Welcome to the first of a few special Legal Week 2024 edition episodes of “The Geek in Review,” where we looked for innovative and creative ideas on the road and recorded live from the bustling environment of the 2024 Legal Week conference in New York.
Marlene Gebauer notes the transformation of Legal Week into a thought leadership conference, with a special mention of keynote speaker Bryan Cranston’s impactful talk on storytelling, branding, and the thoughtful application of AI in both the acting world and the legal tech space.
Joey Seeber, the guest for this episode, brings his experience and insights as the representative of Level Legal, a company that recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. Seeber shares the origin story of Level Legal, starting from its humble beginnings in 2009 in East Texas, evolving from a document review team within a law firm to a full-service eDiscovery and forensics company based in Dallas. Underlining the transition from paper to digital and the challenges of data hygiene, Seeber emphasizes the company’s growth and its focus on human-centric service in the legal tech industry.
Discussing the influence of generative AI and other technological advancements on legal services, Seeber provides a grounded perspective on the hype versus the reality of AI’s impact on the industry. He stresses the importance of human-to-human connections and hospitality in legal services, suggesting that while technical skills are essential, the ability to serve and delight clients sets Level Legal apart. Seeber notes the challenges of adapting to various eDiscovery platforms, the importance of a diverse skill set among staff, and the evolving roles within the legal tech ecosystem. Seeber’s vision for Level Legal includes a focus on what he terms the “excellence reflex” – a combination of curiosity, service instinct, and the anticipation of client needs.
In the “crystal ball” segment, Seeber cautiously predicts the trajectory of generative AI in legal tech, suggesting that significant changes may be more gradual than some expect. He reflects on the legal industry’s slow pace of adoption and the importance of integrating new technologies thoughtfully and effectively.
Twitter: @gebauerm, or @glambert
Threads: @glambertpod or @gebauerm66
Music: Jerry David DeCicca
Marlene Gebauer 0:07
Welcome to The Geek in Review. The podcast focused on innovative and creative ideas in the legal profession. I’m Marlene Gebauer,
Greg Lambert 0:13
And I’m Greg Lambert and we are recording live at 2024 Legal Week conference in New York. I just exciting. I just arrived this afternoon, just just in time, just in time to set up everything here at the table. We have a few scheduled interviews, this being one of them. But we’re going to pretend that we just pulled people right off the street here.
Marlene Gebauer 0:37
So you now you gave it away.
Greg Lambert 0:40
We’ll fix it. We’ll fix that in post.
Marlene Gebauer 0:43
It has been super high energy here. Lots of people, lots of vendors, lots of events. You know, we had the keynote speaker, Bryan Cranston was here. And, you know, I’ve been I’ve been talking to people that that this is really becoming a real sort of thought leadership type of, of conference. And so it’s it’s really kind of metamorphosis into that, which I think is a really good thing.
Greg Lambert 1:09
Yeah. Well, we’re joined with our first interview from Level Legal from Joey Seeber. Joey. Welcome to the Geek in Review.
Joey Seeber 1:18
Thank you. So good to be here.
Greg Lambert 1:19
Yeah. Did you did you catch Bryan Cranston?
Joey Seeber 1:23
I did not.
Greg Lambert 1:24
I didn’t either. So let me take this. I’m still what was Bryan Cranston have to do with legal tech?
Marlene Gebauer 1:34
So yeah, like I had that thought myself. Um, I, when I went in, I was kind of like, what is he going to talk about? You know, because my experiences with I’ll say celebrities, coming to kind of our conferences, I will say has not been good and has not been good in the past, because I really don’t understand what we’re doing. But this was good. There was a sort of q&a. And, you know, he was talking about the importance of storytelling, he was talking about the importance of branding, you know, he has a tequila company now. And so talking and talking about that, he was talking about basically being okay with kind of going out and not necessarily knowing everything. But you know, because that’s what actors do. They go into a role. And it’s different all the time. And they just, they just don’t know. So there were some themes there that I think resonated with the group. The other thing he talked about was AI and his feelings about AI. And he did have some feelings about that in his industry. And, and, but the message again, was, you know, yes, it’s here, but we sort of need to think, does it, you know, is, is it a good thing for humanity? And, you know, I think we also in our space, have to think about that, too. Is this is this something good that we’re doing in terms of the outcome as opposed to just because we can do what we do do it?
Greg Lambert 3:06
I can see. Okay, well, good. I missed it. Joey missed it. Glad you were here to feel much better. And I still think of him from the Dad from Malcolm in the Middle more than I think of the Breaking Bad character.
Marlene Gebauer 3:19
We talked about that. I thought he was still in the judge, but apparently he’s not. But he’s in a new movie that’s releasing Argyle that’s released on Friday. Cool, cool.
Greg Lambert 3:28
Well, well, Joey enough. Bryan Cranston. Let’s let’s get over you. And you certainly from so I know, love illegal just celebrated its 15th year in existence. For the audience that may not have heard of Level Legal Can you kind of talk to us a little bit about how it started, and what the trend in transition has been over the years. Thank you.
Joey Seeber 3:51
Level Legal started on the 20th of January 2009. One of the reasons it’s so easy to remember it was Obama’s inauguration day, I remember that day. And we were moving in the in the rain had its genesis and a law firm in the eastern in East Texas and Tyler eastern district rocket docket. We had some, my partner was working as local counsel for several technology companies. And first of all, you got to think back to 2009 this is pre iPhone, this is still you know, we’re going from paper to to digital. And it was in the we’ll talk we’ll say the mid 2000s that there’s no on spoken or recorded thought, you know, we’re still emailing everything that we’re thinking and there’s wasn’t that wasn’t great hygiene. The data hygiene there were the numbers of documents is growing immensely and so it became cost prohibitive in large cases, any times for clients to pay law firms. to review all the documents, the review tools at the time again 15 years ago were if there were any, they were primitive. That’d be nice. Did I say that? So there was a whole lot of review. And so my partner, who was working in a law firm, said to one of his clients, you know, what, we can review those documents with a small team of lawyers in the law firm will give you a discounted rate. And we can do it here in the district where the where, where the litigation is. So he had that team for about five years, he left the law firm, contacted me to join him, I said, I actually left the practice of law for a reason. But tell me about this little team. Right? And so it was out of that, that we grew with one team, I mean, one client, one project, and started what what became Level Legal. So
Greg Lambert 5:56
and where, where were you based? It’s
Joey Seeber 5:58
based in Tyler. I served as the mayor of Tyler for six years. So that was just preceding this. So that was why he said, Would you like to practice law with me? I was leaving the mayor gig and he thought I had time on my hands. That’s a different story, a different podcast. So look, the idea was, so as I was talking with him about what we might do, tell me about this little team. I began practicing in 1990. And discovery was my first project was, here’s a conference room full of bankers, boxes of documents, go through them and see which ones might be important to the partner. Right? This is basically the same thing, different tools. So once I understood exactly what his little team was doing, I said, I think that’s a thing. It feels like that’s a thing because of the value proposition. Let’s create a spin off company and see if we can make something of it. So that’s the genesis.
Greg Lambert 7:01
And was it called Level Legal right
Joey Seeber 7:03
So here’s the evolution, it was level two review. And level two was what we thought was our own little special QC process. Then we were level two legal because we were doing more than review. And then we got so many questions as we grew about, what’s that to me? doesn’t really mean anything anymore. So it’s Level Legal.
Greg Lambert 7:21
It’s that next level?
Joey Seeber 7:24
Once we can do with that, yeah. So fast forward to today. Maybe that’s your next question is how are you today?
Marlene Gebauer 7:30
The next question,
Joey Seeber 7:31
I’ll let you ask it, how would you how would you go ahead, you
Marlene Gebauer 7:35
go ahead. This is This is yours. So it’s like but you know, it’s like I liked hearing the history of, of how the company has has come to be so you know, what’s, you know, what are we looking at, you know, for the future.
Joey Seeber 7:47
We’re now a full service ediscovery and forensics company. So everything from collection, forensics, hosting, and processing, review and production. That’s what we do based in Dallas. Now. As we’ve grown, I’ve moved to Dallas, the company’s based in Dallas. At one point last year, we had over 500 employees and contractors working on various projects.
Greg Lambert 8:14
Have you thought about becoming the mayor of Dallas now? No. Okay.
Joey Seeber 8:18
I’m done. A long time ago. Yeah.
Greg Lambert 8:21
Our my firm is based in Dallas. Yeah. Yeah, I hear about that. Yeah. And so what what’s kind of the services that you provide now that in and over the past 1415 months since the big generative AI ai boom, has that had any kind of influence on the way that you are looking at providing services?
Joey Seeber 8:49
No, okay. Surprisingly, no. Okay. Let me just do first of all, we’re always, as you know, you’re both practicing attorneys or in law firms. We’ve been using AI for over a decade, right? It’s just been called different things. You know, the hype now was around generative AI, and what will that do? We’re obviously curious about it. We’re watching it, we’re using all of the tools that are in the suites that we use. There’s no magic bullet out there. We’re looking for it like everybody else is. My own take on it is when when these tools emerge, they’re going to be part of larger suites, whether that’s Microsoft or relativity or whatever it is. And so we we are deploying in a bespoke manner, whatever is best for that client and that project. Sometimes it uses AI, generative AI yet, so we continue to deploy it, we continue to use it. What makes Level Legal different is that we’re about human to human where a human working for Level Legal and a human working for either a law firm or an end client. And the stuff in the middle is the tech, the stuff in the middle is all of the tools that we use. But when we remember where humans serving humans, that’s where the magic happens. So that’s the core of our business. And that’s who we are. What’s
Greg Lambert 10:27
been some kind of the, or what’s been some of the demand changes from your clients over the 15 years that you’ve been in existence? I imagine, you know, in 2008 2009, that because storing data was much cheaper, people started storing things they shouldn’t have been. We’ve hopefully you’ve learned from that. What are some bad habits that maybe people have now that you have to address?
Joey Seeber 10:57
I don’t know that. I don’t know. I think that’s how bad habits are still have been bad. Okay. If anything, I think there’s more knowledge about things not to record in writing, or to record in something that’s going to be preserved. But in terms of demand change in the tools, and the technology has gotten so much better. The impact that it’s had on our work is that so much more of the junk is caught, kind of upstream of where the where the review happens for a decade, we were review only, by the way, so we added forensics and eDiscovery, just in the last five years. So you get a much richer data set as a as an Amazon reviewer, most of what you’re looking at is likely to be responsive, or at least maybe responsive, whereas you were you were running through a bunch of junk before so the tools have gotten a lot better.
Marlene Gebauer 11:55
So I mean, it sounds like you have to work with a variety of different platforms, depending on your client, what their preferences. And I’m curious, in terms of your staffing and the skill sets that they need to have? How do you kind of handle that? Because I mean, they they all do work differently. And you know, when you discover anything, you have to really be an expert, and being able to, you know, extract some of this this data? And in addition to that, are you are there sort of different roles, like both in your organization? And maybe the people that you’re dealing with? On the client side? You know, do you or have you seen a change
Joey Seeber 12:41
that way, changing the roles of sort of
Marlene Gebauer 12:44
who you’re dealing with? Or, you know, sort of the change in the roles a change in the skill set? Things like that?
Joey Seeber 12:53
Probably I could answer the question exactly the way you anticipated, but tells you that was. So skills and competence with a technical competence is kind of table stakes. So we’re looking for that first. But what we’re looking for most, or all of the things around that. So we’re doing we’re doing a survey of your your personality and how you work. We’re we’re interviewing behaviorally for your values. We’re looking to see are you can you be a hospitality expert, in addition to the kinds of things that you can do, technically. So it’s more challenging for us to find people. But that’s what we’re looking at. Not that didn’t answer your question. Obviously, in terms of roles. There’s, there’s look, there’s more, there’s more knowledge, there’s more expertise on both sides. Right, both in in Ireland, I mean, geez, you know, there weren’t even the the tools were primitive back in 2000.
Greg Lambert 14:00
You’re still using a lot of spreadsheets back then. Yeah.
Joey Seeber 14:05
Expertise, you know, on our side, or on the side of those providing the services increased as well. So obviously, those roles have changed and expanded and good career opportunities for a lot of people. But
Greg Lambert 14:17
I want to go back to the why is having the ability to work in the hospitality. Why why is that important? Why why do you see that as an important skill set,
Joey Seeber 14:30
but has it been lost? And it’s been lost? I think in legal if I can be that bold. You know, if we think about how, what legal profession started, we are we were people are humans helping humans solve a problem that they have with the service industry service industry? What? Oh, yeah, by the way, it’s a service industry. And we can talk about why and how and all that doesn’t matter. out or it’s changed. And it’s not approachable by a lot of people. And it’s scary for a lot of folks. And let’s be honest, people are not used to hospitality or even good service in many cases in our business. So our tagline, making legal human, we shouldn’t have to make it it should be, should be from the beginning. So we’re we like to say that we’re in the hospitality business, and we happen to be in legal. So when we can not just do what you hire us to do, and tick it off, to fulfill the statement of work. But if we can somehow, and yes, we use these words, if we can somehow make you smile, while we’re doing it, if we can delight you, whether it’s what the report looks like the information in the report, what time of day you receive the report, whether it’s, you know, finding out something about you, that we can cater to serve you in a way that you’re not expecting to be served, you’re going to remember that, you’re going to remember, if we’ve given you peace of mind, you’re going to remember if we’ve delighted you, and you’re gonna say, hey, those are the people I want to work with. So there are a lot of people that do the technical stuff in our business. A lot of people can host doc, collect documents, host documents, process documents, review documents, there’s not a lot of hospitality, in our business.
Marlene Gebauer 16:29
I’m curious, like, when you’re doing sort of the behavioral interviews, like sort of what’s the persona, that, you know, you’re, you know, you’re finding is, is most successful? Because, you know, your point before about how like, anybody can be technical. You know, my experience is a lot of people and you discover you’re like highly, highly technical. And but you know, I’m very curious to hear what kind of persona you’re finding is successful. We
Joey Seeber 16:57
have, we have 10 points that we, that we are looking for, and we have them articulated, I can’t remember all 10. But we were also looking for what we call that excellence reflex. And it’s, it’s, it’s that thing that’s almost undefinable, where you’re looking to, you’re curious, that’s one of the things we’re looking for curiosity, right. Your instinct is to serve, your instinct is to anticipate that’s what we’re looking for. So those are the those are some of the behaviors that we’re looking for as we’re interviewing people, because that’s what we need to provide to our customers and clients.
Marlene Gebauer 17:43
That sounds good.
Greg Lambert 17:45
Oh, Joey, we ask everyone, our crystal ball question. I don’t think I don’t think we told you that we were going to do this to you. But it’s pretty, it’s pretty easy.
Joey Seeber 17:56
Still recorded it on the record? Yeah. I’ll give you the offer record later.
Greg Lambert 18:01
We ask everyone to kind of pull out their crystal ball and peer into the future for us. And so what do you see over the next two to five years as either a major challenge or a major change that will happen in the industry as you see it?
Joey Seeber 18:18
So two to four is the window to two to four,
Greg Lambert 18:21
but again, be the two to three? You get to choose the question the way he or she may choose.
Joey Seeber 18:30
I don’t think we’ll see major impact from generative AI ai in the next two or three years.
Marlene Gebauer 18:38
10. Yeah, in general, are in sort of the
Joey Seeber 18:41
I mean, in our in our world, and our ediscovery kind of legal why? It’s good. It’s good. Actually, it’s got informed by Bill Gates. So I don’t remember the name of his book, which was in like, 99. But I read a book and he, he said something, something like this, which is tech doesn’t change the world in three years, as much as we think it will. And it changes in 10 years, more than we think it will. And so my sense is that much like many of the other things that have hiked through the years. It’s not something to be feared, but it’s something that provides percent opportunity. And I don’t think it will be mature in two or three, but probably even more than we anticipate in 10. It’s just, just a it’s just a hunch I could I could be completely wrong. I will say this in 2010 2010. We just started our business and we were we were rolling open another office and I came to my first Legal, we have legal tech at the time. And I went to one of the sessions, which was called document review. 2015. So five years
Greg Lambert 20:09
of close did they get? It was a
Joey Seeber 20:11
tech company. Obviously, we had a tool. And of course, the prediction the teaser was the prediction was, eyes on review will not exist while yours will be displaced, right? Just started this competition by future partners go we made a big mistake. So
Marlene Gebauer 20:34
bad marketing choice right there.
Joey Seeber 20:36
That’s, well, I mean, it’s informative, right? You don’t put your head in the sand. It’s not as if it’s not not gonna mature and it’s not gonna affect our business. The other the other bit is let’s face it, we as legal was lawyers, we move pretty slowly. Yeah, a lot of courts there are a lot of there’s just a lot of adoption that’s required for something like that. And
Marlene Gebauer 20:58
it’s not just the first the whole system
Joey Seeber 21:02
ecosystem, so that’s what’s not going to happen. Okay. Now, you’ll remind me we you know, when we’re legal tech 2027 You’re gonna come back and go,
Greg Lambert 21:12
Joey, you said…
Marlene Gebauer 21:14
What happened? We have it recorded.
Greg Lambert 21:18
Well, Joey Seebers, thank you very much from Level Legal. Thank you very much for letting us letting us get you off the floor for a little bit. Thank you and talking about Yes, thank
Marlene Gebauer 21:28
you very much. And thanks to all of you, our listeners for taking the time to listen to The Geek in Review podcast. If you enjoy the show, share it with a colleague. We’d love to hear from you. So reach out to us on social media. I can be found on LinkedIn or on X at @gebauerm and on threads at @mgebauer66. And
Greg Lambert 21:48
I can be reached on LinkedIn or on X @glambert and @glambertpod on threads. Joey if people want to find out more about Level Legal where’s the best place to look?
Joey Seeber 21:57
Level legal.com Or I’m Jay Seeber@level legal.
Greg Lambert 22:00
There we go.
Marlene Gebauer 22:02
And as always, the music you hear is from Jerry David DeCicca. Thank you, Jerry.
Greg Lambert 22:06
Thanks, Jerry. All right. Thank you, everyone.