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eDiscovery Leaders Live: Lisa Burton of Legal Data Workspace

George Socha
George Socha

eDiscovery Leaders Live: Lisa Burton of Legal Data Workspace

Each week on eDiscovery Leaders Live, I chat with a leader in eDiscovery or related areas. Our guest on April 30 was Lisa Burton, CEO of Legal Data Workspace.

Lisa and I started by talked about where she came from and what she’s doing today, creating space for something new. Lisa discussed the bench she has been assembling and the AI-driven framework she and her team have been developing to better serve their clients. Lisa explained to me an earlier comment she had made about being a tech skeptic who lean hard on technology to help her, something that on its face seems contradictory. She backed up that explanation with an example of how, while demoing Brainspace for a new matter, they found the two key phrases that opened up the case. Lisa also had mentioned to be, me, earlier, that she saw herself as an “eDiscoveryist”, a phrase I asked her to explain, something she was happy to do. Lisa then shared her vision of the future of eDiscovery and offered advice to those seeking to pursue eDiscovery themselves.

Recorded live on April 30, 2021 | Transcription below

Note: This content has been edited and condensed for clarity.

George Socha:

Welcome to eDiscovery Leaders Live, hosted by ACEDS and sponsored by Reveal. I am George Socha, Senior Vice President of Brand Awareness at Reveal. Each Friday morning at 11 a.m. Eastern, I host an episode of eDiscovery Leaders Live, where I get the chance to chat with luminaries in eDiscovery and related areas. Past episodes are available on the Reveal website; go to revealdata.com, select “resources”, then select “eDiscovery Leaders Live”.

My guest this week is Lisa Burton. Lisa is CEO of Legal Data Workspace. She's an award-winning pioneer of legal technology, recognized as being instrumental in creating de facto standards within the industry over 25 years. Lisa's ability to bridge the gap between technologists and legal compliance practitioners has enabled her to lead teams of experts in delivering intelligent, effective solutions to regulators, law firms, and FTSE 100 clients in responding to regulatory and corporate investigations, contentious, and non-contentious legal matters.

Lisa has an LLB from University of London Holborn School of Law. Lisa, welcome. Glad you could join us today. Okay, we have you on mute, Lisa. We need to turn off the mute. And there we go.

Lisa Burton:

Sorry, I thought that was going to be done on your end.

George Socha:

Yes, and once again, welcome. I'd like to start out today by talking a little bit about what you are doing, and first, how you got to where you are and what you're doing today because I think it's both an interesting story and a new stage in your career.

Creating Space for Something New

Lisa Burton:

Yeah, well thank you very much. Well at the moment, which is really exciting, after as you said in my introductory paragraph, after 25 years in the industry, I have been asked in the last couple of years when am I going to form something new. We put together Legal Data Workspace. It's been operational for about 18 months, but it was only really at the beginning of 2021 that I was very fortunate to really bring it together. We have a team of Big Four advisory gurus; for example, our chairman, Tony Cooper, is an ex-Deloitte partner who ran all of British Telecom's digital transformation. We have an advisory board consisting of the top most highly respected people within the IT and security industry along with judges and partners from top 100 law firms. We have an AI expert who's just sold a law firm into one of the big four consultancies. I think the excitement around what we're doing now, George, is it's the brain’s trust, if you like, of people who've seen… When I started I literally took truckloads of paper and digitized paper. We understand a lot about data in terms of the legal defensibility, the integrity of the authenticity.

In a world where data is exponentially produced (I think it's getting shorter, isn’t it, but every two years we produce all of the world’s data that ever existed, and that's getting shorter) along with evergreen platforms like Office 365 and the GDPR regulation, I think there's been an awful lot of people that come into the market from a cyber security aspect or a regulatory aspect, a regulatory compliance aspect. But I do think that those of us who are true legal technologists, who understand the EDRM, and who understand chain of custody, legal defensibility, that is a very special skill set that I think now the timing for that skill set to be brought to bear is perfect.

AI-Driven Legal Data Framework

George Socha:

So you have assembled a strong bench. You’re taking people and pointing in what direction? What are they doing? What services are you offering?

Lisa Burton:

We are offering a number of products. One is what we're calling a 90-day sprint or 30-60-90-day sprint, depending on where the client is. Our target market really are mid to upper tier corporate clients. That's where we're sitting perfectly in terms of our skillset and our breadth of knowledge and expertise. So many of our corporate clients work in very siloed operational states; you have legal counsel and a legal team internally, you have IT, you have compliance, you have risk and audit. Those activities, obviously security is a huge issue, and they tend to operate very much in a silent way and normally risk is managed through spreadsheets, to be honest. 

We have found some award-winning AI technology to help our clients put in an AI-driven legal data framework as part of the managed service offering. And then supplementing that as a reactive ability to support our clients, we're happily working with you and Reveal and really excited that Brainspace and NexLP is part of the offering to support the client when things go wrong. I know that the C-suites have silver bullets presented to them in the form of technology all day long, every day, and we believe that the people in the process are as important, and I think it's borne out by the fact that something like 80 percent of cyber breaches are coming from inside threats. Our platform that we've identified for the proactive legal framework that covers privacy, security, legal, cyber, that holistic framework if you like, it simplifies and it stops a lot of the duplicity across those siloed teams that very often exists at the moment. And it certainly does away with Excel spreadsheets, George.

However, just getting back to Reveal, when something goes wrong, because invariably it will go wrong - cyber breaches will happen, corporate investigations will happen, litigation will happen - we will be working with a data diagnostics platform such as Reveal to provide those services when needed. We have a fantastic set of partners, strategic partners, including insurance specialists. Yesterday actually I was with a corporate client who actually can't get cyber insurance at the moment because their data risk landscape is just so unknown, so unquantified. We are brought in as experts to help map all of that, get them to a point where they understand what that risk looks like and then help them remediate the risk with us as their managed service offering. So it's exciting, we're really excited.

Being a Tech Skeptic in a Digital World

George Socha:

That sounds very exciting. So you pulled all together this bench strength, you are working with major organizations, helping them both from the proactive side and reactive, reactive disclosure, eDiscovery and the like, leaning heavily on technology that help you, and yet you are a self- professed tech skeptic?

Lisa Burton:

I am.

George Socha:

So tell me how that all works? How can you be a tech skeptic and lean hard on tech to help you get where you need to be?

Lisa Burton:

So, yeah I'm a tech skeptic because having done law, I also did my training back in the day when I learned things like C++ coding language. I worked in very early databases on massive cases like the Lloyd's name cases where we crunched data and numbers in FoxPro, believe it or not, that’s showing my age. I love technology, I'm a bit of a quiet woolly hatter, as my kids call me. But I do think that technology has to work. It’s that combination of knowing what to look for, asking the right questions, because until you put technology into a live use case, the technology only works as much as the people in the process mold it. 

And so I get presented, I get asked to look at a lot of technology stacks and I rule them out pretty much instantly because they miss, for me, fundamental parts. They’ve missed out whole chunks around…. I saw one recently where tags get applied to all of the data. And my question was, “Well how does the metadata get affected?”, and they couldn’t answer that question. 

And that for me is fundamental, because you know if you end up in a court - which hopefully you don't, you settle long before then - you need to be able to go back through your decision tree as it relates to your data and what you did with your data to be able to answer legal questions and provide the best answers. So, that's the skeptical side of me.

However, because I'm very lucky and I do get presented with some great technology. Occasionally, George, occasionally there’s one that really floats my boat, or two. For example, I think I gave an example of Brainspace that I used a few years ago and I loved Brainspace. I thought it was absolutely….

Getting to the Core of Corruption with Brainspace

George Socha:

So you gave that example to me when we were talking earlier, but of course our audience hasn't had a chance to hear that, so why don't you go over that one again?

Lisa Burton:

Sure so, this was a very large corporate entity who had a third party affiliated to them in, I think it was South America, high bribery and corruption risk there, I guess. At the time, definitely there was. This was a couple of years ago now. The client had this affiliated third party and the affiliated third party were making commission payments of one million to another third party that they did not know anything about who they were, they just saw these million pounds going out of the account every month. They asked us if we could help them identify whether these were legitimate payments or whether there was something untoward going on.

We took one guy's email inbox, the main sort of protagonist in South America, and using Brainspace we typed in…. This was to demonstrate to the client, this is in the demo to the client…. We typed in the word “bribery” and up come two words, well, one word and a phrase. The one word was “chunky” and the phrase was “Mexican tea party”. So, within 30 minutes of starting a demonstration to the general counsel and members of his legal team, we got to the absolute core of the issue.

George Socha:

And of course these are phrases that come first to mind when you think of anti-money laundering, right?

Lisa Burton:

Well, exactly. I mean, who’s going to think key words up like that? I mean, no way, you can't possibly do that. So it could have been a very costly, lengthy, long exercise to do that on a linear eDiscovery basis, but using technologies like Brainspace we were able to get to the core of the issue incredibly quickly. And not only that, we were able to prove that the payments were in fact, legitimate. Because when you find keywords like “chunky” and “Mexican tea party”, we all thought, “Uh-oh”, but they were legit. It was a great example and I loved that. There’s lots of great examples actually of clever technology. We're very fortunate, our legal framework platform is an award winning platform that I just love, it so intelligently put together. So yeah. So have I answered your question on my skepticism, George?

George Socha:

I think so, and another phrase you’ve used is to describe the likes of us as “eDiscoveryists”.

Lisa Burton:

Yes. 

The Role of an eDiscoveryist

George Socha:

What do you mean by that and where do we fit in the scheme of things?

Lisa Burton:

I think this goes back to my only point in the introduction. When I started my career 25 years ago I was at a law firm, I wanted to go to the bar. I joined a law firm IT board where we rolled out IBM AS/400s. And then I was headhunted actually, to go to a provider in the first instance. And you know, back in those days I really worried that I was screwing up the legal career. You know, what was I doing? eDiscovery in those days was kind of an extension of the print room, scanning and coding. But as we've evolved, as that skill set, that knowledge in…. You know, I've always described myself as a translator between the technologists and the lawyers because normally the language is entirely different and they look at each other normally with horror. Even now sometimes. 

That skill set I believe has become very unique, because we understand the legal aspects of discovery in whatever jurisdiction you might be in. But because everything we're discovering is digitized, and there's racks of it, that eDiscoveryst’s role, I think will come into its own. It already has, evidenced by all the private equity rounds that go on with all the eDiscovery providers that I've worked with over the last 10 years. But I think now in particular, it's going to get bigger and I think we will have a much, much, more important role to play as eDiscoveryists and legal technologists.

Envisioning a Future for eDiscovery

George Socha:

Put on your futurist hat, if you will right now, look into your murky crystal ball through cataract eyes, because none of us really know what the future brings, and describe what you think the future will look like for the eDiscoveryists amongst us.

Lisa Burton:

I think, to be slightly controversial, but I'm going to say, I think law firms… I think we have a great opportunity and I think the next 5 to 10 years we will grow in number. I mean, at the moment I still feel true eDiscoverysts are still quite a small number, actually, very specialist skills. I think law firms, certainly in the UK and Europe to some extent are a little bit behind the curve. I think the corporates are having to…, any corporate no matter what vertical you are in, you have to become a data expert and a technology expert to a large extent. And so I think that law firms are behind the curve. I think the corporates are going to have to really, really, work out how to get their arms around some of their data risk issues across security, privacy and legal. 

And I think that the eDiscoveryists, that's where we will shine in the next 5 to 10 years. And I think, again, it’s having that skill set, that complementary skill set, of knowing what technology can do and should do but being able to apply that into a business environment which is all around business risk. And that's where I think the step change has occurred. Where we're not just backend support people anymore, or even providers, we are experts in our field and we have a voice. And I think our voice will get bigger. As the corporates that I'm working with really struggle, we will have a bigger role to play.

The Path to a Career in eDiscovery

George Socha:

You must get asked by folks a little out of school, or just starting in their professional careers, “How can I be you how? How can I get to where you are?” What response do you give or responses do you give to folks who ask questions like that?

Lisa Burton:

It's interesting because I'm really… You know, for me, I lament the fact that there are still few women really in tech. I do hope and believe that to a large extent, professional examinations to become and qualify as a lawyer now have more of a focus on the technology side of being a lawyer because you have to understand data and you have to get a basic grasp of that. I think first of all this market evolved during my career life. This wasn't really a thing when I started out, it happened happily for all of us and thank you, led by you as well George, to a very large extent with the EDRM back in the day. 

I would like to say, if you're interested in law and you're interested in technology, I think it's a really winning combination. For me, I love law as well, I'm passionate about law. Some of the cases I’ve worked on have been absolutely fascinating. I’ve done a lot of court work as well. And if you love that and you get the buzz from being a lawyer but you really want to sharpen your technology skills to become an expert in the field, I think you can either become a lawyer sharpened with technology skills or I think you can become a legal technologist with a very clear understanding of the law and how the law works but really become that technology guru, if you like, within that space.

So I would go to anyone interested, you know stick to your guns, get your qualifications, know which camp you want to be in more, either a legal practitioner or more of an eDiscoveryst/legal technologist, and if it's the latter, then happy days. Let’s grow the band. 

George Socha:

And if they would hope to, if you will, grow the band with you, are you welcoming people to reach out to you? Are you looking to expand your organization?

Lisa Burton:

We are indeed. There are people that I've known in the market for a long time, and you know my old team who I still absolutely respect massively and love are all at GT still. So yeah, I'm very fortunate in that I've got some great, great, relationships in the market over the years and there are people that I highly respect. If I said there was a dream team sort of identified waiting in the wings, they're there. Having said that, we have a full business plan over the next 3 to 5 years and we're looking forward to fulfilling that plan. So yes, anyone who wants to have a chat. 

And also I do mentoring, I've mentored a young general counsel who's a woman with a young baby. So if somebody is unsure about a career or wants some help, I'm really happy to have chats and general conversations.

George Socha:

Wonderful. Well, thank you, Lisa. Lisa Burton is CEO of Legal Data Workspace. Look to see great things coming from them. I am George Socha, this has been eDiscovery Leaders Live, hosted by ACEDS and sponsored by Reveal. Thank you for joining us all today and please join us again next Friday, May 7th. Thanks Lisa.

Lisa Burton:

Thank George. Bye for now.

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