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Wendy Butler Curtis

Wendy is Orrick’s Chief Innovation Officer. As Orrick’s Chief Innovation Officer, Wendy Butler Curtis, named the “Most Innovative Lawyer...

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Daniel Linna

Daniel W. Linna Jr. has a joint appointment at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and McCormick School of Engineering...

Episode Notes

Law firms have a reputation for being slow to adapt, but clients operate in a world of rapid change. As the gap between expectations and practice threatens to widen, law firms are being pushed to develop ways to catch up with their clientele. In this Law Technology Now, host Dan Linna talks with Wendy Butler Curtis, Chief Innovation Officer at Orrick and the Financial Times 2018 Most Innovative Lawyer of the Year. Wendy discusses the work she and her team are doing at Orrick, the role of data driven decision making in a legal practice, and how law firms are failing to keep up with the expectations of their clients.

Wendy Butler Curtis is the Chief Innovation Officer at Orrick.

Special thanks to our sponsor, Thomson Reuters.


Law Technology Now
Closing the Gap: Innovating in a Fast Paced World


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Daniel Linna: Hello. This is Dan Linna. Welcome to Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. My guest today is Wendy Butler Curtis, Chief Innovation Officer at Orrick. For the last three years in row the Financial Times has named Orrick, the Most Innovative Law Firm in North America, and in 2018, the Financial Times named Wendy the most innovative lawyer of the year.

Wendy, welcome to the show.

Wendy Butler Curtis: Dan, thanks so much for having me.

Daniel Linna: Glad to have you. Now before we get started we want to thank our sponsor. Support for this podcast and the following message comes from Thomson Reuters Westlaw Edge.

Thank you Thomson Reuters.

All right Wendy, Orrick has a history as an innovator. Can you just tell us a little bit of a background about that?

Wendy Butler Curtis: Absolutely, so innovation has been for as long as I’ve known Orrick a core part of our strategy, both in how we think about servicing our clients and also how we focus our industry.

So we really spend our time trying to understand the innovation and transformation that our clients are experiencing in their industry. And then just how we think about the legal services and the legal solutions that we want to bring to our clients, both in the circumstance or situation where they are now as well as where they’re working hard to be in the future.

We also have a three sector focus; energy, finance and, technology and innovation. And so what that really reflects is that we have a long-standing client base of companies that are transforming in their industries, long-standing client base in technology and also emerging companies.

And then you see that actually in the history of the firm. So we opened our Global Operations Center in 2002 as result of listening to our clients and we were one of the first to do something like that and initially, it had a heavy focus on cost arbitrage.

But now our Global Operations Center is our Center of Innovation. It’s where it’s really a lab, a Skunk Works where we are exploring and expanding new roles. So we call the Global Operations Center our GOC, and at the GOC, we have data analytics attorneys, we have developers, we have data scientists, we have project managers, we have a statistician. In fact, I think we were the first firm to have an on staff statistician. We’ve had innovation interns. We have Six Sigma Black Belts and we also have a portfolio of client offerings that are really focused on our clients’ digital transformation.

So we have our Orrick Analytics Group, we have CaseStream which really helps our clients manage their matters and also maintain and leverage data about those matters.

We have our pricing and engagement management team and then we also have one of the newest things that we’ve rolled out at work called the Observatory, and this is an interface available to everybody in the firm that tracks more than 600 legal technologies and we’re in the process of building out the observatory to also then post and crowdsource nearly 100 innovation ideas and projects underway at the firm.

We also have Orrick Labs, which is our Skunk Works where if we can’t find it in the market, we use Orrick Labs to build it and then of course we have our dedicated innovation team, and so that’s the group that I lead and all of that together I really think helps give a sense of the depth of the commitment to innovation. And our focus how we define innovation which is really understanding our clients’ needs and the changes that are happening in their business and then adjusting the way that we work and the way that we think about our clients’ problems to reflect that.

Daniel Linna: So it was in 2002 when you opened this Global Operations Center, is this the location in Wheeling, West Virginia, is that right?

Wendy Butler Curtis: That’s correct and that’s about an hour outside of Pittsburgh, just to give folks a sense of geography.


Daniel Linna: Okay, so you’ve been at this for a while and that kind of leads into the question about winning the Financial Times Awards, the last three years in a row as Most Innovative Firm in North America. Can you kind of talk about that? What is the criteria and then what was it about Orrick that really has a lot of the stand — be a standout winning that award the last three years?

Wendy Butler Curtis: Sure. So the Financial Times Innovation Awards are in a series of categories and the ultimate winner I think it’s the cumulative point system, we’ve had individual wins and then of course we’ve been recognized as the Most Innovative Firm.

And then our innovation strategy isn’t singular to one focus. So we have technology, we have new products and services that we offer to our clients, that were not things that we sat in a room and designed and thought about and then brought to market, but instead went to our clients, listened to the problem that they had and then built something specific to solve that problem.

We’ve had a series of new roles that we’ve create at the firm. We have a huge focus on data-driven decisions. So enabling our clients to make legal decisions, relying on data about the matter or the spend, the outcome. We have also made a huge commitment to make innovation and really creative thinking part of our law firm.

So in 2018, we did innovation hackathons with more than a thousand employees and then we have wonderful lawyers, great clients, great joint projects with our clients, where not only did Orrick when Financial Times recognition but so did our clients. And I think it’s all of that together really has been a key part of our success.

Daniel Linna: So now and you then won this award as the most innovative lawyer of the Year in 2018. Tell us about that.

Wendy Butler Curtis: That’s probably the hardest question that you asked me today. So I was going to chuckle for a minute. It’s hard to talk about yourself. I work in a firm and I work amongst the team that I truly believe is unlike any other. And with that creative energy, with that firm support, I’ve been able in my role, in my contributions to the firm to evolve and keep up with all the change that’s happening generally with technology, but also specific to our industry specifically to the legal services.

And the fact that I have that platform, that I have that support, that I have these extraordinary clients who are willing to take risks, who are willing to try to do things differently, willing to give us the room to try things and then tweak them. So the expectation isn’t that every solution that we bring when it’s new, is perfect from the start. That I think was a huge part in my ability to gain that recognition and I’m so thankful to the Financial Times and so thankful to the firm and to my team, because it may have been award for me but it’s really an award for our team and for our firm and our clients.

Daniel Linna: Well, that’s great. What an honor. I wanted to also drill down a little bit more on, you mentioned talk about data-driven decisions and this is an area where there’s been a lot of talk about this in the last several years and I really kind of thought that we would be a little further ahead in the industry on this at this point in time and maybe more, a much more of it as happening it’s just not that visible, but can you kind of talk about the way in which inside of your firm, you’re really using data and especially getting the lawyers, right, let’s say litigators and transactional attorneys. What are some examples in which you’re using data in different settings across the firm to drive better outcomes for your clients?

Wendy Butler Curtis: Sure, and I hope over the course of this conversation we’ll have some fun with talking about some of the myths that are associated with innovation and some of the core cultural changes that have to happen for a lot of the things that we talk about to succeed. But data-driven decisions, it seems like such a simple concept, but it is a very different way for lawyers to work, to stop and say before I decide whether or not to file that motion.

Before I go back to the client talk about how long I think this deal is going to take. I need to look at data or before I give legal advice, I need to sit down with the client and say what data do you have about this? It’s just so vastly different than the way people have practiced for so long, that there’s a returning point when suddenly it all comes together and then it’s — the only way you practice, but getting people around that curve is very, very difficult and it takes a lot of time and a lot of leadership and a lot of emphasis.

But a couple of examples of how data-driven decisions are playing out in our firm, so you actually talked about Westlaw Edge at the beginning. We used Westlaw Edge and the way that we used that and have really brought into our practice is through our one of our groups in Wheeling which is called CaseStream. And CaseStream is a people process and technology offering that ensures that we are capturing all the key information about a matter and then it’s getting distributed back to all the decision-makers at the appropriate time.


And that there’s a single place technology enabled that people can go in and do their work, kind of its most basic explanation. So it’s people process and technology. So when a new matter comes in Westlaw Edge is a tool that gives litigation analytics. So a complaint is what triggers the litigation.

So the complaint comes in, it’s immediately filed and that begins the CaseStream process, immediately the CaseStream Project Manager then goes and pulls litigation analytics about the information in the complaint, who is the judge, what do we know about the judge, who’s the opposing party, how often are they a party in a lawsuit like this, who is the opposing counsel? Do they routinely litigate this kind of case and what’s their success rate?

And so immediately that information is being fed. Next a motion is filed, same thing. Once the motion is filed, CaseStream goes to Westlaw Edge and pulls out the data analytics to inform the decision.

On average, how long does it take for a motion like this to even get heard by this judge, what’s the likelihood or what’s the win percentage rate in a motion like this? And that starts to allow everybody, the clients, the legal team to talk about. So if we have a 10% chance of winning and on average, it’s going to take six months to get an answer, how does that fit in our strategy and is it really – is this what we wanted to spend the money and take the time or we rather save that portion of the budget for the key expert deposition.

And so, it allows you to really look at the pros and cons, the outcome, the value proposition of a particular action with that data.

Another example, we recently did a project with a client of ours who we routinely do deals with and we routinely do a particular kind of deal with a business unit and we noticed that when we did deals for that business unit, it tended to cost more and take longer than deals with other business units in that client. And so we dug into the data and what we realized is that that business unit tended to do two different things often on a deal and those things increase the cost and extended the life of the deal.

Those two actions are very important to that business and I don’t think that they will ever change that, but by identifying that trend in the consequence of those actions we had a different conversation with the lawyer, the in-house lawyer that has a different conversation with the business.

So that was two things didn’t happen every time but now we know and we can tell our in-house legal department contact and he or she can tell the business. When you do this, you should plan that the deal is probably going to take 25% longer than on average. When you do this we should plan that it’s probably going to cost more and they’re not going to — it’s not necessarily that data always changes behavior but it can give you a lot more predictability and also understand the variance or the outliers of why does something cost more.

And so those are just two different examples. In my role and with our innovation team part of what we do is help our clients with their digital transformation priorities and that’s a huge priority for so many of our clients and a piece of that is often helping the client determine what data should they be tracking and what technology should they use so they can visualize it and also is it even worth trying to mine or clean up the historic data or should you just start from a date forward and gather that. And it’s really interesting some data is only valuable for a portion of time. So there’s a huge change in your industry or there’s a huge change in the rules.

The data from two years ago may not be at all instructive because it used to be that you could try a case in three months and now automatically because of a change in the rule it’s going to take nine months. And so, understanding all of that is it big part of the consulting that we’re doing with our clients also.

Daniel Linna: Yeah, that really sounds great and I love this point that you’re making about. I hear so many organizations talk about oh, we have all this data, but they’re really not doing anything with it right now and then I’ve run into so many organizations that start trying to do something the data they have and really realize that there isn’t a heck a lot of value and what they actually have right now, it’s a lot messier than what they thought. They really don’t have the right data to do things.

So I think one of the takeaways that I’ve been hearing more and more is that you just got to get started and if you start trying to build these muscles on becoming data-driven you will learn so much and start figuring out where you can get the data, to what extent, I would imagine that your firm is trying to drive this as a competitive advantage, but I would think well the other thing that’s going to drive this across the marketplace is more and more clients demanding it. I mean are you seeing that more and more that the clients really expect you to come to the table with this?

Wendy Butler Curtis: So I said I hope we get to talk about some of what I think are the myths when we talk about innovation, so clients are so far ahead of the law firms on data-driven decisions, both in their business, so that’s a huge part of how businesses run, but also in their legal department.


And one thing that you can point to, to really see this, is the huge explosion of clock in legal operations professionals. It is extraordinary some of the data analysis that legal ops folks are doing. And their ability to show and mine data on your own performance, how does your rate compare to your competitor. We had a client who just did a fascinating data presentation to us about our own performance and showed that in particular matter where our rates were higher than a competitor firm who was doing similar work, our overall spend was less because we were more efficient. And they were able to map that all out and show and came back and told us that, which was also lovely. Data can be used to give constructive feedback, in this instance, it was given a compliment and that was wonderful.

But I had another client recently talked to us about how they are monitoring on average, how long it takes their outside counsel to respond to an email, that they so value responsiveness, that that is a data point that they’re now monitoring.

Daniel Linna: Wow, yeah, that’s really interesting. I mean the way that we’re seeing now metrics come into play here and it’s causing these conversations, right. I mean I think this is the other interesting part about all of this. I mean there’s so many interesting reasons to explore why innovation isn’t happening, but I think I talked to so many lawyers who aren’t talking with their clients to learn what the clients really value, what they care about and when you hear these stories about like measuring — actually measuring responsiveness via emails and things like that, it’s really kind of hopefully opening more people’s eyes to what it is — the kind of things that the clients really care about and that they’re looking for from their outside counsel.

Wendy Butler Curtis: I couldn’t agree more.

Daniel Linna: Well, one of the things I want to talk about in connection with all of this is just, can you tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming Chief Innovation Officer and I wanted to learn a little bit more about that like, this is becoming a very popular role where we’ve seen quite a few law firms hire folks in this role but can you tell us kind of about your journey to landing in that role?

Wendy Butler Curtis: Sure, so this is probably the third iteration of my career and so I started working on large cases primarily pharmaceutical mass torts. At the time in a National Counsel Role where suddenly email and huge amounts of data were becoming the scope of what we were going to have to sift through; and so, that was the first portion of my career.

And I am a process person. I like to think about how we can do things better and I tend to generate a lot of ideas. It’s a strength and a weakness both, but having grown up in those cases, seeing the complexity, seeing the burden on the business where we had to go back and take these huge amounts of information out of the company, the cost that was incurred. I started to really think about there’s got to be better ways to do this. I also saw, so I hit this in many ways at just the right time.

I was senior enough that there on the time people had to go sit in warehouses and do doc review, I didn’t have to do that. But I saw what I thought was a generation of lawyers really losing the core skills and not getting to exercise the muscles, the critical thinking of why they went to law school, why they went to big law and spending all this time and things that there had to be a better way to do it.

I came to Orrick because Orrick gave me the opportunity to create an e-discovery practice, and so I switched and focused exclusively on e-discovery and I had the opportunity at the Global Operations Center to do things differently, and so we built out, the Orrick Analytics team, use technology in a really creative way and the firm was willing to explore alternative pricing and use technology to reduce the amount of time that it would take to do things.

And so I think the firm has really always been ahead of the curve in recognizing that to be competitive sometimes you do, do things differently and even potentially at a lower cost, and so in the short term that may mean a revenue impact for the firm, but long term it’s critical to survival.

And then over time the firm gave me additional responsibility with alternative roles and training and my relationships with clients hearing that there was a chance to do things better and do things differently, I have had a series of titles and most recently, Chief Innovation Officer. But — innovation is definitely the buzzword of today and I don’t mean to diminish that in any way, but what I do, what our team does is we focus on understanding what our clients need and converting the way that we deliver the legal service to better reflect those needs.


We help the firm continue to change the way that we structure things, the talent that we use, the technology that we use, the way that we price things, to keep up with the fact that the hours times rate model just isn’t — if not obsolete, soon enough will be and to keep up with the pace of change that we see in our own clients.

And going back to this — theme I keep coming back to the myths or the things that I hear over and over about why this degree or this pace of change doesn’t apply to me or is not in my law firm or not my practice. And I guess that’s one of the myths. I hear all the time not so much in my own firm, but certainly outside of my firm, well that’s great for your firm or that’s great for that area of practice, but it doesn’t apply to me.

I will say that is a terrible, terrible misunderstanding of the realities of the market. The need to change applies to everybody in every part of the delivery of legal services workflow.

Another example of this idea knocked me. I was at a dinner with a client and a lawyer from another firm and we were talking about change and we were talking about just the — not just the substantive way that we do work but where we sit and alternative staffing models and people who are really looking at a different kind of work-life balance and the other person, the other lawyer from another firm said, there’s been some discussion in my office about working remotely and that won’t work here and we had some discussion about hoteling and that would never work in law. You’ve got to have to be able to close your door for the confidentiality, needs for a conversation, you need to be able to have your own space and have meetings.

And the client sitting at the table said well that’s interesting, because three years ago we eliminated office space for the legal department. This year we just went to hoteling and it’s actually working wonderfully. And we need to manage our cost and we need to reflect the needs of our workforce and so for both of those reasons we’ve done that and we would expect our law firms to be thinking about creative solutions for the same reasons.

And it’s just an example less about the substance but more about everybody has to do things differently and if you say that this won’t work for me, be careful because it may be something that’s already working for your client and they’re going to expect you to do the same thing.

Daniel Linna: Yeah those are some really interesting anecdotes and this problem we have an industry that we’re all kind of special snowflakes is an interesting one, but before we dive into defining innovation and talking about chief innovation officers a bit more, we’re going to take a quick break. So we’ll be back here in a moment with Wendy Butler Curtis, Chief Innovation Officer at Orrick, but for now we’re going to take a quick break to hear a message from our sponsor.


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Daniel Linna: And we’re back. Thanks for joining us. We’re with Wendy Butler Curtis, Chief Innovation Officer at Orrick. And Wendy, right before the break we were talking about the way the world is changing and clients’ expectations and clients’ expectations for innovation, but you also mention innovation as a little bit of a buzzword as well. I mean how would you define innovation? What do you think it really consists of especially from the law firm perspective?

Wendy Butler Curtis: So I think I’m going to break that question up into a couple different questions. If nothing else because I’m going to frame it in the way that I want to answer it, so how’s that for total honesty.

Daniel Linna: I wouldn’t expect anything else from a lawyer.

Wendy Butler Curtis: I think when we tie 00:24:08 with the definition of innovation is as important to debunk a lot of the myths. So I talked a bit about this already, but the idea that the need to change the way we practice applies to only somebody else or another industry or another law firm and doesn’t apply to you is a terrible mistake. If nothing else, look at the amount of change that we’re seeing within our own clients and if we are not keeping up how can you give them thoughtful legal advice.

Another myth that really is one that chafes me in particular is this concept of lawyer versus non-lawyer. We are legal teams and the definition of what constitutes a fully staffed legal team and the skill sets that are needed are changing so quickly and legal professionals who may not be JDs have an equal value and a legal team to a lawyer.


And what’s really interesting trend that we’re seeing is that our clients legal departments and in particular I’m focusing on our Fortune 500 legal clients, many of whom who have legal departments on the comparable size to mid to large tier law firms, so legal departments from 100 to a 1000 people.

We are seeing that at this point the split is 60/40, lawyer to legal professional. And in conversations with general counsel to the extent that they plan to expand their legal department or add new headcount, they are focusing on the legal professional and not the lawyer. And so when we talk about the change or if we’re going back to the concept of a myth, the idea that a legal team should be made up of primarily of lawyers or that lawyers are the single most important contributor to legal advice is a myth.

Another concept that is just so antiquated is that everybody’s work is bespoke, which is one of those buzzwords that goes with innovation. So we will see how many of those we can come up with here or to your point about it’s all being snowflakes and the same thing about our work. It’s just not true and the more that you recognize that, the more creative you can be in talking to your client about what part really does vary and where is that the premium work and then how can you get creative from the portions that are more repetitive.

Another myth in particular in big law is that clients want the Rolls-Royce or want perfection or want to spend what is required to get perfection on everything. In so many instances our clients need quick business advice, not a long legal research memo, not hand-wringing, not 77 options with all kinds of caveats and disclaimers. They need someone who they can call, who understands their industry, understands the future of the industry, and can give advice.

There are also lots of places in a business workflow where the client is willing to assume certain risk, the understanding that they are not going to have lawyers look at every document, and I’m not talking about violating regulations or breaking any kind of duty. And that not at all, it’s just that you don’t always pay for your work because you don’t always have a budget or you don’t necessarily, the risk isn’t so great that it justifies the expense.

And so really talking to your client about where do they want to spend money, where don’t they, where they are going to include a lawyer, where they not, and going back to our discussion about data analytics, we’re working with another client who has a particular business line of contracts where they don’t include the lawyers. They are small contracts, they don’t have a high risk, they don’t have a high value and to involve a lawyer in reviewing all of those would be cost-prohibitive.

So we talked to them about that and we said, wouldn’t it be helpful though if we put in place a process where you the legal department can see data about those contracts. So how many contracts are being signed a year, what number of contracts do you have with a particular customer, when are the contracts coming due or when will they expire. So that you can feed that information to the business but you can also look at that in the totality of your contract management, how many provisions are there on average in the contract? So if you want to put in place a new provision for all of those lower value contracts, how disruptive would that be?

And it’s really been transformative and there again we added business value and some legal advice because again, looking at that data you can start to identify trends, but we didn’t suggest that a lawyer needed to review every contract for a service of $5,000. We’ve hinted about this a little bit, but the skill set of being a successful lawyer is a huge part of all of the change that’s happening.

My opinion may be different than others. I don’t believe that lawyers of the future have to be masters of everything; instead, I think they have to be trained sufficiently to understand that technology is an important part of law and it’s an important part of business. They have to understand project management including from the very beginning understanding their problem of trying to be solved and you wouldn’t believe how often that question doesn’t get answered through the life of a matter.

Why is this deal important, is it most important that the deal is completed, is it most important that key client relationship is maintained, is it most important in this litigation that we win or is it more important that we simply mitigate the risk or get a quick resolution, and having those questions up front and learning to ask your client how will they measure success. So in our clients business they routinely talk about key performance indicators or KPIs, but it’s amazing how often we don’t talk about that in evaluating the legal services that we deliver.


And then another important skill set is teamwork and collaboration. So I don’t anticipate that lawyers will all be machine learning experts, they won’t all be data scientists, but they will learn and be trained and understand how important it is to collaborate with people with those related subject matter expertise who bring value to their cases, and also, and this is a kind of huge shift in the way we practice, understanding that a legal professional who is not a JD, maybe an expert in a matter or a topic that’s at issue in the legal advice and they may be the expert and the lawyer isn’t.

And getting a lawyer comfortable listening to that advice and deferring to that subject matter expert is difficult for many lawyers who have thought I’m the lawyer, I make the decisions, I understand this that they have to rely and trust on someone who thinks differently than they do, who speak in a different vernacular than they do, who are trained differently, that’s very, very uncomfortable.

And it’s one of those points that I think I hinted at before that once you turn that corner, culturally it’s a game changer. But getting around that corner is not easy. So let me pause there for a second, because I did a lot of talking, but as I think about innovation, it’s really taking on these myths head-on and helping people understand that these changes are so important.

And then I hope we have time before the end of the podcast to really talk about also as disruptive as all of this is, as scary as it is, I actually believe and I’m inspired by the thought that this change is going to increase the satisfaction in our profession and actually better align us with our clients.

And so I think all of this change will make us better lawyers, will increase the level of satisfaction and maybe even allow hope for a little more work-life balance in this 24/7 accessibility world.

Daniel Linna: Well, there was so much there that I would love to follow up on. That last point — I think that last point is really interesting to me, and one of the things when we established the Legal R&D Center at Michigan State, we talked about one of the reasons for wanting to introduce operations and people process data technology approach, better process control, better project management was exactly that.

We thought we could get out of this like, we are constantly having fire drills as lawyers and if we could better manage processes and projects, we can provide better services to clients. Of course, that’s the number one focus, but then we talked so much, frankly across the industry. I believe we give a lot of lip service to diversity, work-life balance, the troubles, the problems with lawyer depression, alcoholism, and things like that, but we don’t really get to what are the root causes and wow to what extent might this actually be that if we innovate in these ways, if we introduce some of these things it might be a step towards helping us solve some of these problems that we care a lot about. I mean is that going too far, are you going down that road too?

Wendy Butler Curtis: So, I’ve completely jumped off that cliff. I believe it with all my heart, if you choose this profession and in particular, if you choose this profession in big law, you’re choosing a high intensity, high pressure and at times very high level of work. And most of us I think go into it knowing that.

And some of us thrive and that’s part of reason that we do that, but there are pieces of that that don’t have to require so much self-sacrifice, if handled differently. And I think so much of the change that’s coming really go at those problems. So just some examples.

We all take pride in what we do and if you know that your client is working to take to market a new product, so pick what – it’s Netflix or its new iPhone or it’s the first electric or self-driving car and you’re part of the team that helped that product to market or it’s the newest MRI machine, that’s going to allow better imaging and earlier diagnosis of disease.

If you are part of that and you understand the purpose and so when you work that weekend because we have to get this contract or this agreement with the provider in place, because otherwise we can’t go to market with the MRI machine because we’ve got to have that plastic covering and we’ve got to get the supplier agreement done.

Understanding that bigger purpose with the client, I believe is something that we should all do better as lawyers and with our clients, through our clients, that are communicate to us the business purpose of this. And then we’re a team and we’re working towards something, so it’s not just getting the agreement done but it’s getting the MRI machine to market.


There is inevitable unpredictability to the profession as we all know, but there’s also of your poor — a lot of your poor planning makes my emergency. And that we can do better about and so many other industries that are so much better.

Another common problem that I see is that people work very hard on something often at a personal sacrifice only then to have that work not used or not valued.

And so, going back to the example in Westlaw Edge and understanding if we file this motion which we have to file in the next three days and oh by the way, those three days are Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Well we’re only going to have a 10% chance of winning. If we either go into it knowing well, it’s a long shot and so I spent my whole weekend, but I do with a long shot or we sit down and say you know what, let’s not do this.

The cost for the team, the cost to the budget is too much for a 10% win, that really changes where we make the sacrifice and how we spend our time. I also think that so many of us went to law school to do that creative problem-solving, to make the argument by analogy, to creatively design a solution that may not be apparent to others.

And I know there’s a ton of fear about the impact of Artificial Intelligence or AI in the practice and is it going to take all our work away, but this kind of brings everything we’ve talked about together. So Artificial Intelligence is going to draw its conclusions and make its predictions based on the information that you feed it. And there’s always going to be something finite about what you give to Artificial Intelligence.

So if I want it to predict an argument for me in a tort case about a particular cause of action, it may do that as well as I could do it, and probably faster. But I don’t think it’s ever going to replace me, because I will also in my own mind think, but I also worked on that IP case with a similar issue, where we came up with a really creative solution and I am going to add that on top to the argument that was spit out on AI.

I as a person, I as an experienced lawyer, who is human, I am always going to be pulling on a broader set of data than what the AI tool is going to do. And when that AI tool spits out its first recommendation, I can all the faster go and that was me snapping, go to the creative thinking, thinking for the argument by analogy, challenging myself to think about what else is happening with another client or another industry.

And so, it will allow us to do the work that I think we find most rewarding and eliminate so much of the rote work that many of us — many people I think actually left the practice because of.

Daniel Linna: Yeah well —

Wendy Butler Curtis: So how’s that for couple reasons why I think the world — the profession will benefit from all of this change, and I guess I’m going to add one more piece then I will stop, but we talked about diversity. And diversity means so many different things and I think you have to be careful not to define diversity singularly about race or gender.

But if you were working with a computer scientist, the way that you talk about a problem is going to be different than if you were talking to a lawyer. If you were working with an experienced project manager, the way that they prioritize the work and the accountability that you have with that person to plan ahead is going to be exponentially different than if you only work with another lawyer.

And so its diversity of perspective, its diversity of experience, its diversity of training and it’s all those other important things that then people learn to not just default back to the person, who looks like sounds like thinks like I do. And that then only makes all of us better and really in ways I think changes the way we perceive diversity in such an impactful way that again, I’m just very, very optimistic.

Daniel Linna: Yeah, that’s all very exciting and like trying to see the potential here, right, the opportunities, their challenges. I would love to follow up on these conversations. There’s so much talk about our change management, the challenges in the marketplace you mentioned Artificial Intelligence, I think there’s some challenges there as well you alluded to.

So we’re coming to the end of our time, I did want to just give you one minute to tell us a little bit about — we talked a bit about the training you do at Orrick and then really would like to hear what do you think about what the law schools are doing and are they headed in the right direction, where might they be missing, there was an article maybe a journal that kind of implied that law schools might be ahead of the curve, what would you say? I mean what do you want when you’re hiring attorneys at Orrick and other top law firms? What do you want to see the students getting some additional training in respect to innovation and technology?

Wendy Butler Curtis: So I’m going to chuckle about that article, because that is not how I would characterize things. I think that the law firms are behind the curve. Of course, not Orrick, we’ve really invested an extraordinary amount of time in trying to change the way that we’re training our lawyers. But the law schools have been extraordinary about identifying the importance of the intersection of these various kinds of expertise, your law school being included.


And we now track and you probably know the numbers better than I do but there are an extraordinary number of law schools who have these joint programs in innovation and they can focus on legal tech, AI, computer science, access to justice, collaboration, all of these ideas that we need to be teaching our new lawyers, next generation of lawyers to function in the business world that they are going to face.

That this idea that you are a lawyer and a single contributor in a matter and that’s going to get the most sophisticated and best outcome is just such antiquated thinking. And pushing project management, pushing all the disciplines that have been adopted and advocated by clock and legal operations professionals that how do you give good legal advice to your client, if you don’t understand the parameters around the problem they’re trying to solve.

How do you meet client expectation if you don’t know how much money they want to spend, and so I am just so grateful for the law schools and the role that they played as really drivers of change, we have also adopted in our farm and I actually do this a lot with clients design thinking and I see that in the law schools too doing these hackathons, sitting down and trying to re-imagine what is possible and we laugh but actually there’s so much truth to talking to our new members of our firm, I think there’s a great sociology psychology point about the fact that when you walk into a room, what you perceive is different.

So in my office, I’ve had the same pictures up for five years, I don’t even see the pictures anymore, when I walk in my office all I see is what’s new in my office from when I was there last and we want to grab that perspective from our recent law school graduates, from our recent laterals, what do you see that’s different here and what do you remember from where you were, and bring it here and allow us to do things differently.

Once you’re there you start, you stop seeing what’s possible or that’s so much a part of how lawyers were taught, you’re taught the way that it’s always been done and then that’s how you think about it and we want to keep people thinking is there another way to do this and it’s not just our lawyers. So when we’ve done these hackathons we included all the personnel, every team member, every part of the firm and one of the newest positions that we created it as part of our administrative support, it’s an analyst role, a portion of their job description says you need to identify work streams that you encounter in your work with our lawyers and our clients where there is an efficiency and make suggestions on how we do it better.

And so that idea of constantly asking and thinking about things differently I think the law schools are doing a great job of pushing the curriculum to change or at least law schools like yours.

Daniel Linna: Well thanks for sharing those examples Wendy. It’s really exciting to hear about the work you’re doing at Orrick and again, we talked about the tradition at Orrick I mean hitting this point about innovation isn’t just about innovation officers and this operation scene but it’s about the lawyers but also everyone inside the organization, admins, paralegals, the marketing team, right, really working to create learning organizations which is something that that law firms can do.

So thank you so much for sharing all these things with us Wendy. If anyone in our audience would like to contact you what’s the best way?

Wendy Butler Curtis: Sure thanks Dan, [email protected]

Daniel Linna: Well great and thank you again Wendy. This has been another edition of Law Technology Now on the Legal Talk Network. If you like what you heard today, please rate us in Apple podcasts. Join us next time for another edition of Law Technology Now. I’m Dan Linna signing off.


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Episode Details
Published: May 10, 2019
Podcast: Law Technology Now
Category: Best Legal Practices
Law Technology Now
Law Technology Now

Law Technology Now features key players, in the legal technology community, discussing the top trends and developments in the legal technology world.

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