Legal Innovator Profiles: Melina Efstathiou – Eversheds Sutherland

This week’s Legal Innovator Profile is with Melina Efstathiou, Head of Litigation Technology at international law firm Eversheds Sutherland.

– When did you first hear the term ‘legal tech’ and what did you think at the time?

‘Legal tech’ did not use to be the term du jour. My first encounter was with ‘litigation support’ and that meant everything related to document review, analysis of data and exports for Counsel. This was back in 2008 and I was blown away about what was, even then, available in terms of technology and intelligent ways of reviewing documents. As a lawyer myself, I used to live and breathe buried under paper, so processed and batched out documents in a platform took me by storm!

– What is your role now?

My role is Head of Litigation Technology and I look after all aspects surrounding complex investigations, complex disclosures and compliance reviews; from the earliest of stages of data mapping, all the way to electronic bundles and virtual hearings post exchange of disclosure.

– Why did you move into this field, (if this is not the only field you’ve worked in)?

In full transparency, my move was an organic one, a move driven by not enough work as a practising solicitor, (I was a criminal defence solicitor specialising in serious fraud cases), when the first recession wave hit the UK [in 2008].

My multi-lingual skills qualified me for complex document reviews as a qualified lawyer reviewing in more than one language. That soon flourished into team leadership, project management and ultimately, head of eDiscovery roles.

– What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Working alongside lawyers who will never hesitate (in the best of ways) to bring a challenge to the table and exhaust technology’s available features and/or leverage its intelligent capabilities to work in a more time and cost-efficient manner. Also, ironically enough, I still love a complex disclosure / production exercise…!

– If you looked into a crystal ball, how much do you think the everyday practice of law will change in the next five to ten years?

If I think of five years back to today, sadly, not as much has changed in the everyday practice of law. Although the pandemic definitely gave technology adoption a greater push as it was no longer part of a choice but one of necessity, we still encounter lawyers’ eagerness to return to their ‘good old ways’.

My crystal ball shows not much change in the next five years, but a move towards standardisation and consistency in working.

What we always aim to achieve and bring across as constant messaging in-house is proactive and critical thinking in legal cases. The more proactive the approach is, the more involved legal technology experts are from the beginning, the more efficient the approach will be around disclosure, trial preparation, case and budget management and client advice overall.

– If you had one gripe about legal tech companies what would it be?

When they are sometimes less helpful to our clients’ approach and it’s more ‘we need to make profit out of this’ one.

I appreciate that everything bears a cost and human effort, but sometimes it would be in everyone’s best interest to adopt the less expensive option, if that was to secure saving on time whilst maintaining a good quality work product.

– If you had one thing you’d really like to applaud legal tech companies for, what would it be?

When they engage in healthy competition and in fact, share lessons from common challenges. I always feel that we could all benefit by each other’s experiences, expertise and unique skillsets. And, who does not enjoy sharing an anecdotal legal tech win / fail story?

– And finally, what advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into this field?

My advice would be: be strong, be patient, be diligent in your work. And always remember, although we are not here to save lives, sometimes our clients (internal or external) feel like their lives depend on our work.

We can therefore always aim to do our best to achieve their desired outcome, whilst still remaining respectful of our own work-life balance. That sounds fairly easy, right?

Thanks Melina, great advice!  

Legal Innovators UK Conference – London, November 10 + 11

If you found the topics covered in this article of interest then come along to the landmark two-day legal innovation conference in London. Day One: Law Firms and ALSPs, Day Two: Inhouse and Legal Ops. We have a fantastic line-up of speakers from across the legal and legal tech ecosystems for this event focused on learning, sharing and networking. See you there! 

Tickets and more information can be found here.