Maya Markovich is a “multidimensional product and innovation leader with roots in legal, change management, behavioral science and tech industries.” She has a passion for transforming the practice of law and, as head of product for Nextlaw Labs, is currently focused on building momentum for innovation within the ecosystem of Dentons, the largest law firm in the world, and across the industry.

Tell me a little about your background and how you first developed an interest in legal innovation.

My academic training in behavioral science and organizational psychology initially set me on the path of change management consulting, and I later enrolled in law school to leverage my background for broader social impact. I practiced for several years, and was initially intrigued by the use of tech to combat the increasing data deluge. It seems crazy now, but at the time figuring out how to review a terabyte of data seemed almost insurmountable.  

I eventually shifted over to the legal tech side, in product and marketing roles targeting the business and practice of law. During this time I also became a parent, a role which made me a more successful professional – more resilient, motivated, efficient, empathic, patient – all skills that intersect neatly with those required for success in 21st-century lawyering.

When Nextlaw Labs launched in 2015, legal innovation was virtually unheard of. I was lucky to land on a team whose mandate is to bring these threads together in to reinvent an industry.

Tell me a little about your current role.

It’s an awesome job. Nextlaw Labs’ mission is to catalyze, design, and embed innovation within Dentons and its clients – anywhere that it can take hold. Dentons’ innovation drive is so strong that it’s probably harder for us to keep up with demand, and connect the dots on innovation happening across nearly 200 offices worldwide, than it is to convince attorneys that it’s a necessary evolution.

We’re encouraged to pursue the things that make us curious, ponder big questions, and imagine ways to have measurable impact. We ask a lot of questions like, “What would happen if we changed this?” Can we reframe that constraint as an opportunity?” and “How does the client view this situation?”

Nextlaw Labs offers a continual creative challenge that’s essentially free of preconceived definitions of success. Delivering concrete progress can give people more control over their time and tasks, rather than less, and makes space for creativity across the spectrum. We’re really lucky to be tasked with generating awareness, inspiring connection, and pushing for progress around the breaking wave that is legal industry transformation.

What do you think is the biggest misconception people have when it comes to innovating?

Some people are convinced it’s only about technology, and subscribe to “professional exceptionalism” – their practice is so specialized that  no part of it could be automated, so therefore innovation is not relevant to them. Or on the other end of the spectrum, that the robots are all coming for our jobs. But I think the biggest misconception is that innovation is something someone else is responsible for, or that it can be accomplished alone – for innovation to truly take hold, it’s got to be all hands on deck, pulling together in the same direction.

Can you explain how you would define modernizing the legal profession?

The legal profession is feeling a broad urgency to rise to modern standards, leveraging current tools, data and processes. Since the law hasn’t benefited from these advances like other industries have, we look at modernization as leveraging the lessons others have learned about operating in a global economy, with all the constraints and benefits of today’s world. Clients are often more advanced in this area, pushing their firms to eliminate outdated processes and adapt the standards of flexibility, efficiency, and transparency they’re already using.

On the other hand, innovation – constantly trying new things, consciously avoiding preconceived notions or biases, and thinking expansively and creatively about ways to solve problems – is a much more difficult, messier mandate. But it’s necessary to focus on applying new methods to existing workflows, and adapting existing workflows to new demands. For substantive progress toward growth, improved efficiency, and increased access to justice, we need to make this tectonic shift as an industry. Law has been essentially static for generations, and we need to be looking for opportunities to find new, better ways to work and think.

How do you see legal technology fitting into the broader legal world? Is legal technology necessary for legal innovation?

There’s no question the legal industry is undergoing fundamental and long-overdue transformation, for reasons that have been discussed for years now – its DNA of tradition, the law firm business model, the billable hour, etc. There’s also no debate that the practice of law often includes a layer of high frequency, repetitive tasks that will be increasingly automated by technology – tasks that often grind lawyers out. Tech will definitely play a big part in this transformation, and will give lawyers more control over, and satisfaction in, their work, not less – but tech is only part of it. The most critical components to legal innovation are ideation, collaboration and change management, to drive the adoption that will define the legal industry in the future.