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Jerry Levine, General Counsel of IPSoft, on Awesome Law and Being a Young Lawyer During a Recession

Jerry Levine is Global General Counsel and Corporate Secretary of IPSoft, a leading cognitive (AI) computing and autonomic technologies company. As IPSoft’s first in-house counsel, Jerry has implemented corporate policies to bring the company’s legal strategies into a new phase of sophistication. Prior to joining IPSoft, Jerry founded and managed his own law firm and held a number of roles within alternative legal service providers and legal technology companies. Jerry has been recognized on the Legal 500’s GC Powerlist and by Modern Counsel as one of today’s most influential in-house counsel.

ZERØ: Can you talk to us about your career history and how you ended up at IPSoft?

Jerry: I’ve had a bit of an interesting career path, especially compared to other GCs. I started out in a very traditional way. I went for a clerkship and then, thinking I would be a litigator, I went to a well-respected New Jersey midsized boutique firm that had had a lot of really high-profile clients. And it turned out that after a couple years of being a litigator, I was really unhappy. I took a few weeks off to figure out what I wanted to do, and during that time, I got a call from a friend who started an eDiscovery company, who wanted me to be his Number 2. That was really where I figured out what I wanted to do. I loved being able to pick my clients, and so I did that for a little bit when I went back out and founded my own firm. This was really during the big startup craze in New York, probably the 2010s. Then I ultimately started getting calls from alternative providers and other companies and worked with them for about two years. After that, I got a call from IPSoft, who was hiring their first GC and really wanted someone who understood technology, had a good head on their shoulders for law, and could work with businesspeople without driving them nuts. So I can’t promise the third one’s true. But at least I had good experience. I’m very happy with IPSoft: I love what I do and I love being in-house.

ZERØ: How do you think working in-house at a tech company informs your perspective on the legal tech ecosystem?

The general idea of technology and law is going to force lawyers to improve. To this day, a lot of lawyers still don’t want to use technology to assist them because they’re scared of it. Working for an AI company, I see a lot of areas where technology can help lawyers. I do think that in-house lawyers are more likely to adopt technology very quickly, because are usually dealing with smaller teams.

ZERØ: Is technology use a criterion by which you evaluate outside counsel?

Jerry: At IP Soft, we work with a range of firms, and I think that the more tech-savvy firms have all been really good. Working with these firms has been an almost seamless shift from in-office working to work from home. Technology like Microsoft Teams has made it really easy to work collaboratively with outside counsel, allowing us to just share files and provide access to our different tools.

ZERØ: What are other characteristics that you seek in outside counsel?

Jerry: I want timeliness, I want dedication, and I want responsiveness. And I think that’s going to be true across every in-house lawyer who interfaces outside. And again, this goes back to that tech sense. But we’re also seeing a lot of changes and a focus on diversity, inclusion, and elimination of bias in hiring. I think we’re really going to see a big push for more diverse, highly qualified teams working on various projects. As in-house counsel, what we want beyond general excellence is for our outside firms and our internal teams to reflect what we see in the world. Part of this is going to be encouraging more diversity at the law school level, but ultimately, that diversity has to be reflected in both hiring of outside counsel and has to be reflected in hiring internally. The real goal should be to have teams that are excellent and reflect the wider characteristic of both our neighborhoods and of the market as a whole. We need to encourage diverse hiring, and we have to make sure that as we’re doing that we’re hiring the best people we can get, which I think ultimately means that you have a much better, much more well-rounded, much more effective legal workforce.

ZERØ: It’s great to see in-house counsel pushing the issue of diversity with their firms, because that will encourage a lot of law firms to make a greater push.

Jerry: I recognize that I have privilege. I’ve been reading a lot of stories on social media from individuals who, despite having amazing qualifications, only had doors opened for them recently. Seeing these things is very upsetting. Because to me, it shouldn’t be about anyone’s name or the color of their skin or their background in any way, racial, religious, or otherwise. We should really be looking at what they bring, what their experiences, what they’ve done, and what they can bring in. It’s dismaying that it took events like those that happened recently to wake people up to what’s been going on. It’s long overdue, and lawyers, especially, should be at the forefront of this social and systematic change.

ZERØ: Absolutely. Speaking of social media, your LinkedIn bio mentions that you call your legal practice “Awesome Law.” What does that mean to you?

Jerry: This is a fun story. When I started my own firm years ago, I went to a lot of startup technology events. And the one thing that kept happening was you would end up talking to these startup founders, who desperately needed help and I wanted to be the one to help them. They kept saying, “It’s so cool to have awesome lawyers like you.” And I realized that I wanted to be the type of person, the type of lawyer, that people call for fun, not just because they have a problem. With Awesome Law, you should not be as a lawyer, telling businesses what they can’t and shouldn’t do. Instead, it should be more like, “You can do that, but here’s what you should do instead,” and that approach will have a much better result. As an awesome lawyer, I seek to be a partner to the businesses I represent and make their lives easy. Another important aspect to Awesome Law is being reachable. You can call me, you can find me on Teams, WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram—I want to be incredibly easy to reach, and I have the same expectation from my outside counsel.

At the end of the day, the key to Awesome Law is being able to recognize what your client needs from his or her lawyer, and then being able to really go and say at the end, I’ve done the best job I can for my clients, and I’m delivering what they need at the time they need it, so that they can be effective and they can deliver a win for themselves. That’s the crux of awesome law.

ZERØ: You graduated law school in 2007, right before the last major recession. What advice would you give to law students and young lawyers to succeed in this market?

Jerry: The first thing to keep in mind is that everything is a cycle. When I was clerking, I had offers that were rescinded. I was actually interviewing to take jobs in other countries. And of course, the crisis was everywhere, then just as it is now. The key was ultimately perseverance—and remember that this too shall pass.

I would also advise young lawyers to start building relationships. There’s a huge amount going on LinkedIn, so start talking to people. Some people might not be willing to talk, but others might be happy to tell you how they got to where they are and advise you on your path. Just try to figure out what you can do and how to get your foot in the door, and constantly be open to new opportunities.

It’s also important to get acquainted with all the changes that are going on in law, whether it’s becoming trained in a new legal technology or knowing about the privacy laws that are starting up, or focusing on other areas where law degrees are useful. I know quite a few people who were going to be lawyers got their law degree and decided to go into a completely different field.

This period is going to be tough, but we’ve been through this before. Connecting with people who can help you will be critical. Once someone meets you, even if it’s just virtually, they know you and can connect you with their contacts. But make sure that when you send a request on LinkedIn, that you include some kind of note that tells them why you want to connect.

ZERØ: What do you think will characterize the law firms of the future?

Jerry: Distributed legal services across a variety of locations will be one major thing, and lawyers will work from where they want to and not necessarily be in the office. The COVID-19 crisis has really accelerated this. The positive is that you’ll be able to choose where to work from; the negative is that you’ll need to come up with new ways to have face time with your colleagues.

We’re also going to see a lot more emphasis on technical know-how and technical ability as it relates to technology, not just the law. And I think that’s going to be a real driver for law firms in their hiring. I think we’ll see a lot of growth in lawyers who have specialized training in legal technology.

I think we’re also going to see a lot of growth in what I will call disambiguated legal services, where you’re not going to go to one firm for every single matter. It might be hard for some lawyers to accept this, but it’s a reaction to the Walmart-ization of law, as some people have called it. But I think what you’ll see is some legal providers and lawyers who really begin focusing on one thing, or a group of things, at the exclusion of everything else—more along the lines of immigration practitioners, who only do immigration law. This will help a lot of companies achieve cost-savings, and to that end, you’ll also see platforms like Priori that big for services on your behalf become popular.

Another major change will be the incorporation of more intelligent systems into our work. I’m going to be looking more for the way firms are utilizing intelligent technologies to improve the provision of legal services. I want to make sure that they’re properly storing messages. I would love to see law firms adopt Amelia, which is IPSoft’s product that enhances responsiveness. I want the first set of eyes on a contract to start being a machine, not a lawyer, so the lawyers can dedicate more time to the human side of law and speed up the contract drafting process. Obviously, the computer is not practicing law, but it can speed things up and help lawyers work more effectively. Law firms that aren’t willing to modernize will be left behind. So you have to be willing to take the right steps to incorporate new technologies to improve your client services if you really want to be an Awesome Lawyer.