Lee Schreter (J.D. ’91)
How do you primarily use AI and/or data analytics in your work?
Data analytics will be the great disrupter and differentiator for lawyers. That is particularly true in my practice, which is mostly concentrated in complex employment litigation, primarily class and collective actions. Data about the class, the claims, the jurisdiction and the individuals who are bringing these lawsuits can be the difference between a winning case and a losing one.
In addition, the more information you can gather about your adversary, the better prepared you will be for how they will approach discovery and litigation. You can get an idea of when they will think about settlement and even how much they usually settle for in similar cases. People tend to repeat things, and once you begin to discern the patterns, you can think about how to disrupt them.
Data also enables me to educate clients on what to expect. If a particular lawyer has consistently settled similar cases at a specific per claimant amount, that information helps estimate the settlement value of the case.
We are well on our way to being able to provide our clients with predictive analytics about case outcomes. If you have a case similar to one brought by a particular lawyer in a certain part of the country with the same judge, based on analytics we can predict the length of the case, the cost range and the possible outcome. That kind of information offers the power of prediction, and we serve our clients best when we can accurately predict outcomes and cost.
What are the benefits of using AI-based technology in the practice of law?
Technology has made information that was once difficult to discover more accessible. It also has capabilities that are hard to replicate across a team of lawyers. Some document review programs allow you to organize and synthesize information in a way that I think is virtually impossible to repeat in an affordable way for the average client. Twenty years ago we would have 50 lawyers on a big case. You would train everyone what to look for, but it was difficult to ensure that every lawyer evaluated a document in the same way.
AI helps you do some things in a more efficient way that drives down the cost, particularly in my kind of litigation.
What are some challenges?
Technology is far from perfect. Some worry that data collected on them is going to be misused. I think that can be a legitimate concern, but it’s something that can be addressed and dealt with. Part of our responsibility in representing clients is to ensure data is used in an appropriate, ethical and lawful way.
Other challenges arise from the reluctance to adopt new things. Part of the solution lies in making sure lawyers understand the technology. I have found that the adopters far outnumber the naysayers once people understand the powerfully predictive value of data.
What about the fear that robots will take over the practice of law?
Lawyers will become more dependent on technology over time. There will be some tasks that lawyers will no longer do and computers can do well, like creating form documents.
But computers are not with us yet in being able to look at a situation, evaluate the people involved and chart a strategy based on that. A machine can augment what a lawyer does in some ways-but a computer cannot advocate, be passionate and zealously represent a client in the way a person can.
How do clients feel about receiving AI-assisted legal services?
Most clients I work with are frustrated that law firms are not moving more rapidly to innovate. The firms who are willing to partner with clients around these issues and look for ways to be more efficient and to have things cost less with better results will be the most successful.
How is Littler adapting to the changes?
Litigation for most companies is a lose-lose situation. Littler has invested our talent and resources in achieving better outcomes and finding ways to bring down the costs of these kinds of disputes. We also want to handle them in a way that makes sure we are matching the right person to the right task. You don’t need to have a lawyer doing something that is purely an administrative activity. What we have done is map our work through the efforts of our best and brightest lawyers. These mapping exercises have helped us build more efficient processes and better case teams.
How much has changed as far as the use of technology in your three decades of practicing law? What’s better or worse?
When I started practicing law, voicemail was just getting started and the internet had not been embraced by law firms. There was no email. We were still using fax machines, and you had to run down to the federal court in Atlanta and be there by 5 p.m. to make your filing deadline.
Some changes are not necessarily for the better. Back then, when you left the office, unless you were writing a motion or doing something away from the office, you were done with work for the day. You didn’t have to monitor email into the small hours of morning. If a client needed to reach you, they would contact you during business hours. Cell phones were not widely used, so trying to get a hold of somebody was a much more difficult task.
In some ways, technology has made the practice of law infinitely easier. You can draft a document on a computer, easily edit it and collaborate with people at great distances quickly. But the ability to instantly communicate with people is not necessarily a good thing. People say things in email they would not say to someone they were talking to in person. It’s very easy to whip off an email or text and not put the necessary forethought into it before pushing send. Sometimes a period of reflection before responding is a much better course of action.
Any advice about AI/big data for students?
I encourage students and graduates to advance education in these areas wherever the opportunity presents itself. It’s not going to stop. There are things I may not like today about the practice of law, but I can’t sit in my office and ignore it. If I ignore it, I do so at my peril.
Lee Schreter (J.D. ’91) is co-chair of the Wage and Hour Practice Group at Littler Mendelson and former chair of Littler’s board of directors. She focuses on representing employers in complex class and collective actions involving wage-related claims.