Sam McAllister is a legal technology leader, lawyer, and innovator. He was named to the FastCase 50 in 2022 and a finalist for the American Legal Technology Awards in 2021.
Tell me a little about your background and how you ended up doing what you do now.
My background covers a little bit of everything in technology. I built databases for my baseball cards in middle school and websites in high school for a local company. While majoring in computer science at Auburn, I got into more advanced coding and then worked in the campus IT department doing networking and software installs. I came to Lightfoot in 2007 based on my experience with some e-discovery software that the firm was using (the bar was low for any experience doing e-discovery back then). My role evolved into hot seat trial support, graphics, exhibits, etc. Over time, e-discovery demanded less hands-on administration, so I took on more trial work and general technology projects. I have since created many custom tools and websites used every day by our lawyers for their clients, including solutions inspired by ideas from our attorneys themselves. I am very lucky to be at a firm that gives me free rein to innovate.
Law firms tend to be viewed skeptically in terms of their adoption of technology. What are your thoughts on this?
The bar is definitely higher for wide acceptance of new software or a new technology-based process at a law firm. Senior partners have their way of doing things, and, honestly, you can’t argue with the fact that their way has historically been successful. However, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find any firms that are still around in 2023 that haven’t fully embraced technology – and, to that point, you’ll find even fewer five years from now. Technology is key to competing in today’s tight legal marketplace with so much competition, not just from other law firms but also ALSPs, accounting firms, etc…
How have you gone about developing legal tech surrounded by lawyers, some of whom I am guessing are pretty devoted to how they have historically done things?
When you’re implementing new technology for lawyers, it’s sometimes better to augment an existing process rather than just outright replace it. A lot of the solutions we’ve developed are built on the idea that this technology is going to be running in the background whether it’s used or not. When we built our voir dire software, for example, it was a given that we just weren’t going to be able to pry index cards out of some hands – and that’s fine. The system is built to embrace the analog parts of law while providing digital information on-the-fly with speed and efficiency you just can’t match.
What has been the most challenging technology project you've worked on at the firm and what made it so challenging?
The most challenging technology projects are always those that involve taking a large volume of data that’s built up over the years completely digital. Sometimes a lawyer will come to us with what seems like a simple request, such as “I wish we could run analytics on X.” What usually happens is that it turns into a project that is very time-consuming in terms of ensuring the solution results in reports with a useful format. In hindsight, it’s always better to make such modifications on the front end when implementing new systems, even if you don’t know when, or if, the information will ever be used.
To those seeking to introduce technology into their firm, what would be your advice?
My advice would be to start small. Find an existing process at your firm that is ripe for a digital upgrade and just give it a shot on your own time. Get feedback from legal assistants and paralegals on what improvements they’d like to see. As you get further along, present it to a few younger associates that might be more tech-savvy and ask them the same questions. Sooner than you think, you’ll have something pretty cool that is ready to implement but importantly, will cost the firm nothing if it doesn’t work out.