Workstorm: with Brian Stearns

“No one else in this market is focused on viewing the legal market in this way.”

Brian Stearns.

It has long been well-known that the very nature of being a lawyer forces you to be reactive to changes in the law. After all, it is the very basis on which you give your advice to clients and guide them through their needs. What is just as important, however, is for lawyers to be understanding of the way they go about that process – that is, a knowledge of how legal services are best provided and a self-awareness of their own internal processes for doing so.

For this article, I spoke to Brian Stearns of ‘Workstorm’, a platform designed to streamline such processes and to help make lawyers collaborate as efficiently and confidentially as possible.

So, what is Workstorm all about?

BS: “Workstorm is a workstream collaboration platform in a similar category to other solutions like Slack and MS Teams.  We believe that Slack and MS Teams have shown there is a viable market for organized, persistent messaging as a supplement to email, as well as using digital workspaces as a mechanism to connect disparate information systems.  In response to those demands, Workstorm has developed a platform that addresses the unique needs of law firms and other professional services firms. In essence, this involves fostering both internal and external client collaboration, supporting the information governance needs necessary for managing confidential client information, and integrating with the key technology tools already in use by firms.”

People, Girls, Women, Students, Friends, Talking

So what’s wrong with the current traditional approach to or reliance on workstream management, like email?

“It’s clear that law firms have unique data management requirements.  Key clients, particularly banks, may require law firms to manage data on-premises behind their firewall.  Law firms also have ethical requirements to file and retain information related to client records. On top of all that, they have general housekeeping requirements that may dictate the regular deletion of information.

Firms have spent the past 20 years trying to figure out how to do this with email, but the use of email is changing.  For starters, filing with email alone is a huge burden. The email you send and the response you receive are unique, distinct files that must be managed.  By contrast, a closed-loop chat group can be treated as a single file for archiving or deletion of any documentation. This offers up tremendous opportunities for law firms to increase the efficiency and productivity of their legal teams. They can dramatically reduce the time spent searching for, sharing and filing email, and better spend that time elsewhere in their business.

Additionally, membership to such chat rooms can be governed so that information isn’t inadvertently shared with the wrong people – a huge security concern of both firms and clients alike.  Everyone has experienced hitting “reply all” by mistake or forwarding an email to the wrong person based on email’s auto-populate features. It can be funny in a lot of cases, but it really isn’t funny when those emails contain sensitive information.  With chat platforms, conversation channels can be open to everyone for visibility and transparency, or closed off only to those that need to know based on ethical walls. Workstorm is currently the only provider in this collaboration market who is thinking about privacy and confidentiality in the same way firms do.  Open and transparent communications don’t work in an environment governed by ethical (and statutory) walls.

Finally, products like Slack and MS Teams have taken the approach of integrating with hundreds or thousands of third-party applications. How are firms thinking about the implications on how data is stored and transferred between these third-party applications? For example, if a lawyer can turn on an integration with a third-party project management solution, then has that tool been properly vetted by IT? 

Workstorm has undertaken the strategy of natively building the key communications tools within our platform so that firms can reduce the number of unnecessary vendors and data transfers.  For example, we have messaging, task management and video conferencing built directly within our platform, so you don’t need to go elsewhere for it.  And beyond our native features, we seek to integrate with the core tools in use by law firms, including their own homegrown solutions. To put simply, no one else in this market is focused on viewing the legal market in this way.” 

Email, Newsletter, Marketing, Online, Communication

It’s clear these tools have the potential to solve a lot of firm and client concerns. In short – why Workstorm?

“Our objective is to serve the unique internal and external collaboration needs of professional services firms and their corporate clients.  We are looking to work with firms that have an interest in collaboration software, but where adoption is still early and there is no established solution. We believe that we can act as that solution and address the unique security and privacy requirements of law firms.

By serving the professional services market, we also recognize the need to work with the core technology tools that are in place at these firms. For example:

  • We developed version 1 of our iManage integration in 2018 and are currently enhancing that integration.
  • We have an Outlook integration for email and calendar management.
  • We have data exporting and archiving capabilities and are currently developing system admin capabilities to set data deletion and retention policies at the conversation level.
  • We have signed on as integration partners with Relativity, Intapp, Kira and HighQ, and have developed prototypes for those integrations, which we will start building this year. 
  • We will continue to seek out new integration partners that cover key areas of the law firm workflow, such as other document management systems, legal research platforms, time and billing systems, matter management systems and even CRM solutions.

In short, law firms seeking to adopt a workstream collaboration platform should ask and answer three questions:

1) does the software provider think about privacy and confidentiality the same way law firms do?

2) is the tool designed at all levels for both internal firm and external client collaboration, and 3) does the tool integrate with the firm’s core technology stack?

Right now, we believe Workstorm is the only platform on the market that can answer “yes” to all three questions.”

I’d like to thank Brian Stearns for taking the time to speak with me and to discuss how firms internally operate and how Workstorm is looking to change that. I’d also like to thank Workstorm for collaborating with me and sponsoring the production of this article. If you’d like to learn more about Workstorm, or Brian, you can do so at the links below.

NASA, AI and the law – a conversation with Héloïse Vertadier

“I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

HAL 3000.

The future of technology has always provoked speculation and excitement as to how it will change our lives. For lawyers, however, tackling new developments in technology can often be both confusing and stressful, as they will be responsible for keeping up to date with changing regulations (or even help shape them themselves!).

For this week’s post, I spoke with Héloïse Vertadier, who recently completed a research position for NASA exploring the legal world of all things tech, including robotics, AI, blockchain and much more! Fascinated (and very jealous), I asked her a number of questions about the future world of technology, how the legal industry will respond, as well as what NASA have to say about it all.

What was your recent experience at NASA like? How does something as stereotypically ‘mundane’ as the law manifest itself in the stereotypically awe-inspiring world of space?

HV: “My experience at NASA was both incredible and unexpected. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself to be sure it wasn’t all a dream!

I worked at Ames as a Research Scholar/Intern for three months this summer, on a paper named “Legal and Ethical Framework for Robots and AI”. I had worked in the blockchain and the space industry before during my year at the International Space University (Strasbourg, France). I was thankful that ISU gave me this amazing opportunity to go to Ames in order to keep working on the implication of these new technologies on the law and our society in general.

Law can often be seen and perceived as restrictive – especially when it comes to innovative fields like space. At the moment, space law is quite old. The “Corpus Juris Spatialis” was created between 1967 and 1979 and is composed of five main treaties that were negotiated in the UN:

  • The Outer Space Treaty
  • The Rescue Agreement
  • The Liability Convention
  • The Registration Convention
  • The Moon Agreement

When we see how space exploration has evolved – even during the last decade alone – it is no surprise that these treaties, signed during the Cold War, are having trouble being enforced today. This is especially true considering the absence of any recognised international regulatory body. Having said that, the international context we find ourselves in today makes it impossible to create new treaties or even to modify the existing ones. Instead, we have to see them more as guidelines that establish principles of behaviour for the signatory parties rather than a codified set of vigorous, boundary laws.”

Milky Way, Universe, Person, Stars, Looking, Sky, Night

Many have speculated that we are on the verge of another industrial revolution with the rise of technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence and next-level robotics. What are your thoughts on this and how do you think this affects the legal sector?

“AI and blockchain technology will surely be game-changers in the future. Law, as well as many other disciplines, will have to evolve in order to keep up. As for AI and the use of robots, the main legal area that will be impacted will be the question of liability: who exactly will be liable if an AI damages something or breaches a contractual arrangement? That is a really big question because, for now, no one knows where AI will lead us. Some experts have speculated that there is a 50% chance that AI will overrun human intelligence by 2045.

AI presents great opportunities, but also some great threats, so the idea is to create a framework that is precise enough to handle these changes, but also flexible enough to not asphyxiate technological development. In my opinion, it is fundamental that lawyers, policymakers and engineers collectively engage in conversation in order to create an evolving legal framework that can accompany any change.”

Blockchain, Block, Chain, Technology, Computer, Symbol

The continuing development of this technology has also raised several moral questions – say, our co-existence with a superintelligent AI. How do you think humans and AI will, or must, ethically co-exist in future?

“I think that studying how AI will interact with humans can be done in three particularly interesting scenarios: 

  • The psychological aspect: humans project a lot their emotions with their devices. Such involvements, whether they are positive or negative, can be dangerous because they will be unilateral. The real danger is that humans could easily personify and anthropomorphize machines and create a unilateral relationship with them.
  • AI as an inventor or an artist: here, the infamous case of the “Monkey Selfie” is interesting, because it demonstrates the legal difficulty to attribute ownership to a work of art created by a non-human entity. 
  • AI for medical uses: a robot surgeon can operate remotely, either in the same room with a machine or as an intermediary. The surgeon controls the gestures that are made by the machine and he/she sees on a screen what is happening, or even from a very distant place. In addition, a team from the Chinese Tsinghua University and iFlyTek AI created a robot driven by an AI named Xiaoyi – “little doctor” in English – that passed a medical entry exam in August 2017, exceeding the average performance of (human) students.

All of these points raise a lot of questions, be they ethical, legal or otherwise, and to me that’s fascinating.”

The infamous selfie from the ‘Monkey Selfie’ copyright case.

For many solicitors beginning their career in the legal sector, the further incorporation of advanced technology within the legal sector can present itself as both an opportunity and a challenge. What do you think the lawyers of tomorrow will be expected to know about LegalTech? What about how they will use it?

“I think it is fundamental that the lawyers in training today are trained to understand these challenges. Today, we lack professionals that are specialized in these areas. We need new blood, new ideas and we most certainly need hard-working, focused and rigorous lawyers that understand the need to develop this area of the law.

Today, people often laugh or smile when we talk about AI and robots. It’s normal and expected, because there is a lack of common knowledge about these technologies aside from common media portrayals. The lawyers of tomorrow that will want to explore this area of law must be aware that their challenge is in two parts:

  • They will need to promote the global knowledge of these topics;
  • They will need to create a new set of rules and laws to fit the particular legal questions raised by AI and robots”

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Héloïse for speaking with me and granting an insight into the world of law, space, AI and tech. You can visit her LinkedIn profile here.

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