Eugene P. Stein Arming the 21st Century Lawyer: A Firm's Technology Whiz Shares his Insights

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Stein is a 1994 graduate of St. John's University School of Law in Queens, NY. He and his team are more than just the "computer guys" who swoop in when a computer crashes; they also develop new and innovative technology specifically for the firm. Stein's success recently earned him the Legal IT Achiever of the Year Award from the Legal IT Forum.

Q: How did you get into this field?

Being a lawyer is somewhat of a second career for me. I'd always been a technologist. After practicing for a few years, I was offered an opportunity to combine my technology background with the practice of law to find ways to make the practice of law better. That field has become known as Knowledge Management. It's trying to figure out what do lawyers know, what do lawyers do, how do we share collectively our wisdom, our knowledge, and make use of it?

Q: What are the rewards and challenges of your work?

You take a whole bunch of very high energy, smart professionals and try to get them to share what they know. It's a significant challenge. Many of the rewards are I get to see just about every area of the law firm, the business, and how it's practiced. I get involved with clients, I get involved with supporting the practice, and I practice. You really just do a little bit of everything in this particular role. You also get involved in rather interesting legal questions and challenges that come up from clients, as well as what we as a law firm need to try to figure out.

Q: What are some common stumbling blocks for lawyers using technology?

The biggest challenge is people are used to computers at home and used to being able to do whatever they want on the computer at home. [Here,] you're working on a system that's networked with everyone else. One of the major challenges is to take the time to go to training and learn how the system works. Carpenters need to know how to use the tools they have to build a house. Lawyers need to learn the tools they need to practice law. One of the biggest problems we have is training. Folks figure they know it because they have it at home.

Q: How does being a lawyer yourself give you an advantage?

I already have the vernacular down. I'm not coming at this from a pure technical perspective, but I understand what lawyers do, how they've been trained, and how they work. When I work with partners and associates, I can easily walk in there as a fellow attorney and bring in the pieces of technology or knowledge components and get right to the point. A two-word phrase to me might take 10 minutes to explain to somebody who doesn't have a legal background. It certainly facilitates the conversation. It makes our selection of software and hardware that much easier because we don't need to involve the lawyers every step of the way.

Q: What are some of the innovative ways your firm uses technology?

I think we've got various, very good collaborative tools in place. We have 44 offices around the globe, so it allows our attorneys, regardless of time zone or location, to work seamlessly with one another for common clients or legal issues that they're collaborating on. That's rather unique. That's also built on top of a sophisticated set of knowledge libraries where we have practice notes, model legal forms, and model precedents available for all of our attorneys so they can find experts throughout the firm easily. They can bring the right legal skills to bear on a particular problem for a client.

The third component is kind of proselytizing and getting the lawyers to use it. We have very good success rates of attorneys within the firm using these systems to practice. It's important for the up-and-coming law students who are graduating because they're getting used to an environment where they have instant access to all sorts of information. They're used to wireless connectivity and getting it any time of the day or the night. We're trying to create that kind of an atmosphere here at the firm.

We've done technology fairs here where we try out new and different pieces of technology. We once built a desk out of a very large touch screen to see if the lawyers, as they're reviewing documents, would find that an easy way to work. We show those things off, we embed little bits of technology into everyday items like binder clips. These are things we've tried; some have been better received than others.

Q: Lawyers and technology—is that a good match?

I would say most lawyers view technology as a necessary evil. I would say 60 to 70 percent of them view it that way. There are really some who are really savvy and love it and can't get enough to help them with their practice. The rest of them are like, "It's a necessary evil."

Q: What's your advice for those interested in your field?

Really understand how to learn the law, which is what law school teaches you. But really have a good grasp of how you learn the law. That will help you understand how to integrate tools to help people learn the law.

Q: What do you look for when hiring?

I look for people with technology backgrounds. I look for people with very good people skills, who understand how attorneys research, how they write and draft their documents, how they prepare for trial.

Q: What are some of your niftiest technology inventions for the firm?

We're just about to deploy a global search engine within our firm. I hesitate to use a word like Google because Google signifies a really simple search. We're about to deploy a search that's concept-based. It helps you find previous legal product and experts in the firm just by saying, "Tell me everyone who knows everything about leasing property on the moon." And it will go across our knowledge libraries and even our work product and bring back these three people throughout the firm who have done that type of work. It's very neat.

St. John's University School of Law


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