Ed Sohn seeks to “advance change in the legal industry by delivering practical scale and quality through legal technology and managed services.” He and Pangea3, now a part of EY, has a longstanding “record of pioneering legal managed services and now, with the global reach and power of the EY platform, is uniquely positioned to lead our clients into the next legal working world.”

Tell me a bit more about what Pangea3 does and its role within the legal industry.

For almost fifteen years, Pangea3 has changed the legal ecosystem by providing an alternative to traditional law firm models.  Our work has historically focused in three areas: litigation and investigation services; contract review and drafting; and regulatory and compliance solutions.  Over the years, we have driven higher value with new services and extended our clients’ capabilities so they can focus on the highest value strategic work.

Can you shed a little light on the strategy behind agreeing to the Pangea3 Legal Managed Services division being purchased by EY? EY continues to grow its legal division. What does this say, in your view, about the state of the practice of law in general?

From where we sit, this is an obvious alignment.  Thomson Reuters was a great home as a heavyweight in the legal industry, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.  Now, as TR focuses more on content and software solutions, EY offers a platform for professional services.  Even in our first week at the firm, I have been privy to dozens of conversations where they are speaking our language—offering value to our clients through scale, domain proficiency and technology-enabled services.

From an industry perspective, many have been watching EY and its moves in legal, and the Pangea3 acquisition indicates continued investment into legal operations.  If I put on my industry hat for a moment, I’d say that there is significance to EY choosing acquisition instead of a steady homegrown expansion of its previous footprint in legal managed services.  Acquiring Pangea3 connotes an eagerness, a desire to accelerate its footprint in this market, and a recognition that Pangea3’s record of leadership befits the top brand and reputation of EY as a whole.

I’ll go even further and say this: defining value and delivering on it continues to be an evasive concept.  EY has a really serious record of achieving a transformation agenda for its clients, and it is built with the right infrastructure and culture to execute on this in law as well.  The acquisition of Pangea3 is a critical piece to that puzzle.

Thomson Reuters has not been shy about advancing the practice of law. How does this major acquisition help advance its strategy?

For Thomson, this enables them to focus even more on content and solutions. More importantly, EY and Thomson Reuters have announced a formal alliance, which brings a lot more clarity to the roles in the relationship—EY as a leader in services, and Thomson Reuters as an industry leader in content and solutions.

Tell me a little about your background and current work.

My career is now officially iterating in circles. I graduated as a computer science major out of Illinois, a rigorous engineering program that gave birth to the modern microchip and the first web browser. But after college, I pivoted to pursue my JD in law at the University of Pennsylvania, after which I started my career in earnest as a business litigation associate at King & Spalding.

A number of factors led me to leave the firm after five years and move to Delhi in 2012, where I joined Pangea3 as an expatriate overseeing the delivery of our litigation support services.  Upon returning to the States in 2014, I took a number of roles in technology, most recently in a role as the head of product management and alliances for the Pangea3 business.

So I started in tech, then moved into law; now I’m back in tech.  I started my career at a large firm, then moved to India, but somehow I’m back at a large firm again.  These are the cyclical arcs my career have taken, but I have no complaints at all—it has been an exciting journey, and I can’t wait to get to work.

How do you define innovation? How do you seek to innovate within your role?

Innovation can mean a lot of different things in different contexts.  In a large enterprise, either as a service provider or as a client, innovation should be a defined process more than a “spirit” or even a set of workshops. Design thinking is great, ideation is great, but ultimately, a process has to govern how to test the best ideas, understand their fit and cost-benefit calculus, the investment required to build it at scale, and a continuous improvement process with fast learning and application.

For us at EY, many of the services we offer are helping our clients improve, which can feel like innovation.  Our engagement teams are frequently sitting with clients to break down and reassemble inefficient processes.  I’ve already learned a ton about how they are bringing automation to Big Data movement and hygiene, then pulling signal from noise to accomplish business tasks at volume.  And at the leading edge of innovation, the Advanced Tax Technology Lab and other similar initiatives are capturing the highly practical uses for AI, blockchain and data extraction.  At a place as huge as EY, innovative process and technology has outsized impact even when applied internally, because when internal adoption is changed, the experience for thousands of client engagements changes too. 

In a similar way, my role is to take all of that goodness, couple it with all that I know about legal innovation and technology, and equip our Law services globally.  We are going to counsel our clients in the early and late majority segments of the diffusion curve, covered well by Bill Henderson and his team of writers.

What has been the most impactful thing you have learned since you first started working within the legal tech space?

In legal technology, I am still fixated on adoption.  The last Altman Weil survey had legal technology as the number one (out of ten) investment by corporate legal departments to gain more efficiencies.  When asked about impact, however, technology ranked eighth out of ten.  This is because of an unfortunate level of success and persuasion being peddled in legal technology—everything will be solved at the push of a button.

This is never, ever true.  Even the lightest implementations require a significant amount of investment upon deployment, and for most application of technology with any real value, the total cost of deployment is high.  This doesn’t mean that the value is high; it may still be a highly worthwhile endeavor. What it means, though, is that only a handful of buyers have gone on that journey with the right expectations.  Most buyers are instead left dissatisfied and feeling helpless, and particularly damaging for the industry: that these negative experiences engender a sense of distrust.

Improving these outcomes will require tools that focus more on ease-of-use; less snake oil from tech sales; more patience and effort from buyers; and more experienced legal technology experts in the ecosystem, either employed directly by the buyer or as consultants.  Until we can debunk the myth of the push-button legal tech and set up the correct infrastructure, we’ll continue dealing more players into a game of unmet expectations.

To those lawyers seeking to learn more about legal technology, how would you advise them?

I can recommend reading, conferences, blogs, podcasts, but that’s one decent Google search away.  Instead let me provide three qualitative perspectives on learning about legal tech:

  1. Be a great learner. This is something that is within everyone’s influence or control. Do not buy into buzzwords, do not repeat the thoughts of others, do not contribute to an echo chamber. It sounds obvious, but doing these things can lead to great reinforcement and emotional satisfaction, feeling supported. Engage your higher functions; understand the nuances of context that lead to different sides of the argument. Have a high-level view of the ecosystem and consider the impacts of one thing on totally different areas. Synthesize original thought on top of what others have said, and attack the areas that seem the most frustrating. Don’t be a faker, be a maker.

  2. Find a great teacher. This is not within everyone’s influence or control, but legal technology is a tight-knit community. Almost everyone is willing to be gracious with their time, and as I’ve become friends with many in the industry, there’s a gestalt that ties us together. Of those who are willing, identify those who are most capable to teach you something, and find a way to learn under their tutelage.

  3. Solve a real problem. Don’t show up at a conference “just trying to learn”— come with a real problem that you’ve encountered or at least considered with some real depth, or risk having an ocean of knowledge just wash over your head. It doesn’t matter if it’s a problem that many feel they’ve already solved; walk the path of solving that problem so that you have a reference point for problem-solving process. Many of us cut our teeth on e-discovery, and many clients are still dealing with that problem, especially with its ever-changing complexities. Its fine for you to show up and try to solve that same problem, there’s nothing wrong with it. Contract management is, similarly, barreling towards a set of best practices. But if that’s still a problem you have, show up with that problem in hand and evaluate – critically, even ruthlessly – the solutions being offered.