The Legal Helm: Episode #13
Estimated read time: 30 minutes
We’re thrilled to welcome Colin Levy to episode #13 of The Legal Helm. Colin is a well-known tech advocate, writer, and speaker who’s passionate about helping those in the legal sector embrace legal tech effectively. Today’s conversation focuses on how to determine which technology to bring into your ecosystem, what questions to ask during your due diligence process, and how this pre-planning translates into positive ROI. It’s a candid, engaging listen that’s relevant to today’s legal environment.
Bim Dave is Helm360’s Executive Vice President. With 15+ years in the legal industry, his keen understanding of how law firms and lawyers use technology has propelled Helm360 to the industry’s forefront. A technical expert with a penchant for developing solutions that improve business systems and user experience, Bim has a knack for bringing high quality IT architects and developers together to create innovative, useable solutions to the legal arena.
Colin Levy is a legal tech advocate, writer and speaker. He’s also the Director of Legal & Evangelist for Malbek, a leading Contract Lifecycle Management company. Colin is a passionate advocate for legal technology and devoted to educating and inspiring others about it. He’s a frequent guest on legal tech podcasts and contributes articles, blog posts, and other types of content to various law outlets including Above the Law, Law.com, Bloomberg Law News, Artificial Lawyer, Prism Legal, and others.
Bim Today, I’m with Colin Levy. He is Director of Legal and Evangelists at Malbek, an AI contract management vendor. Colin, if you don’t know him already, is a prominent voice in the legal technology space and has his own blog at colinslevy.com. If you have a moment, check it out. There’s some really valuable content, interviews, et cetera, that Colin has contributed to the legal technology space, which is really interesting to read about and listen to. So, Colin, thank you first of all, for being here today. We’re really excited to be talking to you.
I think it’s fair to say that you’ve not followed the conventional career path of a qualified lawyer. I’d be interested for you just to start with telling us about your journey and how that’s led you to what you do today at Malbek.
Colin: Absolutely! Thanks for having me. It’s great to be here. You’re absolutely right. The journey I embarked on was not the one I envisioned for myself when I was in law school. But I don’t regret any of it.
I graduated from law school in 2010, into what was then not a great legal job market here in the U.S. It was at the tail end of the great recession here, which was not a great time economically. I struggled to find a job at first because I didn’t want to work for a firm, I wanted to work in-house. However, traditionally, to work in-house, you need experience. I was in a Catch-22 because I needed experience, and to get experience, I needed to have a job. But to get a job, I needed to have experience. In an effort to get myself out of that situation, I took on a number of different temporary roles which exposed me to different areas of the law and different types of skills I knew I was going to need to be a lawyer in-house.
I took on jobs in litigation document review, in compliance and contract management. And they all contributed to me acquiring all the different skill sets I knew I was going to need to work in-house. And so, when I did finally get my first in-house role, I was as well prepared as one can be for their first in-house role.
Since then, I’ve taken on a number of different roles, all with an eye towards learning more and being more involved in the tech space. And because my role is focused in the tech industry, I saw the interplay between technology and other types of opportunities. I really wanted to learn more about the relationship between technology and the law because it seemed odd that the legal industry didn’t really have much of a relationship with technology. Yet technology was impacting so many other industries, in ways large and small.
Because of that curiosity, I started to take it upon myself to learn more about people involved in the space or talking to them, having conversations with them, learning about what they were doing. Through those conversations, I started writing about my thoughts on that relationship and that set my course off into legal tech.
And it’s been a wild journey since then, but it’s been thoroughly enjoyed. I continue to be challenged and I really enjoy that because I’m learning something new every day.
Bim In terms of your role at Malbek, I love your title, first of all: Director of Legal and Evangelists. Tell us a little bit about a typical day at Malbek for you and what kind of things you’re involved in in terms of your current role?
Colin: Absolutely! Every day is different, which is one thing that I love about my job. One day it could be reviewing a vendor contract and reviewing a contract with a potential customer, and then perhaps writing a blog post or a podcast to speak about contract management, and thinking about and perhaps even implementing a contract lifecycle management tool. Another day I could be involved in dealing with the data privacy issue. Again, writing some kind of longer post or assisting with a couple of relationships with customers that are skeptical of making the move to a CLM or already have a CLM and are interested in moving to us, and assisting them in understanding why they should be looking at us.
Every day is completely different, but it’s really nice to have this balance of doing some legal work and also some marketing, writing and content creation work as well. For me life is all about balance and finding a way to enjoy all the things that I enjoy doing. This job allows me to do all those things each and every day, which is great.
Bim That’s fantastic! It sounds like the role was made for you. It plays to all of your strengths, which is really great to hear.
One of the things that you’ve passionately spoken about on your blog and through various other speaking engagements that you’ve done in the past is around legal technology and bridging that gap between what a firm needs in terms of technology versus what they’re going to get out of it in terms of return on investment. I’d love to get your initial thoughts for law firms or legal departments that are looking to technology to improve business processes, bringing in further efficiencies, maybe lowering the cost of doing business through the use of technology or a technology investment. What’s your advice on where to start? Because it can be a minefield in terms of the number of technology solutions that vendors are throwing at law firms or legal departments. There’s such a variety in terms of the number of solutions that are out there. It’d be good to get your view on that and any advice that you would give to a firm starting on that journey. What is the ideal starting point?
Colin: Sure. My advice is, if you are looking to learn more about legal tech or looking at a particular tool, understand what the outcome is that you’re trying to achieve. You want to understand what good looks like or what the ideal outcome looks like, and let that guide your search and let that guide how you evaluate tools.
Don’t start by looking at technology, start by understanding the existing state of play—where the pain points are that you’re seeking to solve, why they exist. And then in an ideal world, what would it look like without those pain points? After you’ve done that due diligence work, then let that inform how you evaluate potential tools and where you look for potential tools.
Because legal tech is a very wide, broad world. It’s always evolving. There are a lot of different technologies out there. If you just start looking at technology without really understanding why you’re looking at different technologies, it can be overwhelming and confusing, and you may end up with a solution in search of a problem.
You really need to understand what the problem is you’re trying to solve first. And that starts with understanding the lay of the land and then what an ideal outcome looks like. I think sometimes people think that technology can just solve any problem when that’s really not the case. Technology can solve specific problems but you need to know what problems. You have to be able to understand and evaluate what tools are out there that could potentially help you solve those problems.
Bim: That’s excellent advice. When we’re thinking about problem definition and storyboarding those pain points, how do you suggest that we get better engagement from the opinions of the people that matter?
What we’ve seen in some firms is they take the approach of, “Okay, let’s define the problem.” But it takes a third-party view defining the problem for the whole business. The challenge I see time and time again is getting engagement from the right stakeholders to be able to provide input into that process. I’m interested to get your view on that in terms of whether you’ve seen that in your career so far and any strategies or recommendations in terms of how to bring those users closer to that problem definition to make sure that you’re actually solving the real problem.
Colin: It starts with not trying to solve all problems at the same time. It starts with understanding a specific problem that a specific group of people are having and letting them define the problem for you instead of you defining the problem for them. What I mean by that is talk to this specific group, get to understand them, how they work and how they would like to be working and why. Have them be a part of your process with respect to looking at potential technologies.
In other words, have them be a part of the evaluation process. Have them play a role in providing input and providing evaluation because at the end of the day, you want the technology tool that you end up using, or end up purchasing, to be used by those who you want to be using it. That can only happen if the potential users are part of the process from the get-go and feel like they have skin in the game and their input is being valued.
Often what happens is you have someone who’s all about technology and thinks that this tool will be great for the company. They put it in place and then it’s not used by anyone because the users weren’t made part of the process. Alternatively, you can have the other problem, as I alluded to, where you have a lot of problems you’re trying to solve and think that one tool can solve all those problems when, in fact, it doesn’t solve any of those problems at all. It may perhaps make a little bit of difference, it may not make a difference at all, or may even make things worse. So I really think you need to be specific with your intentions and stay focused on those intentions all the way through and not try to solve everything all at the same time.
You know, technology is not a panacea, it’s not something you can put in place that will magically make all your problems go away. It may not even make the problem you’re trying to solve go away but it may help make it less of a problem. You need to go in with that understanding and really make sure that your intended users are part of the process from the get-go and that they’re being heard when you’re looking at potential technology solutions.
Bim: That’s great advice. I remember a client I worked with a few years ago. They were implementing a legal ERP solution and they spent a lot of time thinking about this particular problem in terms of, “How do we get the right engagement level and get the right stakeholders involved?” There was a managing partner who was very vocal throughout the engagement process and in designing some of the things that his team were really going to be responsible for and taking ownership of. For example, he was very involved in designing the billing workflow forms so that all of the workflow steps made sense to them and that they could take ownership of stuff that previously would have been handed off to a billing secretary. They wanted to really take ownership of it.
What was interesting was, even though they had that engagement level until they went live. When I went to check in with that firm three months after go-live, I asked that managing partner how much of that product they loved because they were obviously part of that process. His answer to me was pretty interesting. He said:
“The solution’s great. It does exactly what it says on the tin. We love the way that the workflow is designed and it’s all functional. But to be honest with you, Bim, we don’t use it.”
I was like, “Why? Why are you not using it?
And he said, “Well, it takes me three or four clicks to get to the point that I can just write a little note to my secretary and he or she is going to basically do that for me much quicker. And my time is precious so I don’t really want to be spending time doing that.”
All of that time investment to build the solution didn’t make sense because the user experience was either a little frustrating for him or too long-winded. Does that resonate with you in terms of the importance of defining the problem but also getting a solution that makes sense in terms of the simplicity of design?
Colin: Absolutely! That resonates really strongly with me because I’m a huge proponent of user-centered design and I think users sometimes get, I wouldn’t say ignored, but sometimes their input isn’t as valued as it should be. Folks who are designing tech solutions because in their mind they think something just makes perfect sense and it looks great. But in fact, the people who it’s intended for don’t think that way. Which is why I think it’s really important when you’re developing a tech solution to involve ideal users from the get-go.
In other words, make them part of the testing process, have them look at different potential user interfaces and because even with the best products, if someone doesn’t like how you use it or what’s involved to make it work, it’s not going to be used. That’s super important, and that’s actually, in part, one thing that brought me to Malbek—it’s our inherent focus on users and ensuring that the user experience is top of mind at all times because at the end of the day any product really is only as good as those who use it. Ultimately, any product that is getting designed needs to be designed with the users in mind from the get-go to make it something that is easy for them to use and fit into how they work to begin with.
Bim: So true. User experience really matters. Now we’ve figured out what the problem definition is and we have an idea of what the solution might translate into. The next challenge area that we often see is how do you define and track what the return on investment looks like? Because you’ve got this technology investment that needs to be made and a lot of the time there is a divide between what the firm wants, what the firm is willing to pay for, and the problem they’re solving, and how much of a return on investment they’re going to get on that upfront outlay of putting a product in.
Any tips in that area in terms of how you define return on investment for technology investment. And then once you’ve defined it, how do you track to it to make sure that you’re realizing that benefit, and holding your vendor accountable but also holding the firm accountable for the investment that they’ve made?
Colin: Those are super important questions. Unfortunately, they aren’t ones that are easy to answer because it really is driven by context. Different contexts can define the answer differently. But generally speaking, if I can even generalize, I would say that I would look at the problem, how much time it is taking away from doing other things and then evaluate what that looks like now. Then after you put the tool in place, start measuring the time savings after maybe three months, after six months, after 12 months and compare to how things were before and use those kinds of measurements to define your return on investment.
Keeping in mind that with a lot of technologies, the return is not going to be immediate. It’s not going to happen the minute you turn it on because technologies don’t tend to all of a sudden magically work when you turn them on. Even the best computers haven’t worked that way; you have to set it up and start adjusting it for how you work. True for any type of technology. So, when evaluating and considering what the return on investment is going to be, you really have to look at, “Okay, what are the metrics that I want to use to measure that? Is it time saved? Is it deal cycle time? Is it increase in revenue?” What are the metrics that you use to define what is good? Then use that to help determine what the return on investment is. But again, it’s not something that is just going to all of a sudden be magically clear to you after a short period of time. It’s probably going to take some time for you to realize that investment and therefore that’s something to consider when you’re evaluating technologies; understand that there’s time you invest in buying it, implementing it, setting it up. After that, seeing the results and all of that takes X period of time.
Bim: Excellent! Great suggestions. I think you touched on this a little bit earlier. I’d like to drill into this around technology adoption because, again, we can have a great solution in place and ready to be used but then sometimes what you see is that the initial adoption rate is good and then it drops off because maybe the design is not good or whatever.
A common issue in some of the customer interactions that I’ve had over the years, is that you have a mix of technology awareness (let’s classify it as) in the lawyer ranks. Some people will be very comfortable with technology and be the driving force behind
, putting new solutions in. They’re often mixed with another category of lawyer that’s actually, “I want pieces of paper on my desk. I want to be able to mark something up with my pen and hand it off to somebody. I don’t want to be pushed into the electronic world.”
How do you overcome that kind of challenge where you’ve got that mixed dynamic going on in terms of the types of audience that we’re trying to serve? Because sometimes the biggest challenge is a technology solution that may not be one size fits all. How do you approach that? Any tips or tricks that you can share to make that successful for firms trying to roll out such technology?
Colin: It starts with understanding where people are in terms of their level of technology aptitude and use. By and large, most people use the computer for some form and fashion and therefore you can start with that, seeing how they use their computer to begin with. Then adjusting, “Well, I see you’re doing this but have you thought about doing this, which could make your life a little bit easier and require less clicks and so on?”
I think it starts with allowing people to make better use of their existing tools that they know, and then moving from there to potential new tools. Because you don’t all of a sudden want to go from alright, “Well, I’m using this computer and do X, Y, and Z” to saying, “Oh, well, why don’t you use this instead, which will completely upend how you operate, how you work and what’s required to get your work done?” That results in resentment and an immediate dislike of whatever the new tool is. A lot of people may say, “But the way you’re operating right now is dysfunctional. It’s problematic. It’s really wasteful.” That may all be true but you can’t just expect people to all of a sudden upend basically everything in terms of how they work just because a new tool has come onto the market and will suddenly resolve all those problems. The potential user may not see things that way. It really starts with meeting people where they are and going from there. That requires listening and understanding how people operate and the way they think about what they do and how they do it.
Bim: When I think about the lawyer audience in particular, one of the questions that comes to mind, and maybe this is a bit too broad a question, but I’m interested to get your view on it. What do lawyers really want in terms of technology enhancing solutions to make their lives easier? What kind of areas would you say are big wins and really no-brainers for firms to be considering? Is it around productivity improvement? Is it around the legal research area? Process automation? What actually makes a lawyer more effective from a technology perspective?
Colin: I think ultimately what makes a lawyer more effective is how they are able to meet the needs of their clients. Tools that can get at meeting the needs of clients in ways that are more economical, that are more attuned to their needs and that require less work on the client’s part to figure out what they should do in a given legal situation the better. That really can define the situation. To generalize, it would be challenging but perhaps it could be a research tool that makes finding an answer for a client faster and they’re able to get the information they need in a more accessible way. It could be the creation of documents that they can understand easier and they can use right away. It could be perhaps understanding better potential litigation strategy, using litigation analytics and data to drive what the strategy should be in a given litigation.
It can be all sorts of different things that, ultimately, is defined by what the needs of the client are. Because ultimately the role of a lawyer really is to help others. Tools that can best help lawyers help others are the ones that are going to make the biggest difference, which I realize it’s very easy to say and perhaps doesn’t specifically address your question. But again, it’s hard to offer specifics without more context.
Bim: Maybe we can hone in a little bit about what Malbek does in terms of the contract automation process. Maybe you could give us an example from your product’s perspective in terms of how does that assist a law firm do what they need to do more efficiently.
Colin: Well, first of all, I would say that we do help law firms but we’re primarily in their legal departments. But that being said, the way the tool works is I get a contract in, it has certain clauses in it. It’s been redlined. I can, through the system, respond to those redlines, collaborate with others in other parts of the country who I need input from, whether it’s IT or sales or marketing or whomever. They can provide their commentary and their comments all within the same draft, working asynchronously, and then through the system to send it back to the client and have them review and go back and forth that way.
And it’s all through the system. So there’s no long email threads. No worries about version control because every version is tracked through an audit trail and the system. There’re no worries about, “Oh, well this version doesn’t open on a computer” or what have you; the system allows for the document to open up on whatever system you have. It allows everything to be done securely in a centralized way, in a collaborative way—which is great—through a user centric interface. Suppose that you are drafting a new agreement and you have certain clauses you want in it. The tool can help you put that agreement together and then send it off for review for someone else and then get it back and then go through the same process I’ve just described.
It makes contracting a lot easier and a lot less painful and, again, gets you away from emails and email threads and all of the other painful things that can happen when you email contract versions back and forth to different individuals in and outside of a company.
Bim: It sounds awesome. I think everybody can relate to a time when they’ve received a contract and there’s been multiple versions of it flying around and all sorts of mistakes being made. I can see huge value in a solution like that. It really resonates in terms of not just solving some of the process automation side of things but fundamentally the end client experience is better because they’re receiving much, much faster streamlined reactions to the contract phase of the journey that they’re on with you. It’s also much easier to work with a company that’s using these kinds of tools.
Speaking of customer experience and law firms, legal departments and how they build those kinds of relationships, what’s your approach to making that a focal area for you in terms of the interactions that you have with customers?
Colin: I think one of the key ways to build an effective customer relationship, especially when you’re trying to sell them on a new tool, is to make the case that tool will not require them to reinvent the wheel. In other words, it won’t require them to throw out their existing set of tools. Rather this tool will fit in seamlessly to their existing set of tools. That’s one thing Malbek does well.
For example, we integrate very well with HubSpot, Salesforce, all sorts of other tools that a lot of companies use and therefore doesn’t require them to reinvent how they work and allows for seamless data flow between these different tools. This is very important when you’re dealing with contracts that are often complex and require a lot of cross-functional work to be done.
Developing a really good customer relationship means listening to their needs, meeting their needs and taking their feedback. If the customer says, “Hey, I use this product. It’s great but it really would be nice if we could do this, this or this” and saying, “Yes, we’re working on that” or “Yes, we already have this” or “Thanks for the feedback, we will work on that.” That’s a great way, I think, to build a relationship because vendor and a customer shouldn’t be a transactional relationship. It shouldn’t be, “All right. Well, thanks for your money. Here’s the product. Have a good day. See you later.” It should involve a relationship where there’s mutual benefits for both parties. I think the best vendors out there really take that seriously, invest a lot of time and effort into building those relationships and maintaining them over a long period of time.
Bim: Absolutely. There’s certain experiences that stand out in my mind. Some of the interactions with law firms in particular but some legal departments as well over the years, where there’s a distinct difference in terms of how I feel about working with a firm that gives me the right level of attention. That does the follow-ups. That communicates well. It makes a stand-out difference in terms of that customer experience. It really draws you back to that same experience because you’re not having to chase down updates on your case or whatever the situation might be. Having that proactive element of relationship building, I think, makes a huge difference.
So, I totally agree with you on that. If you could pick out one of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced in terms of having to overcome something in a role or just life generally, it’d be great to hear how you overcame some of those challenges that you experienced either through technology or through some process reworking or anything like that. That might be useful for our audience to hear about.
Colin: Yeah, absolutely. One of the biggest challenges I have faced, being an in-house lawyer, has been not tech at all but been people-based. One of my biggest challenges has been managing people and their expectations and their understanding of what I’m trying to do and why I’m doing it.
One of the things that I have done in my past, where I was challenged with this very problem was we had a very young sales team and they were doing things different ways and didn’t really understand what I was doing other than the fact that I was a lawyer and they needed to run things by me. I developed a training program to help empower them with respect to why I pushed back on certain things in our agreement, got them to become more fluent in templates that we used and why they were set up that way, and empower them to also negotiate certain things on their behalf without needing to come to me.
That sped up the deal processes as well. In doing that type of training and empowering the sales team made for a better relationship between my function and their function, and also allowed for better trust and collaboration because everyone knew what everyone else was doing and everyone was transparent about it.
That’s how I overcome that sort of people management a problem. I really encourage other in-house counsel to do that as well because when you’re in-house, businesses just want to keep growing and growing and growing. To do that, you need to sell and sell and sell. And their sales teams are on the forefront of doing that. You, as a lawyer, are a little bit in the background. But your role really can be to empower other functions to do their jobs better. And by empowering, you are making them trust you more and therefore making you more seen as a valued and trusted team member of the business as a whole.
Bim: I love that! What a difference the style of communication could make, right? And investing time in training and educating makes a massive difference to close those barriers. That’s a really good example. Thank you for sharing.
So, an interview would not be an interview without a question about this pandemic and its impact. How have you seen that impact the way that you do business today? How do you see things in the future in terms of hybrid working, et cetera, and building those connections with clients as well? Because obviously some of that stuff is here to stay for medium term at least if not the long term. What impacts have you seen and how are you handling it from a change control perspective?
Colin: First of all, it’s an evolving world. I think that we have seen a move towards working in more remote, flexible ways. That’s one thing. I think we also have seen a need for people to collaborate in ways large and small. And I think that we also have seen a greater emphasis on people’s happiness and contentment with what they do and why they do it. That’s something that all companies are increasingly needing to keep in mind as they seek to not just attract future employees but also maintain the employees that they do have. I think that the pandemic has certainly brought about a shift in how we think about what we do, why we do it and, how we do it.
Bim: You kind of touched on health and mental health. In terms of the world that we now live in, what do you do to keep sane and stay focused, from a mental health perspective?
Colin: Well, I have two cats at home who keep me very busy and entertained. At the end of the day, I may be working from home but I also make sure that I get away from work and just watch mindless TV shows or what have you, or play a video game. I think that has gotten easier as this pandemic has gone on and on and on. Because certainly it was harder for me to relax and adjust in the early days when things were a little more uncertain and a little more in flux.
Bim: Any tips on good games to play for people who are getting into the gaming world?
Colin: Well, there’s such a wide variety. I happen to be a fan of a big open world role playing games, like Fallout 4, Skyrim or The Witcher: Wild Hunt. I also recently got into some horror survivalist games, like Resident Evil, which is very amusing and fun. For someone who likes horror, it’s not all that scary, but it is entertaining. There’s a lot of different games out there for different people.
Bim: Have you ventured into the world of VR, virtual reality games yet, like with the Oculus?
Colin: I have not, primarily because the equipment for it is fairly expensive, number one. And number two, I don’t see there being a whole lot of immediate use cases. I mean, certainly, the metaverse and Web 3 exist and they’re growing in importance in some ways. I’m still seeking for it to be a little more part of the normal way of doing business before I invest in equipment needed to do that. I’m all for it. I’m certainly not against it. I just think that we’re really at the very forefront of something that is an important aspect of doing business.
Bim: Agreed. It’s a big investment of both money and time. It’s not quite there yet but some exciting potential is there, I think.
I’m just going to, move to our wrap-up. There’s just a final three questions that I like to wrap up with. The first is, and this assumes that you know who Doctor Who is, and his time machine. If you could borrow Doctor Who’s time machine and go back and visit Colin at 18 years old, what advice would you give him?
Colin: I would tell him to stress out less and worry less about what other people think about him.
Bim: Excellent! If you were given the budget for one piece of technology to implement at a law firm or legal department, what would it be and why?
Colin: Probably document automation, which would allow for easier creation of documents both simple and complex, and would allow for that time-consuming work to be done faster and easier, freeing up time to spend on more strategic initiatives.
Bim: Fantastic! And the final one: Tell me about the most influential person in your life and how they impacted you.
Colin: That’s a really good question. This is personal for me I would say that my husband is probably the most influential person in my life at this point because he’s helped me challenge my own perspective of who I am, what I want to do, why I do it. And he’s always constantly challenging my opinions and how I think about things. I appreciate that because it helps me grow as a person.
Bim: That’s beautiful! Really, really nice to hear. I’m glad you found each other.
Colin, thank you very much for spending some time with me today. It’s been really good to kind of get to know you a little bit better and get your thoughts on the legal technology space. For those who are interested in following your blog and following you, maybe you could just walk us through how they can find you.
Colin: Absolutely! They can follow me on Twitter @clevy_law. They can also find me on LinkedIn under my name. They can go to my website: colinslevy.com. And if they happen to be working for a legal department and are having issues managing their contracts, certainly I would encourage them to check us out at Malbek.
Bim: Fantastic! Thank you very much, Colin. Much appreciated.
Colin: Thank you very much.