UniCourt Influencer Q&A with Mike Russell of Expedia Group

on Topics: Future Law | Influencer Q&A | Legal Tech

UniCourt Influencer Q&A with Mike Russell of Expedia Group

Mike Russell’s career in legal IT has spanned decades, from the “dark ages” of legal technology to the explosion of modern-day legal IT. In his role building the legal operations team at Expedia Group, Mike strives to show that a solid legal ops team can provide better information to drive better business decisions. 

We really enjoyed our discussion with Mike about the future of legal operations. We hope you enjoy reading about Mike’s journey!

UniCourt: Tell us your story. What is your background, and what led you to what you are doing now?

Mike Russell: A life-long technology nerd and learner, I started tinkering with electronics and computers as a “child of the 80s,” and was lucky to work for one of the early Silicon Valley software companies (Informix, now part of IBM) followed by a year with the USDOT which involved supporting government attorneys. From there, a consulting gig led to a first career as a law firm IT director with a couple of mid-sized firms back in the “dark ages” of Novell networks and WordPerfect. 

Coming out of the Y2K wave of projects and through my years of involvement with the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA), I have my peer network to thank for a connection that led to my first in-house corporate legal opportunity with Liberty Mutual. I spent 15 years with that fantastic team, doing all the things we know today as legal operations back when eBilling was a new concept and long before the LegalTech ecosystem came to be. Later, I took a leap of faith and spent 6 years creating the legal operations function at what was then known as Ingersoll-Rand (now Trane Technologies). Mid-pandemic in 2020, always up for a challenge, I once again jumped headfirst into my current role, establishing and building legal operations here at Expedia Group.

UC: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges legal operations teams face when seeking to modernize their legal departments?

MR: To be successful, Legal Ops teams must be good change agents. Not change or tech just for the sake of it; rather, telling a story that starts with why a process should be changed – the underpinnings of continuous improvement – which almost always involves a combination of people, process, and technology.

While budgets and resources generally are often a big challenge, the ability to see around corners a bit and build a successful business case will help mitigate those blockers.

UC: What role should data science, analytics, and automated dashboards play in legal operations? What are some of the ways you think legal ops can leverage data to better serve the legal departments and the business?

MR: All of these things are key to visual management and informed decision-making. It’s often said that many organizations are data-rich, but information-poor.  Legal Ops is the key to using the data science and analytical skills to make things actionable. We seek to illustrate trends, expose gaps – abnormal vs. normal – and let decision makers know whether a given datapoint is as expected or an outlier.

UC: How has the rise in alternative legal services providers (ALSPs) changed the dynamics between legal operations, in-house counsel, and outside counsel? 

MR: The ability of an in-house corporate legal department to leverage law companies as an extension of their team gives them so much flexibility and ability to be nimble when business needs (or unexpected legal curveballs like litigation or regulation) demand it.

There will always be a place for outside counsel to represent their client, but as we know, so much of our work can be disaggregated and compartmentalized into chunks of work assigned to the right resource at the right cost to reach the desired outcome.

UC: How have advancements in legal technology improved the way legal operations teams and in-house counsel manage litigation at scale?

MR: Most definitely, advanced enterprise legal management (ELM) platforms enable collaboration by all involved team members, regardless of location or organization. Robust workflow technologies provide automation from the moment an organization is served with a lawsuit to triage and route/assign matters to the correct resource. Managing thousands of litigated claims in the insurance and product liability/mass tort sectors accelerated my application of technology at scale to manage a book of business like that. Applying advanced analytics and utilizing historical outcome data to help predict where a given matter may land gives in-house legal teams excellent insight and saves money by ensuring outside counsel is only performing truly value-added work versus simply churning through cases.

UC: Why are organizations like the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) critical to the advancement of legal operations?

MR: The ability to connect and learn from peers is invaluable. I mentioned having been involved with ILTA (established in the 1980s as a Wang user group) since 1994, when a few hundred people would gather annually to share how we were facing various challenges – including being able to bond together and influence vendor product roadmaps, such as with Microsoft before Word was capable enough to be the de facto standard. Over the years, the establishment of the ACC Legal Operations group, CLOC, Legal Innovators Network (LINK), Legal Operators, and Summit on Legal Innovation & Disruption (SOLID) have exponentially connected the overall legal ecosystem.

Whether you or your role (or both) are brand new, you can truly find your tribe through these organizations. CLOC, having embraced the entire legal ecosystem over the last couple of years, has really made it possible for an entire industry to collaborate and improve what we’re doing, how we do it, and the tools we use.

UC: What are some of your favorite sayings? What are some real-world examples of how you’ve seen those sayings come to life?

MR: Though it dates back to Seneca circa 65 AD, it is believed that Michelangelo at age 87 said, “I am still learning…” when painting St. Peter’s.  This comes to life in our industry given that no matter how long one has been involved, there is always something to learn and new ways to improve legal service delivery.

Of course, another one that goes to the heart of change management is Einstein’s “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”  One must be open to change in order to see results.

UC: What are your goals for 2022? What projects are you working on? Are there any events in the legal tech and legal innovation space we should know about?

MR: I’m looking forward to our massive Contract Lifecycle Management project coming to life and the continued recovery of the travel industry.

In addition to the large conferences, stay connected by participating in ACC/CLOC/ILTA regional gatherings and the smaller more focused events like those put on by Consero, SOLID East & West, Legal Operators, etc. 

UC: Where can we learn more about you and your work?

MR: Please connect with me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/lawtechnologist/)

I always enjoy chatting with people on all things legal ops, please don’t hesitate to reach out and say hello!

Legal Operations and the Future

Mike Russell knows the power of legal operations. By helping companies, like Expedia, see the value in legal operations, Mike is changing the way companies make critical choices, allowing them to make more informed, efficient business decisions. We can’t wait to see how Mike continues to change the legal operations landscape!