Photo of Ryan McClead

Ryan is Principal at Sente Advisors, a legal technology consultancy specializing in cross-platform solutions and support.  He has been an evangelist, advocate, consultant, and creative thinker in Legal Technology for more than 15 years. In 2015, he was named a FastCase 50 recipient, and in 2018, he was elected a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. In past lives, he was an Innovation Architect, Knowledge Manager, a Systems Analyst, a Fashion Merchandiser, and Theater Composer, among other things.

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few years, you may have wondered what happened to Ryan. Until about a month ago, I had only written 2 or 3 posts in the last 2 and a half years.  If you check my work history on LinkedIn, you’ll see that my dearth of writing coincides with my departure from a large law firm and entry into the vendor space.

In a large firm I was busy, but I could focus on the things in front of me knowing that all the other business pieces were taken care of. In my free time, I could write on 3 Geeks regularly. In a startup/small tech company, everyone wears a lot of hats. I traveled a lot, I did marketing, business development, product testing, and I built solutions for clients. If I wrote, it was usually web content for the company, or thought pieces for publication. Writing for the blog was complicated, because I always felt compelled to write about my company’s products or solutions and I never wanted to take advantage of 3 Geeks to advertise. What changed in the last month, you ask?  Well, I quit my job. Continue Reading Introducing Sente

The final assignment for one of my college theory courses was to write at least 32 bars of music for 4 voices, containing 3 key and 2 time signature changes, that demonstrated 6 of 10 special techniques that we’d been taught, all while adhering to the standard rules of 4-part harmony.  And rather than simply writing it out and turning it in, we had to perform it in front of the class.

We were given the final assignment halfway through the course to ensure that we had plenty of time to complete it.  The last week of class was entirely devoted to performing our assignments. Some people played their pieces on piano.  Some dragged string or brass quartets into class. My best friend did his as a barbershop quartet.

The performances were good – most of the class were talented musicians – but the compositions were mostly ‘exercise-like’.  I hate academic exercises. I did then and I do now. I need work to have purpose and meaning beyond simply ‘that’s the assignment’. So while most students stood up and said something like, “this is my final assignment, it was really hard, I’m not a composer, please be nice to me”, I took a very different approach. I went to the front of the class and said something like this…

Our reluctant hero, a young peasant Boy, is approaching the end of his quest. He and his travel companion, an aging Wizard who has mentored the boy throughout their journey, stand on a bluff overlooking a lush green valley.  At the opposite end of the valley is the gleaming city where the Boy’s quest will finally come to an end. The Boy, eager to complete his quest, struggles to contain his excitement, but the Wizard motions for the Boy to come sit by his side.  The Wizard sings…

Continue Reading Lessons from a Former Life #4

Capture d’écran de Musescore 1.2 utilisé sous KDE

When I first moved to NY, I wrote all my music out by hand.  I’d buy staff paper with the lines pre-drawn, and I’d fill in clefs, time signatures, key signatures, measures, notes, etc.  This worked great, except that it was extremely time consuming, labor intensive, and my music notation was almost as bad as my handwriting, so even I had trouble reading it.  Thankfully, at about the same time, affordable music notation programs were coming on the market and surprise surprise, I was an early adopter.  These programs connected a PC or Mac to a keyboard using the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) and frankly, there were more than a few bugs in the system.

It was not uncommon for me to spend all day, playing music into the computer, reformatting, spacing it just right, and meticulously editing lyrics, only to have the program crash right before I took a break for dinner.  Just like working in word processors of the time, I learned to save my work often, but unlike word processors, saving work was not necessarily an indication that I could actually retrieve my work later. The midi files would often become corrupted at which point, none of my work was salvageable.

The first few tens of times this happened, I was completely dejected. All of my time and effort was wasted.  My brilliant compositions were lost forever, sacrificed to the fickle and wicked gods of MIDI.  I cursed the software, the computer, the keyboard, and myself for being such a lazy composer.  Mozart never had notation software, and he seemed to do okay.  Every time this happened I would sulk for a while, have stiff drink or two, and start all over again the next day.

Over time I began to notice a pattern emerging.  The work that took me all day to do the day before, only took half a day to complete the second time around, and in the process of recreating my earlier work, I invariably streamlined, simplified, and generally created something markedly better than I had done the day before.  This was universal.  I never once ended up with a worse piece of music having lost my original to MIDI corruption. Over time I came to relish in these opportunities.  I would rock up to dinner with friends, beaming with satisfaction and when they asked why I was so happy, I’d say “I lost all the music I wrote today to corrupt MIDI files.”  Needless to say, they thought I was nuts, but in my experience lost to corruption meant that I was going to create something even better the next day.

Continue Reading Lessons from a Former Life #3

Once upon a time

In my second year of college I started an independent study course with an associate professor to learn music composition.  I’d had years of study, and I figured I knew just about everything there was to know about the theory of music by that point.  I regularly spent hours in the practice room catacombs writing through-composed rock operas that would one day fill arenas of people all singing along.  I didn’t really need composition lessons, but I figured, what the hell, I’m good at this. I’ll get an assignment day one, turn it around in an hour and spend the rest of the week writing my own stuff.  Easy A.

On day one, I showed up and the professor asked me to play some of my music, so he could understand where I was in my development as a composer.  I played a handful of my latest hits.  These were pieces that all of my friends loved.  One was raucous and loud, with a catchy melody and wild bluesy piano riffs.  One was sweet and quiet, and guaranteed to make every girl’s mother cry.  Some were upbeat and fun, and some were boisterous and stirring.  I chose these pieces to show off my range of styles and emotions.

The professor was very complimentary.  It clearly wasn’t the kind of music he wrote or listened to, but he could appreciate my passion and recognized that I had talent.  He thought about it for a moment and said, “Okay, here’s your assignment for the week, I want you to write a melody.”

“Great, yep.  Any particular style?  Time signature?  Key?”

“Nope, I don’t care about any of that. But I want it to be a single stand-alone melody of at least 32 bars.”

“Cool, uh huh.  Got it. Can do.”

“Using only two intervals.”

I swear someone in the other room pulled a needle across a record at that very moment.

Continue Reading Lessons from a Former Life #2

via Giphy

When I was a young man, I hated practicing the piano.  Beethoven. Haydn. Schumann. Boring. And truth be told, I was never a very good pianist, but I loved playing the piano.  I would sit and play for hours, not any written music mind you, I was just exploring the keyboard, trying different combinations, listening to the various harmonies and dissonances that I could create.  My mother tells horror stories of hours of the same 4 chords played with slight variation, over and over and over again and again and again until she would scream, “Don’t you have some MUSIC to practice?”

My piano teacher knew I was never going to be a great pianist, but in the fifth grade she made a deal with me.  For every great masterwork I learned, I could create my own.  From that moment on, I always played two pieces at each recital.  One boring piece some dead white European guy (DWEG) wrote, and one brilliant original McClead composition. Continue Reading Lessons from a Former Life #1

A man recently approached me during a break in a workshop I was running and said, “You ran innovation at a large global law firm, right?”  No matter how it’s worded, this is always a tricky question.  My title at the firm was Innovation Architect and I was tasked with finding innovative uses of technology to solve problems within the firm.  But I had no direct reports, no budget, and as a ‘non’ at a law firm, it’s hard to say I actually ran anything.  Still, I had some very successful innovation initiatives at the firm, so for the sake of brevity I replied, “Yep.”

His eyes lit up as he inched closer, “Good, you’re the man I need to talk to.”  He glanced from side to side, then speaking just above a whisper asked, “How do you innovate a law firm?”   I laughed, smiled broadly, and told him the truth. “You don’t.”  His eyes fell, and I immediately felt terrible, so I tried to buoy his spirits by asking him a few questions about himself.

Continue Reading How do you ‘innovate’ a law firm?

The five-word phrase in the title of this post is likely the second most common five-word phrase I utter on a regular basis.  The most common being, “What a crock of sh**!”

Coincidentally, I uttered my most common five word phrase on Sunday, January 29th when I first heard about the Trump travel ban on 7 predominantly Muslim countries.  This is not a political forum and I’m not going to go into politics here, but that travel ban led to a fantastic example of  Rapid Prototyping and Iterative Design (RPID).

RPID is a concept found in Design Thinking, essentially you build a limited example of what you’re imagining and share it with stakeholders, and then take their feedback and expand or adjust your prototype.  Then you do it again.  And again.  And again.  Do this enough times and you end up with something that usually looks or acts nothing like any stakeholders originally imagined, but that meets all stakeholders needs in a much better way.

I’ve been talking about RPID for many years, going back to my days at Norton Rose Fulbright.  Going back to before I ever even heard the phrase.  This was essentially my approach to writing music, back when I did things like that. But in law firms, “Rapid Prototyping and Iterative Design” is usually seen as crazy talk.

Firms are loathe to deliver anything that isn’t ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ and sometimes there are very good reasons for that.  ‘Imperfect’ or ‘incomplete’ legal work may lead to ‘malpractice’.  But that’s no reason to ignore the benefits of the Rapid Prototyping approach.  RPID is how you ultimately get to something approaching ‘perfect’ and ‘complete’ with software development.

Back to the Trump travel ban.  I saw reports of volunteer lawyers camping out at airports all around the country and said to myself, “Self, we have technology that can help this situation.”  Unfortunately, Legal Week started the next day in New York and I was swamped for the next few days.  On Wednesday evening, my company, Neota Logic hosted a cocktail party and I ran into my friend Joshua Lenon from Clio.  Joshua mentioned that Clio was working with a group of volunteer lawyers in Seattle headed by Greg McLawsen, and that they needed an intake and distribution system.

  • On Friday evening last Greg started a Slack channel devoted to this project.  
  • On Saturday afternoon we had our first prototype. 
  • On Sunday afternoon we had our third prototype and a website.  
  • On Monday the website and Neota Logic application went live servicing one airport.  
  • Today, Tuesday, we sent out a press release, got covered by the Seattle Times, and now have 7 airports being serviced with more coming in hourly.

The tool is evolving quickly with new functionality being added every day.  The video below was published an hour ago, but I just changed the way the lookup feature works for supervisors during my lunch hour.

This is Rapid Prototyping and Iterative Design in practice.  The applications I built are simply gathering and distributing data.  There is no legal advice being given. But with a concerted effort and a passionate team, we went from idea to product that is actually making a difference in a few short days.

With committed people, the right technology, and most importantly, the right approach (RPID) you can accomplish incredible things very quickly.

The next step for AirportLawyer.org is to build a triage tool to help volunteer lawyers who are not familiar with immigration law to triage the needs of incoming immigrants.

We gotta have something to do tomorrow.

Watch the video below and check out AirportLawyer.org for more information or to get involved.

Ron Friedman recently posted the following video to twitter.

Ron and I have talked about this a lot, going back to my AI posts last December when
I suggested that we stop using the term Artificial Intelligence in
legal because it causes more confusion, consternation, and general
trouble than it’s worth.

First, to answer Ron’s
question, why all the AI hype in the legal market?  The AI hype isn’t
happening in the legal market.  It’s happening throughout the world. 
It’s now in our homes with Nest Thermostats and Hue light bulbs.  It’s in
our pockets with Siri, and in our offices with Alexa. It’s the basis of
one of the most engrossing shows on HBO right now, Westworld.  And we
still have brilliant people like Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warning
that AI will likely kill us if we don’t take precautions. What we’re
seeing in the legal market is just bleeding-through from the massive
hype happening in the rest of the world.  And I think it’s all about to
come crashing down.  We will shortly enter into the great Trough of
Disillusionment for AI.

I don’t say that because I
think AI will fail to live up to its promise.  On the contrary, I think
AI will way outstrip our current expectations.  However, we humans are
fickle.  Our expectations shift quickly. Louis C.K. explains it best in
his routine about Airplane WiFi
In the AI space, this same fickle attitude leads to an interesting
phenomenon, over time we adjust what we believe qualifies as AI.  The
more common a technology becomes the less we believe it to be Artificial
Intelligence. 

Google isn’t considered AI, but it
‘knows’ what you’re typing as you type, and then it filters a large
portion of the web to give you the most relevant pages.  It would have
easily been seen as AI twenty years ago.  Siri and Alexa personal
assistants respond to voice commands and can return information
instantly or actually perform tasks online, but they are considered
borderline AI at best these days. Completely self-driving automobiles
are still seen as Science Fiction and therefore are solidly in the AI
column, but I predict they will NOT widely be considered AI by the time
they are commercially available.  AI is a moving target. By the time a
technology is commercialized it’s no longer considered Artificial
Intelligence.  Consequently, we fickle humans are consistently
underwhelmed by the promise of AI even as AI fundamentally changes the
world around us.

The same is happening in legal right
now.  AI is all over the place from e-discovery to contract review, due
diligence, and data extraction, to my own company’s expert system platform.  (Oh, BTW.  I’ve got another new job since
last I wrote.) But the more we see of it, the less we believe it to
truly represent Artificial Intelligence.  AI is always just beyond the
horizon.  Just on the other side of the next technological
breakthrough.  It’s always something just slightly better than what we
can do right now.

So I say, “Don’t buy into the
AI hype!”  Not because AI is not real, but because hyperbolic
expectations for AI lead to a belief in ‘magical technology’. And
expectations of ‘magic yet to come’ will prevent you from taking
advantage of the remarkable and capable technology that is absolutely available
today. 

It’s not ‘Artificial’ Intelligence, it’s Your Intelligence: Augmented, Enhanced, and Multiplied.

This post originally appeared on the HighQ Blog.  

Last week, at the HighQ Forum in London, our new robot overlords displayed their mighty powers and declared that all human lawyers should line up and await their turn at the guillotine. 
Oh wait… I’m wrong, that didn’t happen.
However, we did get a brief glimpse into the future of legal service delivery, with what could arguably be called the first true robot lawyer. 
Yes, it’s a title that has been thrown around quite a bit recently. Both ROSS and KIM have been labeled robot lawyers, but ROSS is a very powerful research tool and KIM is a ‘virtual assistant’, akin to Siri for law. 
Not to in any way diminish either of these technologies, if moderately pressed, I will admit to being a huge fan-boy when it comes to both of them, but I think the term robot lawyer when applied to these technologies has invited skepticism and derision from people who claim that computers simply cannot do what humans can do. 
We set out to do some actual lawyering with computers.
HighQ Collaborate is a platform that allows for easy sharing and communication within firms, or between clients and firms. We may not be not the obvious choice for setting out to create a robot lawyer.
But therein lies the strength of our approach, because our robot lawyer is not a product.  It’s not a creation of a single company. It’s simply a proof of concept to show what is possible when you combine resources and tools that you have at your disposal to create something that is greater than the sum of it’s parts. 
This is a technique I talk about a lot, that I call bricolage.
Bricolage gives you the best of both the Buy and Build options. You are still building a custom solution to solve you particular problem. That could potentially give your firm a competitive advantage.
However, you are also using purpose built tools that are fully supported by other companies to ensure that you have the most robust solution possible. To me, bricolage is the answer to the Buy vs. Build question for law firms.
In February, HighQ announced its integration with RAVN, an AI data extraction tool that allows you to pull specific data out of unstructured documents and to move it into a structured format. 
On June 9th, at our Client Forum, we also announced integration with Neota Logic, a different kind of AI that allows you to build powerful expert systems to replicate virtually any logical process that can be codified.
For the forum I was joined on stage at the British Film Institute on the south bank of the Thames, by Sjoerd Smeets from RAVN and Greg Wildisen from Neota Logic. And as a demonstration of the combined power of our three platforms, we presented a scenario:
Imagine you’re a law firm, and you are approached by a client that is considering acquiring a large number of commercial leases. They want you to help determine the value of these leases over their entire term, as well as identify any risks associated with each lease.
Now, most firms would have two options:
  1. Get a bunch of young lawyers, or contract lawyers, in a room and have them manually plow through the many thousands of leases, calculating the value and highlighting and risky clauses or potential concerns.
  2. Work with the client to identify a subset of leases to review manually, and make a number of assumptions about the rest of the leases in order to provide some likely risks they may face.
But with HighQ, RAVN, and Neota, there is a third option.
Clients will commonly upload a large set of documents into our HighQ Collaborate site. An administrator will then go through the documents, ensuring that they are appropriately filed and then notify (or set auto-notifications to notify) the appropriate lawyers that the documents are out there waiting for some attention. 
In our demo last Thursday, the files were bulk uploaded and then RAVN went to work reviewing the documents.
First it identified the types of documents that were in the zip file. There were 10 commercial shopping mall leases and 5 ISDAs. As the audience watched, Sjoerd from RAVN, hit refresh and nothing happened.
He waited a second, hit refresh again, and nothing happened. He looked back at his laptop that was running the software, which I could see running, and I thought, “NOOOOO!  The curse of the live demo!” I was silently screaming what an idiot I must be for trying to do this live. 
But then Sjoerd hit refresh one more time, and you could see that the numbers were changing. RAVN was moving the files to the Shopping Mall Leases, and ISDA folders that we created. 
Then he clicked over to iSheets, our online spreadsheet/database module, and showed how RAVN was populating the sheet with information from the uploaded documents. First one row of data showed up, refresh, four more rows, refresh, all ten. And with that Sjoerd handed the computer over to Greg from Neota. 
Greg took the stage and showed the app that Neota had embedded into Collaborate. With the touch of one button marked, “Run Lease Assessment” the app performed four tasks for each lease. 
It calculated the portfolio rental value from any given start date, it assessed risks associated with the calculated rental value (such as tenants right for early termination and/or assignment, special obligations on the landlord, conditions around the security deposit, etc). 
Clicking through the app brings you to a valuation summary that shows the total value of the aggregated leases, as well as an aggregate Red Amber Green risk assessment of all leases. In addition, each lease is given its own valuation and risk report and the iSheet is updated with the valuation and risk report. It does all of this in seconds. 
I took the stage again and did my best Steve Jobs impersonation. “That is amazing!” Except, it wasn’t hyperbole, that is actually really amazing. Several people came up to me after and said, “I’m afraid your presentation was too slick, I don’t think that everyone in the audience understood what you three just did there.” 
But enough understood it. And enough can extrapolate to their own use cases and opportunities.  Enough can imagine how they could then use Collaborate to share the results of the AI engines, filtering views of the iSheets and permissioning them for different audiences, the client, the practice group, the contract lawyers, and any others you could think of. 
Each group seeing only the information that is relevant and important to their portion of the work at hand. Enough understood what we did on Thursday that they are beginning to talk, and they are beginning to ask whether we could make this work for their particular use case.   
This robot lawyer does not replace human lawyers. It makes them faster, more efficient, more consistent, and happier. 
Because this robot lawyer tells them where to focus their energies, on high risk leases, or contracts.  The kinds of things that lawyers really want to do, instead of mindlessly slogging through 50 mind-numbing, perfectly normal contracts a day, hoping to find the one anomaly in a hundred contracts. 
This robot lawyer doesn’t replace human lawyers. It makes them better lawyers.


I know I write my fair share of crap that is of minimal value to anyone, but that’s why we invite Casey Flaherty to post his epic legal tone poems on 3 Geeks.  His insight and valuable contributions balance my own questionable efforts.  After today, the ABAs Law Technology Today is in desperate need of a Casey Flaherty-type ringer.

As much as I hate to call anyone out for writing nonsense – pot/kettle – this turd of a puff piece got my hackles way up.

Four Ways Law Firms Are Using Technology For Exposure and Efficiency 

Helpfully subtitled: A shortlist of ways to leverage technology in your favor.

I know, I know. You’re saying, “Ryan, why would you bother to click on that link? We know that you know all about click bait titles. What pearls of wisdom were you expecting on the other side?”

I don’t know! Call it a moment of weakness at the end of a long day.  For the second and a half it took the page to load, I thought maybe one of the ‘four ways’ would be novel or new.  Something thrilling that I had never imagined. Something to spark my imagination and lead to my next great legal technology insight.

I’ll save you the brain cells.  The ‘four ways’ that law firms are using tech for exposure and efficiency, are:

  1. Becoming a Resource on Social Networks
  2. Blogging About Important Topics 
  3. Launching Law Firm Apps
  4. Digitizing Documents and Using Online Libraries

When I finished reading, I was sad.  5 minutes later, I was angry.  As any blogger can tell you, the stage that comes after anger is Blog Post.

This rant is not about the author, his credentials, his ideas, or his writing.  Mad props and hats off to anyone who can make a living writing anything at all. And I know this was a paid post because I dropped the text into word and confirmed that if you include the title, the post comes to exactly 750 words. That’s not coincidental.  No, the author is a new hero of mine. My scorn is reserved for the ABA and the editors of Law Technology Today.

If this is what the ABA thinks constitutes a modern use of tech for ‘exposure and efficiency’, they should probably rename the site Law Technology 2003.

Here’s my Four REAL Ways firms are using tech for exposure and efficiency:

  1. They are no longer spamming their clients on social networks and instead are building useful and useable tools that clients actually want/need and will pay for
  2. They automate absolutely everything they can so that some of their lawyers can focus on the cool stuff they imagined they’d be doing when they graduated from law school, and others can build the cool stuff that automates the boring stuff.
  3. They stop being so damn proprietary about every little tech idea they have. They’re proud and loud and shout their genius from the rooftops. 
  4. They digitize their documents and use online libraries
Well, I guess that last one would have been the same.  
I stand corrected.