This blog is part one of a series focusing on how tech is reshaping the legal world, told from the perspective of different positions within a firm.
Michael Silvain, E-Discovery Manager at Kennedys Law LLP, knows how tech can catapult a legal career — it’s how he differentiated himself and created his own path in the field.
After decades as a paralegal, in various forms and working on many disclosure reviews, Michael was often involved in slow e-discovery exercises due to inefficient legal technology. “In the past my work was often hampered through lack of control and long wait times, expensive approaches to processing/hosting of data and the different charges applied to user licences."
Michael joined Kennedys back in 2009. As the firm continues to grow organically, it also continues to increase focus on new and developing software which will empower its lawyers and lead to better outcomes for its clients.
In his role at the firm, and with the support of its partners, Michael wanted to find ways to work more effectively with vendor companies by unifying Kennedys’ approach to e-discovery, to better serve the interests of clients.
1.1 Initial steps in the transformation journey
Michael knew that technology existed for the legal space that was more user-friendly and efficient than the standard for the field at the time. He suspected using legacy technology was costing more than it should.
To formulate a solution, he tracked down three years’ worth of data and metrics from the firm’s e-discovery practices. This task meant finding out which vendors were being used and how much data there was, and then going to the providers to find out the numbers behind user licences, data, project management time, and cost. “The potential benefit of finding alternative commercially better options was clear.” Michael says. “The legacy software would have eventually not been able to handle the ever-increasing demand of lawyers and they only had limited access to these tools without vendor assistance, which resulted in additional fees for basic tasks.”
Kennedys wanted to have the best commercial e-discovery option on the market in order to empower its lawyers, reduce clients’ spend, and create a more efficient and effective process for all parties – so the effort to collect this data was worth it.
Michael’s advice: Do the groundwork and understand your marketplace. Understand how much data you have and the fees your clients are incurring. Overcoming any resistance to change and new technology will result in beneficial cost savings.
1.2 Making the case for new legal tech
In line with the experience of his peers, Michael is seeing a “new guard” come into law firms who understand using effective technology tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) can reduce discovery costs and secure future business.
Kennedys differentiates the firm’s e-discovery practice as a way to earn new business. “E-discovery used to be a dirty word because it was costly and sometimes a mechanism used for settlement,” he says. But being able to pitch clients on e-discovery strategies that reduce that historical spend has yielded positive results.
In order to find the best possible e-discovery tools on the market, Michael met with many e-discovery software companies and attended countless demos during an 18-month period. The firm was seeking a tool which could deliver on cost savings for clients, ease of use, speed, and AI functionality. He met with the DISCO team following a recommendation from a US colleague, and was impressed.
A day in the life
Today, Michael’s day-to-day is mostly managing a variety of projects across the firms’ offices in the UK, Dublin, and Bermuda. DISCO has provided assistance on many matters thus far during the relationship with Kennedys. Using the new technology has resulted in eliminating wait times, reducing clients’ overall spend and revenue generation.
In one recent case, the team started with a population of 1.4 million documents, uploaded them within eight hours, used early case assessment tools to cull the population to 123,000 documents, and then used AI to narrow the relevant document pool to 26,000 documents. The review was completed in 11 days — compared to the 52 days that a linear review would require.
Michael also collaborates with Kennedys’ lawyers to offer strategic advice on how to progress with their review in the most efficient and effective way. This often involves explaining technology in understandable ways and, almost always, recommending making use of AI. He also recommends that in terms of technical skills, those entering the legal field should keep an inquisitive mind - this will help them gain a better understanding of how technology works and make them more self-sufficient when it comes to using it.
Michael also makes the rounds speaking to people at other law firms to stay up-to-date on best practices — he has joined an informal meetup group of people in his position who also use the DISCO platform so they can discuss best practices and solve problems together.
Michael’s advice: Give your job title a rebrand. You are an ESI manager. You may only get recognised in the right way if you have the right job description, and when you move from paralegal to ESI manager, everyone looks at you in a different light.
Read part one of the series, A Partner’s Perspective on How to Cultivate and Leverage Tech Innovation
Read part two of the series, How Associates Can Use Tech to Get Ahead in Their Careers