Carla Swansburg, ClearyX – Artificial Lawyer

This week Legal Innovators California Passport is back Carla Swansburg, CEO of ClearyX, an experimental legal services platform that is a division of US law firm Cleary Gottlieb. Carla will be speaking at the Legal Innovation Conference on June 7th and 8th in San Francisco.

When did you first hear the term “legal innovation” and what did you think at the time?

I can’t remember when I first heard the term, but I first “experienced” it when I was an in-house at a major Canadian bank during the financial crisis of 2008-2009. I had a very thoughtful and visionary general counsel who pushed our team to look at things like legal pricing, process improvement, and process management before it was no good. I really enjoyed this kind of work and was attracted to looking at legal services in new ways and finding ways to “fix” things that weren’t working well, were inefficient, etc. The value challenge as the procurement discipline permeated legal services. I felt even then that there was so much potential for new disciplines and new ways of working.

What is your role now?

I am now the CEO of ClearyX, a business owned by Cleary Gottlieb but independently run and managed. We are a “disruptor” designed to build new models of legal services from the ground up. We are fully remote and liberally use technology wherever it makes our work better, wrapping our team of skilled experts around customer problems to create better solutions. We focus on very high quality work products, the discipline of constant improvement, and a solution-oriented approach to solving currently unsolvable problems. In addition to our team members with legal expertise, we have technologists, project managers, designers, and more.

Why did you move into this field?

I admit there was no grand design on my part to move into this space. A confluence of time, place and opportunity, along with a relentless desire to fix inefficiencies, led me here. I’ve had a number of great opportunities, along with the curiosity and tenacity required to persevere where change is difficult. I also had the opportunity to experiment with early-stage legal technology and work with start-ups in the early days of many legal technology tools in this space. I was working in Toronto at the time, which was the birthplace of many successful technologies (Kira, eBrevia, Blue J, Closing Folders, etc.).

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I really enjoy building a team and having the opportunity to redesign solutions from the ground up. I liken it to the ability to build an entirely new house with the new materials available and continue on that structure rather than trying to renovate the old one. We have an amazing opportunity to design new ways to solve legal services challenges with a focus on client experience. I love working with talented people who share the same drive to keep improving and making customers happy. I’m also very fortunate to work with forward-thinking leaders at Cleary Gottlieb who give us the space and flexibility we need to build what we believe are the right things, the right way. It seems that several large law firms want to invest in the future (and their own disruptions) in this way. Okay, it’s more than one thing, but it’s very hard to pick just one.

If you were to look into a crystal ball, how much do you think the day-to-day practice of law will change in the next five to ten years, especially given the changes in artificial intelligence?

Having graduated from law school 30 years ago (!!!), I see changes in this business very slowly. I believe we will continue to see the growth of the alternative legal services business and more alternative providers moving higher up the legal value chain. Artificial intelligence has been creating opportunities for quite some time, and we are yet to see, for example, the full adoption of machine learning tools for diligence in all markets.

The huge buzz around the latest big language models (ChatGPT, etc.) will certainly encourage more lawyers and law firms to explore the possibilities, and that’s a good thing. I think the biggest impact of those tools will be on legal tech, and slower on traditional legal practice/lawyers, because AI will be better, faster, and cheaper at many things (automation, contract review, etc.).

What are the biggest challenges to legal innovation in the current climate?

I believe the challenges remain the same as always: slow pace of change, legacy systems and models of law, and issues of trust. By “trust” issues, I mean that there is little room in legal practice to experiment with new tools/ways of working; our profession is one where we expect near perfection, we don’t want to “show our work” if it isn’t. fully baked. We strive to eliminate all risks. In response, I often point to the fact that airlines (as an example!) have R&D functions while providing a “safe space” and material budget to test and develop their products.

It is simply not easy to invest in a law firm partnership for a future threat or opportunity. I get frustrated when people “slam” lawyers with things like hourly fees; these are smart, successful people who I believe are truly dedicated to providing a high level of customer service. Change is hard and takes time, and requires market forces that are slow to build.

And what are the biggest opportunities for change in the legal industry right now?

I feel that generational change is going to move the needle faster than in the past. The big opportunities are solving more client problems, improving the lives of lawyers, especially in their junior years (no one goes to law school, for example manually reviewing hundreds of leases to find specific data points), and moving business models to new ones. pricing ways and new ways to interact with customers.

There are many ways to demonstrate the value, ROI and broad benefits to lawyers and law firms investing in change and building new service models. This profession also did not focus well on the client experience, and the “user perspective” of legal services; small changes in that regard can pay off big if you can find ways to make customers happy to work with your solutions. Solve more of your customers’ problems by focusing on their work, and the possibilities are huge.

And finally, what advice would you give to those looking to enter the field of legal innovation and legal technology?

I would suggest that people interested in this field start following/reading leaders in the space and immersing themselves in opportunities to attend legal technology and innovation conferences. Build a network of like-minded people. If you’re a law student, look for courses or electives to get hands-on technology exposure. Find places where you know there is an “effort vs. value” concern in your work or in the work of your clients. There are opportunities to invest in change and do the hard work with a focus on solutions. You have to be pretty relentless and resilient to effect change, but informed ideas will eventually resonate with the right people.

Thanks Carla! I look forward to your presentation at Legal Innovators California on June 7th and 8th in San Francisco.

If you would like more information about the two-day event in San Francisco, please see here. Day one will focus on law firms and ALSPs, while day two will focus on in-house and legal operations.

To get yours tickets and reserve your seat at the important legal innovation conference in San Francisco this June, please see here.

See you all there!

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