Fred Smalkin on "Inventing the New Light Bulb" for Legal Teams

We couldn’t be more excited to welcome aboard our new Product Manager Fred Smalkin. Fred comes to us from DLA Piper, where he led infrastructure for the firm’s US IT team. At Evisort, he’ll work with the data science team on evolving the platform’s AI capabilities so that it can answer customers’ substantive questions about their contracts.Â


Welcome, Fred! 

Thank you! You know, I haven’t even finished onboarding and I'm already beyond impressed with the quality of the team. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, without a doubt. Great to be part of a top notch team.


Talk about your career journey and how it led you here.

It's definitely an arc, starting off being a nerdy kid who loves math to sort of unwittingly following the family path of being a non-practicing attorney. I was first drawn into legal technology when I was in law school working part time for a small firm. I stumbled upon building a very simple ediscovery solution. It was basically duct taped together, but it was a way for partners to open documents systematically and tag them in this Microsoft Access database. That won me a job at the firm’s IT provider once I graduated, but after about two years I got the itch to practice my craft as a lawyer. The first opportunity that I jumped at was appellate legal writing with the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

Being a law clerk and having to parse through words, learn about the meaning they carry and where the limits and pitfalls are taught me so much about language. Then I got an amazing opportunity to join the City of Baltimore. The City had a huge array of business, everything from constructing sewers to buying software and collecting taxes, and as a litigator I was lucky to be able to handle some big claims. 

After a few years I moved on to DLA Piper to build up my experience in technology and business operations. As Director of IT Operations I was responsible for running the entire US infrastructure team. Fantastic experience. But then the chance came along to join Evisort and work with a team inventing the new light bulb. And that jumped off the page immediately as something I wanted to be a part of: joining Evisort completes this long arc back to my first love of computers and math and language.Â


How do you see the demand for technology and digital transformation changing the legal industry? 

Lawyers are extremely busy. They’re intelligent, high value and their time is worth hundreds of dollars an hour. And anyone within three degrees of a lawyer is also an extremely busy person. Everyone in the industry is facing pressure to get better and smarter. Inevitably, that means interacting more with technology. 

It is so hard to rally for the intellectual investment needed from attorneys to build something for themselves. Speaking from my time at the city law department, legal teams would always just rather buy the best in breed software for the tasks at hand ”” managing documents, discovery, fill in the blank. 

An attorney’s team knows the tasks they need to do and they know how to use a computer. In the most basic sense, the software should sit in the middle and make their jobs faster and easier without a lot of onboarding or customization.


You’ve been in the shoes of the average Evisort customer. Speaking from the perspective of legal or procurement teams, what do you see as the main driver for contract management solutions?

At DLA Piper I was doing a lot of work in procurement, like reviewing contracts and employment agreements and trying to figure out our relationships with vendors. From that experience I’d say one of the main drivers for Evisort is the nature of contracts themselves. Contracts are this peculiar and interesting and sticky thing that have been around forever. The earliest writing was a sort of contract ”” it was a recording of a deal etched on a cuneiform tablet. 

Today, ideally, all this business data sits in your spreadsheets or databases. But when companies make a deal, they have to meet in the middle. That’s going to be a shared Word document where many different stakeholders come together representing all aspects of each organization. Risk, procurement, legal, sales, whoever can get their hands on it. And it's messy, because it's going to have some terms from one side and some terms from the other. In a world that's increasingly complex with an increasing number of firms and businesses and dealings, contracts are here to stay. And they're here to stay messy.Â


How will you spend your first 100 days at Evisort? 

If I can use an analogy, my old job at DLA Piper was to keep the lights on for lawyers. Which is an important job. But Evisort is not just keeping the lights on, it’s inventing a whole new light bulb. This is a team of real mathematicians and computer scientists and innovators. My role here is to help the product team design the total package. What kind of socket is our new lightbulb going into? Do we need plastic or glass? Since I do have the customer’s perspective, I’ll be bringing those considerations to the table to help the product team understand and prioritize what to build. My ultimate goal is to identify the most important questions we can answer for our clients and help them get those answers.

Speaking abstractly, my team will be looking at how we can continue to develop our AI to give customers even more insights into their agreements ”” insights that make contract management and negotiation smarter and faster. Legal, sales and procurement teams should be able to focus on the big, important, strategic parts of their jobs and leave the rest to our AI.Â


Legal teams: want to kick start your digital transformation initiative? Read our guide on building a digital contracting Center of Excellence to be the hero for change your organization needs. Learn how to consolidate your tech stack, operations and capabilities to scale automation initiatives. 

We couldn’t be more excited to welcome aboard our new Product Manager Fred Smalkin. Fred comes to us from DLA Piper, where he led infrastructure for the firm’s US IT team. At Evisort, he’ll work with the data science team on evolving the platform’s AI capabilities so that it can answer customers’ substantive questions about their contracts.Â


Welcome, Fred! 

Thank you! You know, I haven’t even finished onboarding and I'm already beyond impressed with the quality of the team. Some of the smartest people I’ve ever met, without a doubt. Great to be part of a top notch team.


Talk about your career journey and how it led you here.

It's definitely an arc, starting off being a nerdy kid who loves math to sort of unwittingly following the family path of being a non-practicing attorney. I was first drawn into legal technology when I was in law school working part time for a small firm. I stumbled upon building a very simple ediscovery solution. It was basically duct taped together, but it was a way for partners to open documents systematically and tag them in this Microsoft Access database. That won me a job at the firm’s IT provider once I graduated, but after about two years I got the itch to practice my craft as a lawyer. The first opportunity that I jumped at was appellate legal writing with the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

Being a law clerk and having to parse through words, learn about the meaning they carry and where the limits and pitfalls are taught me so much about language. Then I got an amazing opportunity to join the City of Baltimore. The City had a huge array of business, everything from constructing sewers to buying software and collecting taxes, and as a litigator I was lucky to be able to handle some big claims. 

After a few years I moved on to DLA Piper to build up my experience in technology and business operations. As Director of IT Operations I was responsible for running the entire US infrastructure team. Fantastic experience. But then the chance came along to join Evisort and work with a team inventing the new light bulb. And that jumped off the page immediately as something I wanted to be a part of: joining Evisort completes this long arc back to my first love of computers and math and language.Â


How do you see the demand for technology and digital transformation changing the legal industry? 

Lawyers are extremely busy. They’re intelligent, high value and their time is worth hundreds of dollars an hour. And anyone within three degrees of a lawyer is also an extremely busy person. Everyone in the industry is facing pressure to get better and smarter. Inevitably, that means interacting more with technology. 

It is so hard to rally for the intellectual investment needed from attorneys to build something for themselves. Speaking from my time at the city law department, legal teams would always just rather buy the best in breed software for the tasks at hand ”” managing documents, discovery, fill in the blank. 

An attorney’s team knows the tasks they need to do and they know how to use a computer. In the most basic sense, the software should sit in the middle and make their jobs faster and easier without a lot of onboarding or customization.


You’ve been in the shoes of the average Evisort customer. Speaking from the perspective of legal or procurement teams, what do you see as the main driver for contract management solutions?

At DLA Piper I was doing a lot of work in procurement, like reviewing contracts and employment agreements and trying to figure out our relationships with vendors. From that experience I’d say one of the main drivers for Evisort is the nature of contracts themselves. Contracts are this peculiar and interesting and sticky thing that have been around forever. The earliest writing was a sort of contract ”” it was a recording of a deal etched on a cuneiform tablet. 

Today, ideally, all this business data sits in your spreadsheets or databases. But when companies make a deal, they have to meet in the middle. That’s going to be a shared Word document where many different stakeholders come together representing all aspects of each organization. Risk, procurement, legal, sales, whoever can get their hands on it. And it's messy, because it's going to have some terms from one side and some terms from the other. In a world that's increasingly complex with an increasing number of firms and businesses and dealings, contracts are here to stay. And they're here to stay messy.Â


How will you spend your first 100 days at Evisort? 

If I can use an analogy, my old job at DLA Piper was to keep the lights on for lawyers. Which is an important job. But Evisort is not just keeping the lights on, it’s inventing a whole new light bulb. This is a team of real mathematicians and computer scientists and innovators. My role here is to help the product team design the total package. What kind of socket is our new lightbulb going into? Do we need plastic or glass? Since I do have the customer’s perspective, I’ll be bringing those considerations to the table to help the product team understand and prioritize what to build. My ultimate goal is to identify the most important questions we can answer for our clients and help them get those answers.

Speaking abstractly, my team will be looking at how we can continue to develop our AI to give customers even more insights into their agreements ”” insights that make contract management and negotiation smarter and faster. Legal, sales and procurement teams should be able to focus on the big, important, strategic parts of their jobs and leave the rest to our AI.Â


Legal teams: want to kick start your digital transformation initiative? Read our guide on building a digital contracting Center of Excellence to be the hero for change your organization needs. Learn how to consolidate your tech stack, operations and capabilities to scale automation initiatives.