educate the bars.
I think that we need the bars to kind of get out of the way of some of these technologies coming forward so that more people can have a broader access. So, I think certainly the aspect of getting technology involved in not only providing greater and wider access but also turnaround and so on to lawyers.
I think there’s a lot of lawyers out there that are certainly willing to help. It’s a matter of connecting them with the people that need the help.
Monica Bay: I completely agree with you. Before we let you go, would you please tell our listeners how they can reach you?
Jeffrey Brandt: Well, I’m available at [email protected].
Monica Bay: Jeffrey, thank you so much.
This has been another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network.
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