IN THE FASHION OF CLIENT-FACING AP-
plications and technology incubators, law
firms are carving out central roles to lead
technology implementation and use. But
with both law and technology being esoteric, what should a firm look for in filling these nascent roles?
Bryan Cave chief innovation officer
Kathryn DeBord says a “competitive
spirit” is integral to using technology
in “figuring out how we do things better than everyone else.” Legaltech News
caught up with DeBord to discuss her
career’s intersection with technology and
why she thinks “it’s always better to take
risks than be conservative.”
LTN: How did your role come to be?
KD: This role really started back in the
early 2000s with a partner named John
Alber. He recognized that law firms could
do a lot more to meet the business needs
of their clients and proactively anticipate
where clients were changing their business models. He was instrumental in setting up our practice economics group,
the client technology group and the accelerated review team.
In 2015, the firm had just brought on
our new chairwoman, Terry Pritchard.
John was retiring, and Terry wanted to
formalize his role a bit more and put
someone full-time in charge of the firm’s
LTN:: In your experience, is it difficult to
get tech initiatives moving in law firms?
KD: Because of the strategic emphasis placed on innovation, you need buy
in and have direction from the top, and
it really does come from the leadership.
We’ve built in a system where investment
hours toward innovation count toward
billable hours toward bonuses. You need
a culture infused with not just permission
to be exploratory but an expectation.
So I have a lot of attorneys who really
do care about this stuff and how they can
be better. The reception I got from the
attorneys was overwhelmingly positive
and eager. I did not get pushback.
LTN: Advice for firms in deploying new
KD: You don’t have to jump all the way
deep into the pool right away. Pilots
are relay a great way to test the waters,
kick the tires and figure out what works.
Software developers and tech vendors, if
they’re good partners, are willing to develop with you. They’re willing to hear,
“OK, yeah, that is a gap in our technology, and it’s awesome you guys have identified that. Let’s work to fill that gap.” Or,
“That’s a unique need for Bryan Cave,
let’s figure out how we can tweak the
technology or build in an API to fix that
LTN: What do you wish vendors would
do more of?
KD: I think they try, but having more
direct conversations with law departments and lawyers. I think the problem
is access. We’re in the law firm; we’re
working directly with the lawyers and
clients to solve the problem, so we have
a unique perspective and ability to have
LTN: What is your biggest obstacle, and
how did you overcome it?
KD: Probably the imposter syndrome,
it always has resonated with me. And I
think that’s a far more common thing
you hear from women’s professional
groups rather than men’s. In every role
I’ve ever had—I started as an intelligence analyst at the CIA when I was
20, to commercial litigator to commercial litigation partner to this—it takes a
lot of kind of mental preparation every
morning to say, “OK, I’m going to do
my job and I’m going to do it well and
I’m the right person to be doing this
BY IAN LOPEZ
PLUGGED IN: KATHRYN DEBORD
Bryan Cave’s Kathryn DeBord on the firm’s tech.