UniCourt Influencer Q&A with Maya Markovich of Dentons’ Nextlaw Labs
Today’s legal practice is marked by its interdisciplinary approach to problem solving: Legal issues rarely – if ever – exist in a vacuum and as such, attorneys who bring a diversity of professional experiences and interests to firms are key players in innovation. Maya Markovich is an example of how an interdisciplinary approach to legal practice can lead to a creative, innovative, and fulfilling career trajectory. With a background spanning behavioral science, law, investment, and change management, Maya delivers technology, process, and business development services for the world’s largest law firm through its tech-focused innovation hub Nextlaw Labs.
Maya is a sought-after speaker at legal tech conferences and frequently writes on topics relating to legal tech and innovation. She was named one of five Influential Women of Legal Tech by ILTA in 2020, a Woman Leading Legal Tech by the Technolawgist in 2019, and an ABA Legal Technology Resource Center Woman of Legal Tech 2018 for her work in encouraging, designing, and implementing the future of the legal profession.
We were grateful to speak with Maya and get an insider’s glimpse of her life and career as an academic, consultant, product management professional, and legal tech pioneer.
UniCourt: Tell us your story. What’s your background, and what led you to legal tech as a career?
Maya Markovich: My career path has not been linear, but it’s been really instrumental in my current role. I started out with an academic background in behavioral science and organizational psychology, focusing on how groups influence each other and adapt to new patterns, which led me initially to change management consulting in tech. I then went to law school to continue developing my skills in an arena where I felt I could have a broader social impact, and practiced for several years just as legal tech was beginning to gain traction. While deploying and maximizing tech to streamline labor intensive processes with ever-increasing data and a high risk of human error, I became really intrigued by how technology could improve results for clients and let lawyers spend more time on strategic tasks.
I eventually made the leap over to the legal tech industry, in product management and product marketing roles for businesses targeting various aspects of the business or practice of law. Then Nextlaw Labs found me, and I immediately recognized the opportunity to bring together all these threads of my experience in a groundbreaking effort.
UC: It’s really unique that your career path involves a confluence of disciplines, from psychology to law to product management. How do these experiences inform your work in legal tech?
MM: While no two days at Nextlaw Labs are the same, I leverage these skills every day! It’s a great place to utilize my past experience to create meaningful and substantive change in the legal industry, and at the same time be constantly learning.
A lot of what we do is change management, and I draw on that experience to maximize engagement, drive adoption, and overcome resistance. There’s a growing understanding that change is imperative, especially now, which helps build momentum. An understanding of how people think and what motivates them is also useful to gain buy-in on new processes and to bring diverse stakeholders together for a common goal that benefits them individually and collectively. And of course, in addition to user experience, product lifecycle, and project management roles, I’ve also been an end user. It all informs my day to day thinking as I evaluate client perspectives and keep multiple efforts in motion.
UC: What is Nextlaw Labs? Tell us what initially sparked that project and your involvement in it.
MM: Dentons recognized early on that the legal profession is undergoing disruption, driven by things like globalization, technology, generational shifts, and most imminently, client needs and expectations. Nextlaw Labs was founded in 2015 to shape and drive this disruption – the first effort of its kind by a law firm. We act as an innovation catalyst within Dentons, leveraging early-stage legal technology that is solving an identified challenge on the firm or client side in a compelling way. We also work closely with Nextlaw Ventures, the Nextlaw Labs investment arm, to accelerate the portfolio companies by helping them tap into the subject matter expertise and ecosystem of the firm to scale.
I’m really fortunate that I can use my natural passion to generate awareness, inspire connection, and push for progress here. Nextlaw Labs offers a continual intellectual and creative challenge that is (mostly) free of drudgery or preconceived definitions of success. Delivering concrete progress can give people more control over their time and tasks, rather than less, and makes space for creativity across the spectrum.
UC: What are some of the biggest challenges and greatest opportunities you see on the horizon for BigLaw? How do you see the terrain shifting for firms that are embracing legal tech?
MM: Wading through the thousands of new legal tech solutions available can be a daunting task. Many of these tools are also AI-based and not necessarily optimized out of the box, so while they are powerful, they can take a fairly significant investment to implement and resources to deploy. While they may not be practical for smaller firms to explore (at least not yet), BigLaw typically has more resources to invest in vetting and piloting tools before committing, so firms like Dentons are often best placed to adopt cutting-edge tools.
Further, with regard to AI where training the technology tends to be a factor for success, having users across multiple regions training up models for various projects helps big firms receive an exponential benefit, not only from the sheer volume of data they generate, but also from diverse perspectives available to train those models.
UC: What advice would you give to other women, especially those who are still in law school or just graduating, who want to get involved in legal tech?
MM: There’s a big opportunity here, and I’d encourage women to jump in if it’s something that interests you. Those just starting out in their legal careers should embrace the breaking wave of legal industry transformation, and while lawyers who have been practicing a long time can be somewhat daunted, some practical experience can be helpful, as a key voice in tech is the end-user perspective.
Take the time to think about what environments interest you and suit your personality and career objectives: legal departments, firms, nonprofits, and legal tech startups all have roles for motivated tech and innovation-focused team members who can excel in these hybrid roles. Seek out mentors – the legal tech community is by and large very supportive and open. Read everything you can, write on relevant topics, and follow legal tech leaders on social media.
UC: What are some of your favorite sayings? Do you have any real-world examples of how you’ve seen those sayings come to life?
MM: I love both of these – they encapsulate both my professional and family lives – and together they are even greater than the sum of their parts:
“I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible – oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.” — Tina Fey
“It always seems impossible until it is done.” — Nelson Mandela
UC: What are your professional goals for the coming year? What projects are you working on? Are there any upcoming events in the legal tech or legal innovation space we should be aware of?
MM: It’s been hard to see so many conferences cancelled due to the pandemic, partly because the legal tech community is truly global and we miss seeing each other at these points in time every year. This year I’m continuing to work a lot with law schools/students and legal nonprofits to leverage my current role to hopefully contribute to a broader societal benefit. I serve on the boards of Legal Access Alameda, LexLab, and OneJustice, and as mentor for LegalGeek’s Women in LawTech and University of Arizona TechLaw Fellows programs, supporting legal tech initiatives to improve access to justice and gender equity.
The current day-to-day uncertainty makes it harder to set some types of goals, but I am also seeing glimmers of hope that we can and will emerge from this shared experience with more clarity, resourcefulness, resiliency, empathy and renewed commitment to what matters. I’m aiming to work smart, keep a longer-term perspective and remain a student of my profession, with the persistence to add value and accelerate legal transformation out of this curve. On a personal level, I’m making a point to appreciate my health, my job, and my family every day – and striving to stay human, humble and kind.
UC: Where can we learn more about you and your work?
MM: I love to engage with like-minded folks both within and outside the legal industry, and encourage you to check out www.nextlawlabs.com, and connect on Twitter @MarkovichMaya or @WeAreNextlaw and LinkedIn.
The World – and the Profession – Will Never be the Same
As Maya points out, the legal profession is experiencing significant disruption, driven by globalization, technology, generational shifts, client needs, and now, a pandemic that has shaken the global economy. In a market with unforeseen and unprecedented needs, lawyers and law firms will need to adapt: The old ways of approaching issues and managing change will simply not suffice. As such, those with a diverse set of skills and experiences will lead the profession into a new era while striving to be “human, humble and kind.”