Meredith Williams-Range remembers a time when law partners took notes on yellow pads and spoke into dictation machines to record legal briefs. Hers was the last law school class that learned how to do research in books. She can recall countless hours searching for memos in bankers boxes. In those days, groups of associates spent months analyzing documents in discovery. Today, Williams-Range can feed thirty million emails into an AI tool that analyzes everything in just five days.
The nonstop digital revolution continues to reshape the practice of law, and firms that don’t adapt will be left behind. Williams-Range first saw the shift coming in 2006 when she was an associate at Baker Donelson in Memphis, Tennessee. As intangible documents replaced paper forms and electronic discovery hit the mainstream, the US Supreme Court amended the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to include emails and online chats as records to be preserved.
“The birth of e-discovery changed everything,” says Williams-Range, who is currently chief knowledge and client value officer at Shearman & Sterling. “I knew that if I didn’t get on the bandwagon, I would get swallowed up because technology would eventually replace the work I was doing as an associate.”
With the practice of law shifting, Williams-Range moved from transactions to operations to serve as Baker Donelson’s first chief knowledge officer. Like other early adopters, Baker Donelson knew they needed to create a new position to analyze profitability and find new ways to attack old problems.
A year later, the global financial crisis hit, bringing even more pressure and scrutiny to law firms and in-house legal departments alike. Suddenly, clients wanted their legal services providers to do more with less. “We had to be efficient to be effective. We had to find a new way to operate. And we knew that technology was part of that solution,” Williams-Range recalls.
At the same time, Williams-Range was getting more deeply involved with an organization that would help her harness the power of technology to drive results. She volunteered to help coordinate international conferences for the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) and was later elected president of the group’s board of directors. The ILTA provides education, connection, and resources for technologists in legal, and serving in a leadership role gave Williams-Range a front-row seat to how her peers were continuing to enhance the delivery of legal services.
Larger coastal firms were starting to see continued opportunities created by ongoing disruption in the industry as Williams-Range was coming off the ILTA role. In New York City, leaders at Shearman & Sterling wanted someone to harness these innovations. They called a recruiter and asked for the best. The recruiter called Williams-Range.
As Shearman & Sterling’s chief knowledge and client value officer, Williams-Range continues her demonstrated ability to streamline processes and implement new technologies to improve results. “My team exists only because of how seriously technology is impacting our industry,” she says. “Our job is to bring the best value and figure out the right way to deliver services.” Subteams based around ethics, project management, global knowledge, and client value work with the business and collaborate to intake projects, spot potential conflicts, determine budgets and pricing, and apply appropriate solutions.
“Few firms—and few leaders within them—have embraced the future of legal services as wholeheartedly as Meredith and her Shearman colleagues,” notes Ryan Alshak, CEO of Time by Ping. “Ultimately, it’s the firms with better data (and best people) that will win.”
After her arrival in the spring of 2018, Williams-Range took three months to analyze processes and understand the massive organization. Then, she embarked on an important initiative designed to transform and modernize the firm. The multiyear data program will help differentiate Shearman & Sterling in today’s rapidly changing marketplace.
By integrating data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence into everything Shearman & Sterling does, Williams-Range will help the firm deliver better results faster and cheaper than ever before. It’s a big task, and thankfully, Williams-Range has full support and cooperation from her counterparts in every part of the C-suite. “An effective data program can’t be owned by one person. It has to become a part of who we are as a law firm. It’s not mine, it’s all of ours,” she says.
The program has three key pillars: data collection, data governance, and data analytics. In collection, Shearman & Sterling captures accurate data with limited human interaction. In governance, the firm encrypts data for use around the world. In analytics, teams use data to predict things like inventory and pricing to make an actual impact to their clients.
Williams-Range and her team launched the program in the fall of 2018 and spent the next two years replacing major systems and building the interfaces that import regulatory and caselaw information. They rolled everything out during a pandemic, moving an information management system to the cloud while wrapping a new governance policy around what they built.
Early results have been dramatic. Two years ago, Shearman & Sterling had one billion documents and files scattered around the world without any true organization system for easy access. Fifteen percent of those documents didn’t have client information attached to them. Now, the firm has twenty-two million documents organized into one searchable database. In a matter of seconds, an authorized user can find any document associated with any client.
This is critical because it allows lawyers to provide better information more quickly. They can also use the information to make key decisions. “If a company is being sued, we know their judge’s history with certain legal matters and how long it will take that matter to go through that specific jurisdiction,” Williams-Range explains.
“Meredith has a well-honed strategic vision for delivering high-value IT initiatives that drive competitive advantage,” notes Neil Araujo, CEO of iManage. “Her move to modernize Shearman & Sterling’s information management capabilities with a unified, secure cloud-based platform empowers the firm’s lawyers to work productively and agilely across the globe, while ensuring the highest level of customer service.”
Few chief knowledge officers can match Williams-Range’s résumé and experience, and she’s using her leadership position to empower and inspire others. “I include as many people as possible when I’m leading teams,” she says. “When you have more voices, and when you have more diverse voices, you’re better together.” She also helped start her firm’s formal mentoring program.
At Shearman & Sterling, 2021 was the year of differentiation. Now, with a new data program in place, Williams-Range and her colleagues are ready to show the world what they can do.
“These tools give us access to legacy information this firm has produced since its inception in 1873,” she says. “We used to offer our individual experience or the collective expertise of our current staff. Now, because of data and technology, we can offer our expertise combined with that of every lawyer that’s worked here for the last 150 years.”
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Shearman & Sterling, Meredith and Thomson Reuters do not have a typical law firm and vendor engagement. It’s a genuine partnership, demonstrated by actions, like co-development projects and joint success metrics. It’s our honor to partner with Meredith, as her passion and ability to execute motivates everyone around her, including TR.