#LegalTechLives with Katie DeBord, Chief Innovation Officer, Bryan Cave

Ava Chisling
July 18, 2017

Based in Denver, Katie DeBord is a partner and Chief Innovation Officer at Bryan Cave LLP. Her initiatives include new ways to train and develop associates and new processes and technologies to drive efficiencies and collaboration within the firm. Katie also spearheads development of custom technologies that enable clients to streamline and better manage their legal operations. Previously, Katie was a partner in the firm’s Commercial Litigation Group and a trial attorney.

Tell me about where you grew up and where you live today.

I grew up in Denver, Colorado. After college and a 10-year stint in Washington, D.C., I am back home. I live with my daughter, a cat, two poison dart frogs, and a part-time dog.

What is the most innovative thing about you personally? And what are you most proud of work-wise, in terms of innovation?

In response to part one, the poison dart frogs. My daughter and I built this cool vivarium that looks like a miniature jungle and is home to three Phyllobates Terribilis dart frogs. Interesting fact: In the wild, they are some of the most poisonous animals alive. Their poison can kill 10 grown men. In captivity, your guess is as good as mine.

In terms of work, I am most proud of our launch of BCXponent, which is Bryan Cave’s operational consultancy division that combines process advice and technology to deliver practical solutions to law departments. I am proud of my colleagues and the talent that we have within that group — from the software developers to the statisticians, it is a really unique group that has built up years of expertise. And I also am proud to be working for a law firm that supports the investment in that kind of expertise.

Tell me about TechX: What is it and what does it do?

TechX is a group of “tech forward” attorneys and cross-functional professionals at our firm. The idea is to give our attorneys access to emerging legal technologies like ROSS so that they can understand in practical terms how the technology can augment their practice and build thought leadership around creating their own tech-enabled practices.

Lawyers are not well known for their ability to adapt to new technology. Why do you think this is the case?

I’m not sure that statement is necessarily correct. Lawyers want to get the job done, and done well, for their clients, and they don’t want inefficiencies or controllable screw-ups. Lawyers can appreciate good technology when they see it, and they will use it if it facilitates delivering advice to their clients and does so efficiently and reliably. If the tech adds no real value, on the other hand, and just becomes another hurdle that lawyers have to overcome during their busy days, they’ll abandon it.

What is the most innovative idea you have ever heard? Real or not-yet-real.

There are a lot, but the idea I am the most excited about is the IBM AI XPRIZE competition. I first heard of XPIZE at my law firm in 2012 and love the concept. This four-year open competition comes with a $5 million award, challenging teams globally to develop and demonstrate how humans can collaborate with AI technologies to solve “grand societal challenges.” The three top finalists will compete for the Grand Prize at TED 2020. $5 million is a lot of incentive and I can’t wait to see what the solutions are.

You spent four years at the CIA. Tell me something about the organization that would surprise me.

The people there are some of the best, smartest, wittiest, and most worldly people I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across in my life. They introduced me to new foods, culture, language, analytical skills, and empathy. And the intelligence analysts really do wear short sleeve dress shirts and pocket protectors…

What did you do there?

If I told you….

Uh oh! Next question!

“The idea is to give our attorneys access to emerging legal technologies like ROSS so that they can understand in practical terms how the technology can augment their practice and build thought leadership around creating their own tech-enabled practices.”

You have written about the use of AI in law, specifically in litigation. Tell me where you think we are in terms of how useful AI can be to lawyers — and other professionals, as well.

I think the state of AI cannot be assessed equally across all industries. To be meaningful, AI by necessity needs lots of data and a lot of human input. For that reason among others, AI in the law is still in its relatively nascent stage, but it is important that lawyers understand what it does today and what its potential is for tomorrow so that they’re part of the conversation and its development. That is part of my reason for forming TechX.

I recently interviewed John Alber [at Bryan Cave for close to 17 years]. He told me that he loves his boat Barefoot Lady but that she mostly “takes him to the cleaners.” Is there something in your life that you both love and have to continually spend money on?

Mine is without doubt international travel. I love to travel and meet new people and get exposed to new cultures. I get itchy if any significant length of time goes by without hopping on the plane. When my daughter turned 7, I got her a passport and told her that we would get one stamp a year. So far we have traveled together to Iceland, Panama, Costa Rica, Belize, and Mexico.

What is the most adventurous vacation you have ever taken?

My most adventurous vacation: Panama with my daughter. We hiked through the Bayano Caves, which is essentially an underground cave and river, swam in snake and cayman-infested waters, came across four Fer-de-lances (really deadly snakes) and a scorpion, stood in the cave/river while thousands of bats whooshed over us like a giant bat-wave, and in the end reached a beautiful natural pool that twinkled and that we could have stayed in forever. Had I known about the Fer-de-lances, I probably would have skipped it.

What do you think the law firm will look like in 20 years? Big change? No change? Somewhere in the middle?

I think that the surviving law firms will be tech-enabled, more specialized, and have more cross-functional professionals working in conjunction with the lawyers.

I ask the same final question of everyone: What non work-related invention would you like to have right now?

A cure for Alzheimer’s.

Thank you for your time and for the photo of your frog, in particular. I hope we showed his good side!

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.