Maya Markovich - Legal Tech Investor and Lawyer

Kyla Denanyoh, You Are A Lawyer host (KD): You are listening to the, you are lawyer podcast. I'm the podcast host Kyla Denanyoh the 2015 law school graduate. This podcast was created to share the experiences and successes of law school graduates who created their own paths to career success. 

In episode 40, I am speaking with a technology advocate and lawyer. This guest manages the growth of legal technology and innovation. Based in Oakland, California. Today's guest is Maya Markovich. So welcome to the podcast. Maya. 

Maya Markovich (MM): Thank you so much, Kyla, and really happy to be here. I'm a big fan of the podcast. 

KD: Yeah. What'd you tell the audience a little bit about yourself?

MM: Yeah, sure. Well, my name is Maya Markovich. I'm chief growth officer at next LA labs at Denton's, which is the world's largest law firm. And I live in Oakland, California. 

KD: So we're going to just jump right in because what does that mean? Gross. 

MM: Well, I do a lot of different things. No two days are really the same, but a lot of what I do is working on innovation catalyst initiatives.

So Denton's founded next lot labs back in 2015 to be the first tech focused innovation catalyst ever founded by a law firm. We have an investment arm next love ventures in which we evaluate and invest in legal tech startups. I also work with Dentons clients on their internal innovation initiatives and as well as within Dentons, of course, wherever innovation can take hold and people are interested in finding new ways of doing their work their day to day, delivering different and tech enabled at times, um, services to clients, that kind of thing.

KD: So. I noticed from reading your bio. And I was like, she knows what this is because you're engulfed in it. I have no idea. So you described it this way and also the website hasn't next law is a tech focused industry. Innovation catalyst found it by a law firm, which has Dentons. What does that mean? Like what is an innovation catalyst?


MM: is. Yeah, no great question. And we struggled to find things that weren't buzzwords, but actually were kind of describing what it is that we do. So the legal industry, you know, hasn't changed much for hundreds of years. And there are a lot of different reasons behind that. But one of the main outcomes of that is that it really lacks a client centricity that that most other industries have.

And it also hasn't benefited from the use of, and deployment of technology in the way that most other industries have. So Denton saw the changes that were coming down the pike at the legal industry and wanted to be on the front end of that breaking wave rather than kind of be a victim of what was happening in the marketplace and where clients were asking their council to go and different types of services that they're trying to provide, uh, that we wanted to kind of bone and shape and drive that transformation.

KD: Okay. So what are the things that I thought was so fascinating as I was reading about next law and what you do and Dentons outside of like e-discovery and filing pleadings online, my law firm did nothing in the tech space. Like, I mean, we had our billing systems that was online, but that was as tech savvy as we were.

So I loved reading about this and hearing that you guys actually invest in other legal innovations. Like, I didn't realize that people were constantly coming up with things for the legal. 

MM: Oh my gosh. Yes. I mean, but one thing that's just been remarkable about my time at next labs has been, so when it was founded in 2015, there were 75 sort of self-described legal tech products and companies out there.

A lot of that was, as you say, either in like court filing kind of area or e-discovery. Now fast forward six years, and there are close to 2000 solutions are legal tech companies out there. So the industry has just exploded under our watch. And I think it's also really interesting that institutional investors are starting to take notice.

So, whereas they were always kind of like, oh, legal tech. I don't really understand that. It seems very narrow and it is in terms of the overall market that's available to sell to, um, legal tech products, anything from. Regulatory monitoring to intake of client requests in a legal department to evaluating your outside counsel with a platform, just you name it.

There's probably someone out there trying to figure out how to put a product around it for legal tech. But at the same time, you know, now it's gaining more attention. It's not just like an afterthought. So there's a lot of attention now coming on to basically around the opportunity, because like I said, you know, lawyers are just, you know, they're reluctant to change and the legal industry itself is reluctant to change for a lot of different reasons, but change is coming.

KD: Yeah. It's good to know that there's a space that is actively looking for these things and willing to invest in. 

MM: Exactly. Yes. I agree. 

KD: So your background is actually in change management consulting. What was that? So I have a background 

MM: in behavioral science. I'm an academic background in organizational and social psychology, which really was focused on how people interact with each other, how decisions are made, how they make decisions, you know, how groups influence the individual and also resistance to change and how to overcome that, that kind of thing.

So that initially led me to a position in change management consulting in a big tech. And what I was doing, there was part of an advanced team that would come in and do change readiness assessments and develop implementation plans for big tech platforms. But it was really well beyond kind of the install, the technology, and make sure that they have the user guide.

It was much deeper around like creating the muscle memory and the buy-in to have change, be embraced and adopted longer. And at the time, I had no idea that it would be relevant to the legal industry, but that's 

KD: kind of cool that you studied that and had that background in, and that's kind of what you do now.

Try to change things in the legal 

MM: industry. Yeah. And then, you know, it was a fascinating job, but I really ultimately decided that I wanted something that would give me the ability to have a broader social impact. So I went to law school for a few years, and then as I was working in law, I was always kind of pushed off as the junior attorney working with technology.

And it became really obvious to me what the benefits could be, not only to clients, but also to attorneys who are just not going to have to be mired down in the same level of drudgery that defines so many of the early years of practice. And at the same time, I realized I didn't really want to be a partner.

So I jumped over to the legal tech side, um, and stopped practicing. 

KD: Yeah. The perks of being a partner are quickly outweighed by the stress. 

MM: You said it, not me. 

KD: They are. So, but what I think is fascinating is that I have a background in corporate America. I went to law school at 28. So I had a full career before I even went to law school.

And then at my law firm, I was working in a business analyst, product owner type realm, but they wouldn't acknowledge the title cause they were like, no. Starting department and putting together procedures. I'm like, no, listen, this is what this is. So I love the fact that you had that background and you were able to marry it with law and tech.

MM: Yeah, it's funny because I would say in the last, just, even in the last three years or so, there's a growing understanding that law firms need to hire people who are not just practicing or admin in order to keep the business going and really to survive and thrive in like the modern era of practices.

KD: Yeah, especially now, you know, we're recording this after 2020, when everyone was working virtually or most people, where did you see a big push in legal innovation during that? 

MM: Yeah. I mean, certainly a lot of people suddenly had to figure out how to, you know, print and, you know, get on zoom. You know, I went to mystic that because there was this kind of crack in the wall, you know, everyone went into lockdown simultaneously pretty much.

And there was this moment at which lawyers were not expected to be the experts at everything that. Right. There was a little window of, you know, let's give them time to experiment and get up to speed. And while I think now everyone's pretty much up to speed on zoom, at least in certain, you know, collapsed certain collaboration platforms, kind of a comfort level with that I think has grown.

And I'm optimistic that. You know, you've got to have experimentation has just gotta be able to be acceptable. And even for those that don't experiment themselves, if lawyers are just going back to doing things, the old ways that there's, you know, seeing the value of that experimentation by others, especially with.

You know, the early career professionals that are coming in now that just, that simply don't see the world in the same way in terms of what it should take, how long it should take and what manual steps need to be taken to get something done, 

KD: actually how long it should take because corporate America, every 14 months, you're looking for a promotion and a new job responsible.

And law firm is so anti that it's like, no, you're in this role, you can be in this role for the next 12 years. It's like, no, 

MM: exactly, exactly. You hit the nail on the head. And the other thing that's so key about it is that, I mean, it's a relatively unique industry in the sense that I really do have conversations about.

The productivity paradox and about how being more efficient is a good thing, because it's being client-centric however, but the billable hour, you know, still having its hold on how business is largely done. Having a conversations about that are very real and it can be frustrating, but also there's the, I know I'm optimistic on that point too.

There's movement and it's largely client. You know, plants are asking for more in different ways of doing business with their firms. 

KD: Yeah, this is true. And I know that it'll change. I mean, I do hear the optimism in your place and I'm sure we're headed towards a better place, more than us thing in the stagnant spaces of other law firms.

MM: It starting to become really clear. Who's going to come out of the pandemic and out of this breaking wave of industry change, who's going to come out of it better. And who's going to, you know, fall by the wayside because ultimately if you are not serving clients in the way that they need or want to be served, they will go to the places that provide that to them.

KD: Yeah, this is true. So jumping around here, you've mentioned that you went to law school and you want it to have a social impact. When you were the junior associate. Were you able to have that social impact that you wanted when you were practicing? 

MM: No, I was way too busy. I mean, a certain, I mean, I always had that focus and I've always been, you know, an active pro bono practitioner and I try to find ways to volunteer, especially with, you know, the skills that I gained in law school.

But being able to really have a broader social impact has come a lot more recently, mostly in my last couple of positions. Okay. 

KD: And then I saw that you were licensed in California. Is that license still active? Yes, it is. Okay. And why do you keep that active? Uh, well, 

MM: first of all, it's important for me to stay current with my bar membership, because I need to be able to speak the same language as the attorneys that I'm speaking.

Yeah. And that is definitely a measure of relevance and whether or not I'm current on what it takes to practice law and I'm available to do so if needed, but I don't actively practice. 

KD: Yeah. That's a good point that you have to stay current on what they're learning and the way that you need to even approach your pitches and stuff to them.

So that makes sense. Yeah. And I saw that you serve on the board of one justice and the Alameda county bar association. Why are you participating with those different organizations?

MM: I am passionate about trying to do everything that's possible to close the access to justice gap. While I work in a large law firm and it is, you know, corporate and business law.

The ability for me to have a megaphone, essentially in a platform to talk about the larger changes that are needed in the legal industry has come with kind of part and parcel with that. And I basically try to find opportunities to leverage it wherever possible. With the Alameda county bar association, they have a dedicated pro bono arm.

It's called legal access Alameda. And I serve on the board of directors of that. It is an incredible small, but mighty organization that delivers 40 legal clinics a month, um, to various topics for the Alameda county residents that need legal assistance and can't afford. So that's incredibly rewarding and there's also a tech component to that.

And helping them kind of streamline their own internal workflows to basically get it so that more people are freed up to do the good work and not the grunt work. And I'm also on the strategic council of one justice, which is a really fantastic organization based in different Cisco. It's a nonprofit consulting company, essentially that serves and supports legal aid organizations within the state of Kansas.

So anything that is delivering legal aid services in California can have a potential source of support from one justice in terms of developing leadership skills, advising on management, on outreach, on all these kinds of things. So it's a unique organization. It's my understanding. There's nothing like it anywhere else in the U S.

KD:  oh yeah, it sounds very unique. And I wonder if that ties into your, your social impact or desire. 

MM: Yeah. I'm also an advisor for a few different legal tech startups. One of which is called courtroom five, which is a platform to support pro se litigants. And so that's [00:14:00] another area where I've been able to do a lot of great work and helping support them on their scaling and growth.

KD: Yeah. And for the audience pro se litigants are people who represent that. So, yeah. All right. So yeah, that's big and I don't know of many organizations that give resources to them. So. 

MM: You know, it's all part and parcel of the same issue, which is that over 80% of the people who need a lawyer in the United States can't afford one and people are suing all the time.

It's not only these big, you know, corporate lawsuits. People are suing a lot and a lot of. Having a lawyer going to court is very expensive, costly time consuming as well. It can, it can really derail your life for years. 

KD: Yeah. So how did you become interested in law and tech? Where did you find that your interests really entertained?

MM: As I was talking about being a junior attorney and kind of always being pushed towards the technology. It became really obvious. I couldn't really unsee the way that the legal industry was going to have to head and also the opportunity around it. You know, I really saw it as an equitable access to justice.

At the time, you know, sifting through a terabyte of data for e-discovery purposes was like, it seemed almost insurmountable. And now that's, you know, business as usual. The same thing by the way, happened with legal research, right before our time long before our time with LexisNexis and Westlaw where, you know, no one would ever go into a library and even try to do that.

But ultimately, because it was a better results for the client and also was freeing up lawyers to do kind of this more strategic, creative work, the kind of work that people including myself, went to law school for, you know, no one goes to law school to sit in a windowless room and do doc review, um, or sit in a conference room at 2:00 AM and sort out the signature pages for a merger, you know, both of which I have done.

And so, you know, the upside is incredibly important. Also at the same time, like I said, I didn't want to be partner in a firm. I had a newborn and a two year old, you know, different priorities in my life came into much sharper focus. And I say to still have an impact in the world of law, but I wanted it to be more, a broader and more creative.

KD: Yeah. And so in your role as the chief growth office there, is that a JD preferred job or does it just benefit you to have a legal battle? 

MM: That's a great question. I don't remember what was on the job description. I mean, definitely it is incredibly important to be able to understand what kinds of pressures and the reality of practicing law they've turned out great.

But it wasn't on purpose that I came in with kind of a, an understanding of the corporate America before attending law school. By the way, this applies to legal tech startups as well. You know, it's really important to have on your founding team. Somebody who understands what that work is actually like and what it's like to actually work with technology in a law firm and the pressures that people are under to not do things different.

KD: No, that's very true. And my office, we created a number of different databases to track information, and we would bring people in who would try to create stuff, but they want it to do it in ways that just didn't go with the law firm flow. And so it was really hard for us to buy something off the shelf.

We had to really create a lot of our processes because we needed it to fit. 

MM: Right. Exactly. And then that's a whole new Pandora's box of issues, which is, you know, how do you maintain that? What happens when that person who built it leaves the firm and not only that, but is it flexible enough to, you know, adapt to the changing needs as things are, you know, becoming more complex.

KD: So, what do you hope the future looks like with law firms and legal tech? 

MM: Well, I think we're going towards a world where tech enabled legal services will become the norm much like with every other industry, most other industries that have come before it. I think that I am optimistic that that will be a positive thing.

I know people sometimes are worried about the robots taking their jobs. And that kind of thing. I actually think that the, that there's actually going to be more work than just given the fact that, you know, there's ever increasing regulatory complexity. There are new issues around cyber security, privacy, you know, more laws are being enacted all the time.

And so as a result, I do think that it's just going to be done different. But it will be in fact more work. So I think for the kinds of lawyers that will thrive in the, you know, in the modern legal profession, it's going to be those who are comfortable and embracing kind of new and innovative ways of delivering what clients need and being responsive and deep listening to what clients actually eat, even when they can't articulate it themselves.

So my hope is that we'll have more and more of those lawyers out there. And that we will lose really great people. Uh, like we are now in the legal industry with the incredible high levels of attrition to, you know, those who are frustrated by the status quo. I think there's a lot that we can gain. And also I think that diverse teams outperform the competition that has been born out in research anecdotally and use cases all over the.

And so I'm hoping that with increased focus, not only on innovation and different ways of thinking and kind of more of a growth mindset, but that also bringing in a diverse stakeholders to the table and understanding what perspectives they can bring is always going to outperform the kind of services that need a homogenous status quo focused group is going to be able to deliver that.

KD: Yeah, this is true. You said diversity and it's making me think of the push right now for different age groups of people bring different ideas, different backgrounds, bring different ideas, you know, 

MM: absolutely. While I'm on the topic of what I hope for the future. I really hope that ultimately, that kind of focus works its way all the way upstream to law school.

And we'll bring in people who are interested in. Getting law degrees for very different reasons. Um, I think there are more and more opportunities for the different roles that you can kind of leverage a law degree for and add a huge amount of value in a lot of different types of roles and organizations.

But what I really hoping for is that it attracts a more varied group of applicants way upstream, because I think that that's when the real sea change is going to happen, because we're going to have more people talking about different things from different perspectives, different backgrounds, and that's where the real change is going to happen.

I really don't think we can succeed without that. 

KD: So I just have one last question here. Maya, is there anything you'd like to say to the audience about going outside the box and looking for a different type of career? 

MM: Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, now's a really great time to be a new lawyer. There are a lot of different opportunities that didn't exist even five years ago to kind of go into legal operations or in-house counsel and innovative thinking companies.

You know, certain law firms are starting to offer hybrid roles. You know, where part of your time is billable. Part of it is dedicated to, you know, practice management quote unquote, which a lot of times is improving the ways that the law is actually practiced and services are delivered. So if you have an interest in that kind of thing, number one, I would encourage you to reach out to me.

I'm always happy to talk. I mentor quite a few people officially and unofficially, you know, always happy to offer one person's opinion. You know, it's still a very new area. And so I think that just makes the opportunity even bigger when there's a situation here where there's so much green fields. If you find something that is interesting to you go in that direction, you're thinking about stopping the practice of law and, you know, think about the things that drew you to the law in the first place that you are really good at and focus on those and go in that direction.

And I would also just say right now, especially one thing that I find incredibly gratifying is that the legal tech and innovation space is a close knit and incredibly supportive community can find resources. The likes of which, you know, would be unattainable in more established industries, just out there chatting on.

Really focused on helping people who want to make a change in the legal industry actually do the thing. So I, you know, I would recommend networking. And some people say network, like, what does that even mean? I was terrible at it in law school and early days. But what it really is, is just like you find, you read an article, the article quotes, somebody that says something interesting about some topic you're interested in and you look them up on LinkedIn, you shoot them a note.

And sometimes if it's me, especially, I'll try to respond and that's a network, you know? And that's how you build the people that are doing interesting stuff. I just recently did it. A three-part blog posts on behavioral economics and change management in the legal industry. Then you wouldn't believe the people that reached out to me after that, like I thought it was kind of old news.

And yet, you know, there were people who were like, you provoked a lot of, you know, interesting new lines of thought for me. Can we talk about it? Or can you recommend additional resources? And a lot of folks are really happy to help in that sense. So I would check out Twitter for sure. And like, For those types of just kind of growing your body of knowledge and figuring out where you might want to focus.

KD: Okay. And everyone Maya's email address will be in the show notes. So feel free to use that if you need to. And if you're looking for, in an official mentor. So thank you so much, Maya. You're so welcome. 

MM: Thanks for having me. 

KD: Yeah, of course. Bye. Thank you for listening to you on lawyer. While you are here, subscribe to the show, leave a rating and tell a friend about this episode.

New episodes are released every other Thursday. Thanks again for listening. I hope you enjoyed the conversation. Bye.

Click here to listen to the You Are A Lawyer episode with Maya Markovich. 

NOTE: This transcript was created from the You Are A Lawyer podcast episode with Kyla Denanyoh and Maya Markovich. This transcript was not edited to correct grammar and follow writing rules.

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