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Sarah A. Sutherland

Sarah A. Sutherland stands out as a multifaceted professional, combining her expertise as a writer, speaker, and executive in the realms of legal technology, information, and publishing. As the principal consultant at Parallax Information Consulting, her work primarily revolves around strategizing legal data. Her contributions to the field are further highlighted in her 2022 Routledge-published book, "Legal Data and Information in Practice: How Data and the Law Interact." Additionally, her influential role in the industry was recognized when she was named among the 2022 Fastcase 50, an accolade celebrating innovators in legal technology.


Can you share your journey into the field of legal technology and publishing? What motivated you to combine these disciplines and how has your experience shaped your current approach?


My career growth has been very organic. I started working in law libraries, and as I progressed professionally, I found that the parts of the work that I most enjoyed had to do with technology and content creation. I read a book called So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport, when it was published about ten years ago, and I found his approach of exploring your interests as you learn and building a unique niche for yourself compelling. It's a different perspective than trying to fit a certain professional profile as perfectly as possible to get a defined job in competition with others who also try to fit that same profile. I focus on learning things that I find interesting as I go. Then I explore how I can apply them.

In your book 'Legal Data and Information in Practice: How Data and the Law Interact', you explore the relationship between data and law.


What do you believe are the most significant changes in legal practice due to the increased use of data, and what future trends do you foresee?"


It feels trite to say this, but I think that the increased use of data will make many things that were difficult in the past and that were dependent on experience and memory, like remembering the perfect case for a particular issue that came out years in the past, less relevant. And I hope that other things that rely on systemic knowledge that don't generate value beyond navigating inefficient systems like filling in complex court forms will also become simpler. This will mean that clients can still pay for services like strategic advice. I certainly see opportunities for lawyers and others in the legal system in the future, but business models will and, honestly, should change. My vision for the future has lawyers working less and getting paid for their insight instead of powerlifting large volumes of text, and clients understanding what they are paying for and the value they are getting. There are also many people who have legal problems that are almost insurmountable for them, but which are relatively simple legally, who aren’t well served by the current legal services model. I hope there will be both profit and non-profit driven solutions that leverage data to resolve these people's problems.


Given your extensive experience in legal technology, what technological advancements do you think have had the most significant impact on legal practices, and how should legal professionals adapt to these changes?


We are so focused on innovative technologies that will transform legal practice, but I anticipate that in many ways legal practice will be relatively stable. There will be labor saving tools, like writing assistive applications and better legal research platforms, but the more important change will be cultural. Law firms are attached to certain ways of doing things, and there will be larger changes that arise from expectations from clients that will likely involve at least some change and workforce displacement. This has happened in other industries, and it makes sense to try to become more agile before being forced to do so. I envision e-discovery as a good exemplar — it reduced the work required to manage that function but didn't transform the whole business. I think this kind of dynamic will happen in more areas.


If I could have one legal technology wish granted, I would have everyone learn how to use the tools they use every day now properly. One of the biggest immediate wins would be if we could all use word processors and email efficiently. I know it's mundane, but it would be wonderful. There are so many potential gains from better use of what we have now. Looking for the next big thing is fun and attention getting, but incremental improvements could generate significant gains.


You have been writing a column for Slaw, Canada's online legal magazine, since 2013. What are the key themes you focus on in your columns, and why do you think these topics are crucial for the legal community today?


The topics I write about in my Slaw column are mostly driven by my own interests. I write about legal data, technology, writing, and whatever I want to explore. In my experience there is nothing as effective at ensuring I remember what something looks like than drawing it, and there's nothing as effective at helping me work out what I think about a topic than writing about it. Many of the topics I write about are likely not very applicable to the daily work of most legal professionals. I'm more interested in the infrastructure that underlies legal processes, but understanding these things can help people understand systems, which in turn can help them work more effectively and advocate for what's needed.


For individuals aspiring to enter the legal tech field, what advice would you offer? What skills and mindsets are essential for success in this evolving landscape?


I think the most important advice is to think about what you want to do and look up what the usual requirements are for those jobs and how much they pay. The fact that someone has significant earning potential when working in one field won't necessarily mean that they can make the same in another, but you may also be happily surprised to see that the role you want pays more. After that, I think that it depends on what you want to do. Each job will have different requirements, which you can evaluate against your aspirations. It can be a good strategy to try something closer to what you are doing now and moving more slowly to what you want to do. I don't think you should worry if you don't have all the stated requirements. Generally, there aren't enough people to do many of the jobs in legal tech, and over my career I have had good luck with interview answers where I list whatever related things I have done paired with an enthusiastic: "And I learn fast!"


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