What’s on Your Bookshelf? Legal Tech and Innovation Leaders and the Books That Have Influenced Their Careers

Written by: David Curle

April 27, 2021
Next Gen Lawyers

6 minute read

Kira Systems’ co-founders Noah Waisberg and Dr. Alexander Hudek’s new book, AI for Lawyers, has generated a lot of interest among legal practitioners and law firm leaders who are eager to understand the ways AI will transform the industry. Their hope is that the book stimulates new thinking around the ways technology can be leveraged in the practice of law, and that it will influence a new generation of lawyers.

There are signs that AI for Lawyers is indeed becoming an influential piece of work. Noah and Alexander’s book has received a long line of endorsements from industry leaders who see it having an impact on how lawyers view technology. This comment from David Morley, Managing Director and Head of Europe at CDPQ and former Global Managing Partner of Allen & Overy, is typical: “Noah & Alexander have written a classic. This is everything you ever wanted to know about technology and the law but never dared ask. Through their lucid explanations of how the technology works, how it can be applied and how it’s fast improving, your eyes will be opened to a future of legal practice that is more enjoyable, profitable and just”.

But what other books have influenced today’s legal tech innovators and entrepreneurs? We asked several leading voices in the field to talk about the books that have influenced their own thinking and career paths. Interestingly, many of the responses we received show that the biggest influences don’t necessarily come from inside the legal discipline. In fact, the responses show a great diversity of influences from other fields, and they underscore one of the central arguments in AI for Lawyers - that technology, and new ways of thinking about legal work, are here to stay and are bringing concrete changes to the industry.

Here are some of the highlights:

Carla Swansburg, Vice President & General Manager, Epiq (Canada & Latin America)

I would say there were a few books that really influenced my legal innovation journey. I go back from time to time to a number of them. One of those, while not specifically about the legal industry, is Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath. One of my challenges has always been slowing down to understand that just because I absolutely believe that a particular change is the right thing to do, and a good thing, doesn’t mean that others are “already there”. Ensuring stakeholders come along on the change journey with you makes the eventual change, while slower to come, stickier and more real for those affected. Switch lays out a simple, effective strategy for engaging others in hard changes. It could not have been more relevant than to changes in legal service delivery models!

(Carla also mentioned two other AI-related books, Joanna Goodman’s Robots in Law: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Legal Services, and the forthcoming Litigating Artificial Intelligence by Jill Presser and Gerald Chan, to which she contributed a chapter.)

Michael Mills, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Neota Logic

One book had the biggest influence on what I do, two others influenced how I do it. That first book was Phillip Capper & Richard Susskind, Latent Damage Law: The Expert System (1988).

As a college student, I taught myself to write code because programming paid better than washing dishes. As a law student grinding through my first tax law course, I often wrote my reading notes as pseudo-code (IF A & B, then C) and occasionally thought “clever code would answer these questions better and faster than I can.”

Years later, after more than a decade in practice, I happened upon Richard and Philipp’s book. On the 8-inch floppy disk inside the back cover was a true expert system—incomplete, imperfect, hard to build (the book tells the story), and visually ugly. But it ran, it worked, it answered questions.

And it bolstered my belief that software could transform legal services— not just expert systems, but the whole gamut that is now a robust legal tech industry—and nudged my decision a few years later to stop practicing and start innovating.

The two books that influenced how I do my work were Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1st edition 1982), and Terry Winograd, Bringing Design to Software (1996)

Dan Linna, Senior Lecturer & Director of Law and Technology Initiatives, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law & McCormick School of Engineering

So many books have had a strong influence on me. Assuming that everyone has already read Richard Susskind’s Tomorrow’s Lawyers, if I have to pick one that I’d like everyone to read, it’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande. When we talk about lean thinking and project management, people get focused on the mechanical parts. This book illustrates that it’s all about creating a culture in which everyone is empowered and given the opportunity to contribute as a valued member of a multidisciplinary team.

Ed Walters, CEO, Fastcase

The late Clay Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma came out just before Phil Rosenthal and I left Covington & Burling to start Fastcase, and the book was enormously influential in the way we thought about the limited advantages that attackers have in relatively saturated markets already dominated by incumbents. The book is more often misquoted or mischaracterized than correctly understood. One of the most important ideas from the book for us was the idea that incumbents are actually very innovative, but that their existing customers don’t reward that innovation (since they are, by definition, well served with the existing incumbent solution). That leaves new entrants a lot of leeway to serve latent (or unserved) market segments. The book balances respect for venerable incumbents with a clear-eyed look at opportunities for new entrants.

Lucy Bassli, Founder and Principal, InnoLaw Group PLLC

The book that I always credit as sticking with me is a very short and simple book called The Fred Factor: How passion in your work and life can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. It is the story of a postman who did his ordinary job in an extraordinary way. He went out of his way to deliver the full service, rather than just putting mail in the mailbox. He made sure people actually received their mail. That is very analogous to the legal industry: lawyers provide advice all the time, but they rarely make sure their advice solves the problem that sparked the request for advice. This is especially true for law firm lawyers. They are great at pushing out info, but pretty bad at following through that info was in fact useful and served the purpose – purpose being to solve a problem (purpose is not to provide the advice).

(Lucy is also the author of her own book in the legal innovation space, The Simple Guide to Legal Innovation: Basics Every Lawyer Should Know (2020))

Joe Raczynski, Technologist & Futurist, Manager of Technical Client Management, Thomson Reuters

Paradoxically, I tend to go outside of the legal industry to eventually effect change inside of it. To that end, Don Tapscott’s book, Blockchain Revolution: How the Technology Behind Bitcoin Is Changing Money, Business, and the World, solidified the depth and breadth of blockchain for me. It allowed me to clearly see the massive change for all industries, but most importantly its eventual impact on both the business and practice of law.

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