#LegalTechLives with Rochelle Washington, Senior Staff Attorney, Practice Management Advisory Service, District of Columbia Bar

Ava Chisling
October 19, 2017

Rochelle Washington is the Senior Staff Attorney in the Practice Management Advisory Service of the D.C. Bar. Rochelle, along with the Assistant Director, Daniel Mills, assists lawyers with the business of starting and managing a law firm. Rochelle was recently recognized by the American Bar Association Legal Technology Resource Center as a 2017 Woman of Legal Tech and by FastCase as a 2017 FastCase 50.

You are now based in DC but where were you raised and what did you want to be at 10… and 18 years old?

I was raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland in the DC Metropolitan Area. At the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer. I was attracted to both roles based upon my innate desire to help people. I know it sounds cliché but it’s true. I knew the medical or legal profession would allow me to make my mark. By the age of 18, I settled on law and I’m glad I did.

Were you a tech nerd as a teen?

I was not, but I was a bit of a gamer. I was the type of kid that couldn’t just play a game, I had to beat it. I would say that I am more of a tech visionary. At a very young age I used to say to myself, “I wish the game looked more real. I wish I could be ‘in’ the game.”

What I was thinking then is much like the role play games that exist today. I guess you can say, I knew what I wanted to see and I believed that one day technology would provide for it. I can’t call myself a tech nerd as a teen but I wear that badge proudly today. Discovering and exploring new technologies that exist to help me improve on the ability to serve our membership while being innovative and efficient is truly my passion. I love this stuff!

Congratulations on your 2017 Women of Legal Tech Award! When did your interest in legal tech begin?

My interest in legal tech started out of necessity while managing my own law firm. I owned and operated a law firm for eight years. I had no choice but to educate myself on technology and software options. I knew I had to figure it out to be competitive in this market. Now daily, in my role here at the Bar, I research technology tools to help lawyers increase efficiency and remain competitive while remaining ethical in practice.

You have been Sr. Staff Attorney/ Practice Management Advisor at the D.C. Bar for five years or so now. What is a typical workday like for you? ie: Who do you interact with, what kinds of tasks, etc.

All services offered to members by the Practice Management Advisory Service are provided on a confidential basis under Rule 1.6(j). A typical work day includes responding to member inquires related to all things law office management, as well as planning and preparing for the various programs and services we provide. Specifically, we perform law office management assessments, one-on-one consultations, present educational programs for law firm start-up, growth and management, and provide networking opportunities. Our program topics include, but are not limited to, issues pertaining to client relations, financial planning, marketing, and selecting technology productivity tools. I also present nationally on these topics.

Legal Tech Lives with Rochelle Washington

How do you decide which tech will have value and which will not? Kindly explain the process, both “internally” (how you know) and “externally” (how you convey your opinions to others at the Bar, etc.)?

I approach technology in a practical manner. It is not about how much tech you have (ex. Google Glass, Apple Watch, or a cool app), it is instead about how and why you are using it. The main reasons people look to technology is to increase efficiency, reduce cost, provide for additional means of communication and for team collaboration. As I explored technologies for my law firm, I became well versed in asking the hard questions of vendors who tried to sell me everything imaginable.

I learned to vet through what was necessary versus what was the latest trend. In my role at the D.C. Bar, I now have the opportunity to share with others my method and approach to choosing and using technology. I use the mantra of “Automate-Delegate-Eliminate” when exploring technology for my personal life or business. I never purchase a technology tool or software without this initial brief analysis. I first consider what task I am trying to do or what process/procedure I want to put in place. I then ask myself: “Can I get rid of this task or process all together?” If not, “Can this process or task be automated or delegated to someone else?”

This is what everyone should consider before attempting to select any new technology tools for their firm. Larger firms usually have the technology personnel and resources available to them to stay in-house. I work primarily with small firm lawyers who are trying to start and grow their firms.

Can you describe a few of the challenges you face in promoting the adoption of new tech?

The most common challenges with the adoption of new technology for lawyers are the security issues, how to select the right tool, and ease of use. As technology continues to advance, the concern over job security is also creeping into the minds of lawyers. Most lawyers struggle with the first three things. We overcome these challenges with education and by example.

As part of our law firm start-up and management trainings, we help educate lawyers on the various technologies available to enhance the practice of law, discuss the security issues that should concern them, and help them understand how to do due diligence without having to be an IT professional. We exemplify the use of technology by using it when we interact with members. For example, we will use video conferencing and various apps and programs during our interactions to demonstrate how easy technology can be to use and integrate into your life.

Those lawyers who are concerned about job security as a result of new technology are encouraged to embrace and adopt technology tools that will help them remain competitive. Those who chose not to learn how to maximize on technology should be concerned about job security. The impact that technology has and will continue to have is a universal problem in every industry and not unique to the legal profession.

How would you divide up the D.C. Bar’s membership in terms of excitement over adopting new tech? ie: 20% can’t wait, 30% not so much.

Based solely upon the direct inquiries I receive from our membership, especially in the last couple of years, I have not run into many lawyers who are not interested in learning about the technology available to help them be more efficient and productive. In fact, most lawyers are looking to work remotely or at least incorporate some aspect of virtualization to their practice, therefore technology is no longer an option; instead it is a necessity for any law firm.

“I believe that artificial intelligence will do what technology has always done — help us increase our performance and output as we decrease the necessity for time and staffing to do the smaller things.”

Of course, we believe AI in law is indispensable and inevitable. How do you see AI fitting into the legal industry today and where do you see AI and law going down the line?

The legal industry isn’t much different than any other industry today. We all have to rethink the overall approach to our businesses as a result of technological advances, and in that respect, AI is no different. I believe that artificial intelligence will do what technology has always done — help us increase our performance and output as we decrease the necessity for time and staffing to do the smaller things. This is allowing every industry to hire thought leaders to focus more on big ideas to increase profitability.

You speak a lot about the “nuts and bolts” of starting a practice. How has this changed over the years?

Just about 10–12 years ago, people were still using fax machines, advertising in the yellow pages was actually something people did, and “the Cloud” was seemingly off limits for lawyers due to security, privacy and confidentiality. Today the tools that were once essential are no more, but the tasks have not gone away. Emails, texts and chats have changed the way we communicate. Automation has changed the speed at which we can produce and, well, iPhones changed everything!

What are the top 3 legal tech tools you believe new lawyers should adopt right now?

Appointment setting, document automation and video conferencing.

You have brought in some interesting programs. Tell me about one of which you are particularly proud.

I am most proud of Practice 360°| A Day for Lawyers and Law Firms. This a unique program that I always wanted to see at the Bar and working here gave me the opportunity to make it happen. This annual event brings together some of the best offerings of the Practice Management Advisory Service and provides D.C. Bar members the unique opportunity to attend a full day of free seminars covering a wide range of topics that are of particular interest to law firm owners and managers but that are relevant to the entire legal community. The day also features numerous networking opportunities and a chance for members to learn more about some of the companies that offer products and services through the Bar’s member benefits program as well as other technology and legal service providers. This year Practice 360º was held on May 19th. Click here for more information.

DC is a particular place, I believe I can safely say. Tell me a few things about living and working there that make it different than perhaps, Cleveland or Phoenix?

The District of Columbia is a challenging place because we have so many lawyers and we are in the political hub of the nation. This means who you know and the impressions you make on the community go a long way. It also means that marketing and business development can make anyone feel like a small fish in a big pond.

And in conclusion, please add your voice to this question we ask of everyone: What non-work related tech would you like to see invented right now?

I think I watched too many episodes of the Jetsons as a child because I have been waiting quite a long time for the flying cars. I feel I may not see this one happen.

Imagine the regulation! Even small drones are a legislative problem today!

Ava Chisling

Ava is an award-winning lawyer and editor who counsels creative types, writes about pop culture/tech+law and sometimes creates ad campaigns. She is Quebec counsel for Momentum Law.