Nina, you’ve been in this industry since the late 1990s. Tell us about how you got started.

I always had an interest in studying law, and after years of courses in contract law, civil law, real property law and criminal defence, I passed the German bar exam in 1996. Fast forward to 2008, after my life had headed in various directions, and I was applying for law jobs in the U.S. Nearly all of the available positions were for foreign language document review lawyers. This was a new term to me, and after research into the practice, I thought it sounded interesting. This was contrary to the opinion of many of my former colleagues who believed document review was boring work. Nevertheless, I took a position as a German and French document review attorney for a patent litigation.

On my first day, I was lead, alongside more than 30 other lawyers, into a New York City basement with 15 desks to share. The supervisor gave us a short presentation about the upcoming litigation and which evidence to look for to defend our client, then showed us where to find the boxes and left. Two weeks and 110 hours later, the work was completed, and I walked away with the feeling that I had both contributed to the overall project and also enriched my legal knowledge.

So, you enjoyed the work. What came next?

I was hired as a document review manager by a law firm, and told that my two-day training would be dedicated to learning about the case and learning the “platform.” I was expecting another round of review with boxes of paper and a package of multicolor highlighters, but instead, the “platform” was a software tool that I would be using to view the documents. It may be hard to imagine now that e-discovery has been the norm for so many years, but I will never forget my disbelief when I saw documents on the computer screen and was told that I could code them on the computer. I discovered that the highlights were already done by the processing teams, and document reviewers could sort them by clicking on boxes in a subjective coding tree. While previously I was able to look through 200 documents per day, the tool allowed me to look at more than 500 documents in one day.

As we in this industry all know, the technology caught on quickly and was soon followed by more advanced tools such as predictive coding, bringing us into the field of e-discovery as we know it today. During this progression, I grew increasingly interested in understanding the interaction and intersections between human reviewers and technology.

Can you talk about your views on the interplay between human insight and machine learning in document review?

Once I later began working for an e-discovery consultancy, I realised that people who have a combined knowledge of technology and law can serve as an important bridge between the two worlds. Technology has given lawyers a way to expand their knowledge of a case. Machine learning tools are expediting review, which saves money and improves insights as well as freeing up time for attorneys to focus on higher-value aspects of a matter. When fewer resources are invested in manual document review and other repetitive tasks, counsel can spend more mindshare on case strategy, trial prep, etc. The developments in the data landscape and how e-discovery is conducted today have brought the legal field to a point in which technology proficiency will differentiate the top lawyers from the rest.

You’ve talked before about technology as a threat and an opportunity. The threat part is clear—there’s an ongoing debate about the extent to which machines will replace humans in many different occupations. But what are the opportunities you see?

So far, all of the technology developments we’ve seen have led to the creation of new jobs that provide an opportunity for humans and machines to work together. Automation is now challenging professionals across all levels of skill and education to expand their abilities, think outside the box and strengthen their emotional intelligence. While a robot will move boxes in the factory hall, it will always need a human worker for supervision and important decision making. In the legal world, technology assists document review, but we’ll always need people for nuanced calls, the soft skills, the client advice and the intelligent, persuasive courtroom arguments.