Litigation Analytics interview with CEO Laurent Wiesel (Audio inside)

On the 13th episode of The Geek In Review, our Founder and CEO Laurent Wiesel, talked with Greg Lambert (@glambert) (Chief KS Officer at Jackson Walker, President at AALL) and Marlene Gebauer (Director of KS at Greenberg Traurig) about leaving his job as partner in BigLaw to create Justly and focus on litigation analytics.


Laurent described his experience dealing with the growing gap between what clients were asking on issues of pricing, litigation strategy and the overall process, and what law firms were able to deliver instead.


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Transcript of the interview:


Greg: so Marlene, this week we talk with another legal startup leader, Laurent Wiesel about his litigation analytics tool called Justly. Now I’ve known Laurent for a couple of years now and I think it was Tony Brown that introduced us at the time and he is one smart dude. In fact a little too smart for me sometimes because I got to like hold my hands up when he’s trying to explain things to me and I say “Whoa, you know, explain it to me like I’m a second grader”, you know, which is about my speed.

Marlene: he’s a very smart guy and it’s a very interesting listen.

Greg: yeah, we had a great talk with them and I think anyone that’s wondering about how analytics can play a role within the law firm’s litigation especially and even fit under the legal information umbrella, like we control. This is the interview for you, so yeah, so let’s jump in.

Marlene: Okay, listen up.

Marlene: today we welcome lawyer turned analytics geek, the founder and CEO of Justly. Laurent Wiesel.

Marlene: hi Laurent.

Laurent: hi Marlene.

Marlene: welcome to the podcast.

Laurent: thank you so much. It’s, it’s honor to be here.

Marlene: Laurent, tell our audience a little bit about your background. Moving from big law partner to startup founder. That was about three years ago, right?

Laurent: yes, I started my career at Sullivan and Cromwell as a litigator. I practice there for almost 10 years and then was a litigation partner at McGuire Woods. During those years I learned a lot about the legal industry and saw industries around me changing and thought, well, you know, this industry is also ripe for change and with a little bit more vision around that I left in 2015 to start Justly. Like you said.

Greg: Laurent, during your time at Sullivan and Cromwell, or even at McGuire Woods, what were you experiences that led you to leave that behind in order to start Justly?

Laurent: I guess the main thing was I recognize that there was a growing gap between what clients were asking of their law firms and what law firms at the time were able to deliver. Specifically around litigation. Clients had a lot of questions around predictability of timelines of costs and it was the inability of my firm really all firms to respond to those types of questions that I sought to solve, uh, initially from within the firm. And then once I realized that that might not be possible, I decided to do it without.

Greg: so clients were asking you to give them what you were going to work on, how you were going to do it, how long it was going to take, and how much was it going to cost. This is just outrageous to ask.

Laurent: the most typical, you know, requests that you hear now more and more is for a budget at the beginning of a matter, you know, and a budget is closely tied to a timeline of events, major events in the case or the deliverables for a legal engagement or a flat fee proposal, you know, clients want to know what something will cost specifically and, you know, hourly estimates are not quite cutting it anymore.

Marlene: now I’m wondering, does that, you think have anything to do with the client, with the corporate legal departments because you started working with the in-house legal teams and you’ve expanded to move into the law firm market. So do you think that’s what caused this is what’s causing that shift?

Laurent: generally? Yes. So I, I think that the shift that we’re seeing now is understood to have really originated in the aftermath of the financial crisis in the litigation space in particular, major corporations and banks in particular are just facing, you know, never before seen demands on legal departments in terms of volume of work. And also never before seen scrutiny, of legal departments in terms of their budgets and their ability to manage costs in order to ultimately improve the company’s bottom line. But I would say that initially the pressure came out of corporate legal departments. Today, however, I and this is really related to our decision to expand to law firms, law firms themselves see an opportunity to profit and to have competitive advantage by being able to position themselves to answer these types of questions that other firms are unable to answer around predictability and timelines.

Greg: so you go through and look at the analytics of the situation. So how does a company like Justly differentiate itself from the legal analytics tools that are out on the market.

Laurent: so first of all Justly focuses on the litigation space. So we’re offering various solutions around litigation matters and litigation businesses. Our differentiating value proposition is our data. So Justly unlike most tools out there is very much a content company. Our efforts really start with content, whi ourch is primarily state and federal court records and we differentiate ourselves from tools and other content providers through our coverage. We cover the most courts of any legal analytics company, and the granularity of our insights. How would you define analytics in the legal context? It’s a nice question. We think of analytics as insights that enhance client value and business performance, development of insights that yield value for a firm’s clients and improve the firm’s bottom line. Sounds good to me. I’m certainly probably sounds good to your clients.

Greg: when we talk about analytics, we talked about law firms, we’ve talked about law firm clients. Um, one of the things I saw in a tweet this morning from Jeff Carr who a lot of people will remember from FMC technologies and he says, when it comes to this type of innovation, whether it’s analytics, being able to evaluate your situation, there’s a confusion on who the client is. When you have an innovation like this, who’s the client? Is the law firm the client, or is the in-house counsel the client. Who’s the one that is going to benefit the most from having this type of analytics and data sets?

Laurent: it’s a very interesting question. So the ultimate. I would say that in the legal industry, the ultimate beneficiary has to be the clients, right? The client in the, in the legal, the legal relationship.

Greg: right. And in this instance the client would literally be the law firm’s clients. So the in-house counsel would be the client.

Laurent: exactly. And the job of the law firm is to deliver value to their clients and if they do that well and they manage to keep their costs down, then if they will be profitable. What Justly does in particular and where we focus our efforts is in enhancing the ability of law firms to deliver client value.

Marlene: so you talk about that you’re offering insights that enhanced client value in business performance. And you talked a little bit to Greg’s question about who is the ultimate client. Do you sometimes have a challenge getting a client or a firm to understand the value of the analytics? I know sometimes it seems to be maybe different in terms of, of people’s workflow than what they’re used to and it’s sort of a challenge to understand sort of where the value is in doing the analytic. Do you have that, that type of challenge. And if so, what do you do to, uh, to combat that

Laurent: in an ideal situation that challenge does not exist because..

Marlene: we’re not, we’re not in that ideal world.

Laurent: yes, but conversations should start with a problem, right? So in an ideal world, the client, the law firm will come to us with a specific problem and that is the problem that hasn’t found a solution in let’s say traditional legal research, when that happens, you know, we are able to provide a solution to the problem then that’s the way it should work. So in that context, it’s not difficult to find an application. Now, a lot of times conversations start without a specific problem in mind. Firms may have, you know, very broad, a broad array of of pains let’s say, and in order to hone in on the particular problem that finds a solution and analytics can be a process and a difficult process, but as long as you are heading in the direction of discovering what the problems are, then you’re heading in the right direction.

Greg: when you talk about analytics, let’s be a little clear here. How do your type of analytics differ, say from the analytics that we may see in legal research?

Laurent: the way I generally think of legal research, and you guys are the experts, so you know this should go right back to you, Marlene, Marlene.

Greg: Marlene is the expert, I’m terrible.

Laurent: it’s that, you know, at its foundation and then iin its additional design. You know, online legal research is like an online version of a library. The value proposition of the legal research platform is to make it as easy as possible for users to find the information that they’re looking for and analytics may come into play to help researchers find answers, but ultimately the research that is the analytics are in order to do better research, not in order to solve the problem that the researcher is tasked with solving.

Marlene: it’s interesting what you’re saying because I do see that there’s more of an overlap now that you know, perhaps in the past, you know, research was done and it was provided to, you know, either someone did it or was provided to someone who then made the analysis themselves and now we have resources that will essentially enhance the legal research and, and offer these insights to people to, to assist them.

Greg: how do you leverage the analytics? And so take it away from legal research. And how does a firm use a product like Justly then to help them get to the answer that they need?

Laurent: it starts with the problem. Okay. Maybe maybe if we could take a step back from Justly itself. Just speak more broadly about, you know, how firms leverage the legal analytics or litigation analytics and why they might do so. It starts with the problem, right? As we talked about before. And that can be broadly speaking, a problem that cannot be solved or too difficult to solve using traditional legal research.

Greg: Once we found the problem, where do we move from there

Laurent: in the context of analytics, once you have a problem, you need two things. So you need data, so you need to be able to access the information that you do believe can be leveraged to help solve the problem. And then you also need the resources to be able to do so. By resources that could be people, you know, people who know how to access this data, tools, tools needed to understand the data. And that could be, as you know, excel as an example and of course money to be able to pay these people, pay for these tools and to acquire the data and to spend the time needed to develop an analytics solution.

Marlene: are analytics synonymous to AI or what’s the difference between those two buzzwords?

Laurent: I don’t think that they are synonymous. Since we’ve been talking about research I would look at this as a continuum from research, which is, you know, as we discussed the ability to identify the sources of information needed to analytics, which is the ability to synthesize that information to AI, which it’s hard to say exactly what AI will bring to the table. It should be more than better or more automated analytics.

Marlene: well, I was going to say it simplifies the process for the end user. It speeds up the results, you know, you, you pointed out that we actually want better results, you know, as by using AI.

Laurent: here’s an example. So let’s take a situation where a law firm is responding to a litigation panel RFP. Okay, so a couple of day wants to renew it’s panel and select the best law firms out there for its panel, and you know, puts out requests to law firms who then may use analytics to prepare their responses and position themselves to be added to the panel. AI in this context might be an application on the company’s side that decides, you know, which law firms would be best for the company based on the law firms submissions, let’s say. So AI is like making the decisions. Analytics is like supporting better decisions.

Greg: you deal a lot with litigation analytics. You said the three things you need for analytics: there’s a problem and then you need data and resources. What types of problems can you solve with the litigation analytics?

Laurent: there are a number. On the business side we would classify the problems in three broad categories. So there’s experience for firms that are challenged with leveraging their experience in order to win business, better staff cases, attract and identify recruits. There are applications in the marketing context. So market intelligence, a better understanding of your client’s needs, better process for preparing for pitches and responding to RFPs. There is the competitive intelligence contexts, so that’s as a law firm, understanding your competition better, who is doing work for prospective clients, how can you expand your business and overtake your competition. That’s one aspect of the business side and you also have like the pricing and cost management angle where law firms and clients want to better understand the costs of things and better manage their costs for clients. That’s about spending less for law firms. That means pricing more competitively and being profitable and then also in various practices there are applications of litigation analytics and the litigation strategy. Where should we bring a lawsuit? What judges are more favorable, act more favorably in particular types of cases or on particular types of motions. It’s really a broad spectrum of problems that lend themselves to analytics solutions within law firms, which is what makes law firms for us a very attractive and interesting customer segment.

Marlene: well, I want to say thank you for, for the examples I think is really important to lay that out and I, you know, I hope our law firm listeners are hearing these examples because I think maybe they could. They could benefit from this. Tell us a little bit more about the experience side in terms of analytics use. You know, what? Can we dig a little deeper on that in terms of of examples?

Laurent: absolutely. So for a law firm, for partnerships, their partnership’s greatest asset is the experience of its members and in order for law firms as businesses to get the most out of their people, a law firm needs to be able to record that experience and manage it in a way where it can be accessed by the business and by by other members in order to then have like a, a kind of network effect within the firm, around the experience of individual lawyers. So law firms are challenged with that. Many law firms have done a poor job historically tracking experience. It’s hard and law firms as they grow in size and face faster turnover or higher velocity of laterals coming in and moving out, there are additional challenges there too. For a law firm to be able to solve the experience problem, you need to have a significant amount of resources in order to gather the data necessary and then to be able to extract insights from that data

Marlene: and it’s almost like you need an additional type of skillset that perhaps hasn’t always been found in the law firm and ordered in order to really do this type of work.

Laurent: exactly. That’s. That’s where software comes into play. Where software comes in is where we can add a capability or an ability to the law firms existing tools and resources in a cost effective way. You might have, you know, a couple of people who have data analytic skills in house. Yes.

Marlene: if you’re lucky, if you’re lucky.

Laurent: yeah. If you’re lucky. Even if those couple of people have skills, are they enough to manage the case load of a humongous firm to manage the marketing demands with a large firm? Probably not. Software can enhance the capabilities of existing assets within the firm and can add a level of capability that existing assets may not satisfy.

Greg: I have to say that you, you said earlier that maintaining experience or understanding the experience of a law firm is hard. I think that’s an understatement. It is very hard as the person who has to do it for my firm is very hard.

Laurent: as I believe, you know, there are not only Justly but others working in this space who are making it more easy for law firms to track their experience and that need that you just described is pretty well understood at this point and the good news is that Justly and others are working to solve it and it’s probably never been easier than it does now.

Greg: so where do you think we are in the application of litigation analytics and I know that right now we’re helping with experience but to project out a little bit. Where do you see the future of litigation analytics going?

Laurent: pretty far as far as the imagination can see. I think that, you know, starting with experience and marketing, we’re just only seeing the beginning. There’s like a say that the only innovation of the Internet it is like in the marketing and advertising space similarly, in legal, it’s no surprise that the initial applications are kind of in the business development and marketing space. It’s going to go in many directions. At Justly see what we’re looking at is pricing at the application of analytics to other law firms to standardize the way they price their services and to ultimately create pricing standardization in the market that I think that we will, you know, over time see applications of analytics and practice, law firms like persuading judges more and more using insights generated from data. Beyond that, I think we’ll start to see analytics and you know, forms of AI in judiciary to streamline decision making processes for judges, administrative organizations and all the, all the way, all the way to robot lawyers and robot judges, but in, in a really long time way to go.

Marlene: okay, this all sounds great. You got me sold except for one thing. Okay. One thing. Good content is a major component of analytics. You know, I think that the saying is there’s lies damn lies and statistics, it’s got to be good content in order to rely on it. And there’s been a lot of question about the metrics used, you know, particularly in some of the litigation analytics solutions and you know, whether it’s, you know, nature of suit codes related or whether it’s, you know, some of the holes that are in dockets. What’s the challenge there for you? What do you say to those folks that say that we need to have some more transparency around this so we understand what we’re getting.

Laurent: like speaking from the perspective of a, of a vendor or software developer, you know, our challenges are really your challenges. So you have to look at the end user. So the end user has to deliver something, has to deliver, an insight, has to deliver information, you have to put information into the end user’s hands that they’re comfortable with and they trust. It’s really from our perspective about trying different things and developing insights, giving transparency into the underlying data in order for the end user to trust the insights to ultimately rely on those insights.

Marlene: I like that. You know, it’s like we’re all in this together. You guys are struggling with it. We’re struggling with it. It’s, it’s really kind of a new area and we’re all trying to get to the..

Laurent: exactly, and it goes back to question that you asked at the beginning, the beneficiary of everything that we’re talking about, including the robot judge, is the client who is accessing the legal system.

Greg: let me ask a bonus question here, Laurent. What would be one of the best ways that whether it is the client, the law firmm, the courts or the vendors could clean up or make available the data that’s out there so that we can make better decisions? Who where is the sticking point right now when it comes to the way that data is accessible.

Laurent: trying to remain as general as possible, I would say that the greatest challenge is in the number of data sources that need to be brought together to answer more complex questions or to develop, you know, develop the analytics so it’s never enough to just be able to access one courts data on their website for example, and to, you then need to take that data and you need to combine it, you know, with something else, information about lawyers or judges or firms’ internal experience and it’s the gathering and the aggregating of all these various data sources and connecting them that is the biggest challenge and the ability to make those connections is where the value lies and a law firm’s ability to make connections between data sources that other firms are not able to make, creates a new area for law firms to differentiate themselves from others.

Greg: all right, so laurent feeding into that: there needs to definitely be some standards that the courts have that the law firms have that the vendors have so that these different systems are speaking at least can translate the language into a common core type of language. So there’s a group out there called Sally, which is the standards advancement for the legal industry, which I know you’re a part of. I know Marlene’s part of, how does a standards organization like that help us communicate better between the different systems.

Laurent: yes. So Sally is doing very impressive work, as I said in the areas of developing standard taxonomy is a common language for describing legal work and you know, a great thing that they do is they bring together stakeholders from different parts, different stakeholders in the industry. So you have representatives from in-house from law firms, from courts, insurance companies all working together in order to develop the common language, common way of describing things that work for the industry, as currently constituted. And these types of efforts are very important. And it bodes well for the advancement of our, of our industry.

Marlene: yeah. And I know they’re very welcomed by the industry. I know Clock is a big supporter of these things and I mean just circling back to the, the beneficiary of, of analytics is the client, I mean, how nice would it be for clients to be able to really see a common analytics in termsof experience of, of law firms and be able to make choices that way. It seems so simple, right?

Laurent: it’s like the disinfecting quality of sunlight, greater transparency is going to allow everybody to make better decisions and it’s going to elevate the industry for everyone.

Greg: well thank you so much Laura. It’s been great speaking with you. I’ve learned a lot. I hope our listeners have learned a lot as well. Thanks so much.

Laurent: thank you guys.

Greg: thanks again.

Laurent: take care. Bye.

Greg: so Marlene, do you see what I mean when I said Laurent needed to explain it to me like I’m a second grader.

Marlene: exactly, exactly.

Greg: oh man, that was good stuff. So, you know, we’ve been using Justly at my firm for while now and especially on our experience database at the firm, which I’m in charge of and that’s why I said it “man, experienced databases are hard”. So we’ve been looking at a number of ways of integrating the data that Laurent’s team grabs for us into things like matter management, pricing, staffing, and just overall reporting of our experience. So the fact that there’s a lot of state information, state court information in the data is a big deal for us. That’s always hard to get, but I will tell you the biggest plus is that we were able to pull information now that we were once asking the attorneys to enter manually. So you know you can probably imagine how well manually entering in data by attorneys went over.

Marlene: so not well at all.

Greg: so this helps a lot with it.

Marlene: when I was listening to Laurent and I’m listening to you, I see that there’s a lot of development that can be had with some of these metrics and analytics. The thing I think about though is how do we get the users of this information to essentially accept it as part of their workflow? The users here are people who have a wealth of experience, they have a lot of judgment, they understand this space and the players and they have a lot to offer here and, and they, you know, they believe that they know this space and that they can make these decisions and bringing in the evidence-based materials might be perceived as a challenge, but how I’m seeing it is that you can use both and should use both and just kind of compare to see what the metrics are telling you versus what your judgment is telling you. You know, is it verifying or not? And if it’s not, then it’s worth looking into and it’s just really something. It’s really just an additional set of information that gives you the ability to make better decisions.

Greg: yeah, and it, it kind of reminds me of the old anecdote from when GPS first started out. I don’t know if you remember hearing, but apparently there was this couple that sued the GPS company because they were following the directions and they went right off the end of a bridge that didn’t exist even though the GPS..

Marlene: I remember that.

Greg: the thing is this is kinda like that GPS is not meant to be the only thing you follow. The GPS is supposed to advance your ability to be better drivers and I think the same thing with the analytics and with the data. This is to make you be able to use the experience that you have in a much better way, but it cannot be the only thing you rely on. You have to have other factors that you’re using. Otherwise you will be driving off that bridge that doesn’t exist.

Marlene: that’s not a good outcome.

Greg: driving off a bridge is never a good outcome. All right, Marlene, I think that wraps up episode 13. I want to thank all of you, our listeners out there or the Geek and review. Don’t forget to click the subscribe button on itunes or wherever you listen to your podcast as well as rate and review The Geek in Review so that others can find us.

Marlene: Thanks again to Laurent Wiesel, founder and CEO of justly for joining us and thanks to Kevin McCloud for his original music.

Greg: see you later, Marlene.

Marlene: alright, bye. Bye. Greg.


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