Updated: Aug 10, 2022
Marlene Gebauer is Global Director of Strategic Legal Insights at Greenberg Traurig, LLP and serves as host of the popular The Geek in Review podcast. I spoke with her about her work and about how her background informed her views on the law and her work at Greenberg Traurig, LLP.
Tell me a little about your current role and how your career path helped you take on the role you have now.
I was into art and wanted to be a fashion designer growing up. That creative side of my brain has never shut down, even after I moved into the more analytic field of law. I was a health care litigator and I had the opportunity to experience firsthand how relevant information and internal knowledge shared can result in the most eloquent and influential arguments. At that point I realized that creativity can be a part of and enhance any experience, if you allow it. Moving into research and knowledge management roles I got interested in how we find, capture, assimilate and ultimately use knowledge. In grad school, in order to evaluate the usefulness of web design, we used to develop tests to see how people found content on web pages and then gauge their experience. It was fascinating to follow the different paths-because there was never one way anyone did anything. It is the same in the work I do now, and I enjoy the challenge of capturing content and getting to people in a way it is useful for them.
How do you define innovation and how have you innovated within your current role?
The first rule of innovation is not to define innovation. 😊 It is a new, smarter or necessary way of doing things that need to be performed. It not necessarily technology-based, but it almost always designed-based. Think of something like the Murphy Bed, or a folding pizza slide (which I just purchased since I am making a lot of pizza at home now for my kids). These are designs offered to save space for people living in small places and yet offer the same function as people have in larger spaces. With Covid 19, people are making masks out of old T shirts. These adaptations were smart and necessary given changes in the environment.
In law, technology has allowed us access to a wealth of data we never did before. We must make use of it—the analytics, the combined organization knowledge—or we risk being the horse whip manufacture in a world full of cars. We push analytics out in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes. Some examples are evaluations of judges and opposition, looking for filing trends that impact ultimate decisions, predictions of the best experts and decision makers for a matter and deal points, clauses and related trends. We do the same with organizational knowledge, including client knowledge. We have been able to apply technology to experience sets to determine the best possible decision and to bubble up records for review.
Technology has also afforded us the means to automate. End-to-end contract management is growing in importance and we have been able to automate drafting and review. We have also improved our best practice document search by using machine learning tools that understand context. We hope to use this technology on other internal document sets.
How can law firms benefit from innovation and from legal technology?
We have an amazing opportunity right now during the COVID-19 outbreak to make great strides in innovation and the use of technology. Because we have no choice. Our lives literally depend on it.
Use of video technology is an easy and very discussed example. But what about how WFH is changing workflow and use of tools? Access must be online as deliveries (if they are even being made) are not accessible. Anyone who uses books needs to go online to find answers—or use the research team. News and regulatory feeds, particularly on how COVID-19 and related law-making is impacting courts, industries and countries are indispensable for client advice and organizational decision making. Portals become even more critical to share content and communication with clients. And what about how it is changing our ways of social connection in our organizations? How do you keep your employees connected and committed? Happy and healthy? One thing we are doing is a gamification of social connection initiatives to encourage members of the firm to participate together. Just like a video game, there are levels of success and related awards. This model is scalable and can be used for initiatives in the future.
How have you overcome resistance within your firm to use of technology or innovation?
You must be aware of where the opportunities are and potentially will be in your firm, look at the landscape of solutions, and target. Not everyone is interested in innovation, and unless they are pressed, they won’t be. Continue to message innovation broadly but focus on the people and groups who are receptive and have a scalable use in mind. Build upon that vertically in those groups and scale to others. For example, we built a couple internal models for analytics that can be used more broadly for various data and by different departments. And don’t forget to stay creative regarding potential new opportunities. Client needs are changing rapidly, so keeping current via internal firm communication and news sources is important.
It is also a good idea if your organization is very change resistant or if you just need a first innovation step, to focus on small change and build on that. We introduced technology that does what lawyers already do, but faster and more accurately. This isn’t a big step to take for most because they see it as the helping aid that it is. Once users are comfortable with that, perhaps begin to introduce tech that changes the work process.
And I would be remiss not to say, now that we are dealing with COVID-19, that there is an opportunity to introduce and welcome more users to innovative solutions. Given the need for social distancing, there is a need for even those who are resistant to get on board with the technology and process we have available. How they experience that—good or bad, is in our hands, so let’s make it good. That way there is a better chance they accept the change for the long term.
To lawyers wanting to help convince colleagues or friends to learn about legal technology or legal innovation, how would you advise them?
Find out where the problem is and solve that. Make the personal connections to be able to accomplish that. And be empathetic. We all have frustrations when people don’t use or understand the solutions we are promoting, but I do try (and I coach my staff to try as well), to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. What is going on in their lives? Are they incentivized to do this? Being judgmental and critical will not build your believer base. Kindness goes a long way and I have found listening to frustrations and being candid, but gentle is often the key to get people to try new things.
What has been the biggest challenge you overcome during your career thus far?
We all have many challenges that shape us. My parents always say challenges build character, so I have lots of character. One challenge I had was that I was very shy as a kid and didn’t have much self-confidence. I imagine many people have gone through something similar during that stage of life. I was scared to speak in public and I discovered, since I got good grades, I could avoid talking in class most of the time. I continued that course even through law school. Once I started practicing law, I quickly discovered that a silent litigator is not really an effective one, so had to force myself to speak in hearings. I also spoke at educational lectures for practice. And it was rough and stressful, but in time, I got better at it. I still get nervous before a presentation, but knowing the audience wants to learn something, and that I can share with them, and maybe help them solve a problem, makes it easier.