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Alt Trademarks: Episode 13 – Niki Black

Alt Legal Team | September 05, 2017
17 min read

Hannah speaks with Niki Black of MyCase. They discuss trends in legal tech, cloud computing, and artificial intelligence.

Niki Black

If you would like to contact Niki, you can email her at

You can also find Niki’s books referenced in the episode below:
(1) Social Media for Lawyers
(2) Cloud Computing for Lawyers

If you’d like to read or follow along, you can find our transcript below.

Niki Black Episode.mp3

Hannah: [00:00:06] This podcast is sponsored by Alt Legal. Alt Legal, easy to use IP docketing with powerful automation, deadline calculation, and reporting. Hello and welcome to the Alt Trademarks podcast. I’m your host, Hannah Samendinger. On this episode I was joined by Niki Black. Niki is a legal tech evangelist for MyCase and also an avid legal tech blogger. You can find Niki on Twitter @nikiblack n-i-k-i black or reach her by email at You can also find out more about Alt Legal on Twitter @altlegalhq and at

Hannah: [00:00:53] Hi Niki. Thanks for joining me.

Niki: [00:00:56] Sure thing. Looking forward to it.

Hannah: [00:00:58] I’m so excited to have you on the podcast today because like me, you also work in legal tech and you’re pretty prolific on the topic of law and technology, writing on blogs, and you give some talks, and you’re active on Twitter. So, just before we sort of get into what we’re going to talk about on the podcast today, I’d love to hear a little bit more about how you got interested in legal tech in general.

Niki: [00:01:23] Sure. In 2005, I was returning to the law after a short hiatus. I took about two and a half years off. Prior to that, I had been a public defender for four years and then I was a civil litigator for four years and I had read an article that indicated a study that indicated that women who took time off from their profession after about three years would have a harder time getting back into their profession. So I was two and a half years out and I decided to hang a shingle doing contract work for other lawyers just to sort of get back into things on a part time basis. So I created my web site and I’ve always been pretty proficient with technology so I created a web site and I had lunch with a cousin of mine who was a lawyer to let him know what I’m doing. As he was walking away, he looked over his shoulder, after lunch and said, “you know I heard about this thing called blogging on NPR this morning you might want to check it out.” So in addition to hanging a virtual shingle doing work for the lawyers I started blogging as well. And this was in 2005.

[00:02:24] There were not a lot of legal bloggers. Initially I wrote about New York cases that were coming down. From there I had a body of work that was–that I created on the blog and I volunteered to write an article for the Bar Association for the local legal newspaper and after I’d written the article for the local legal this paper, about five months later, the editor reached out and offered to have me write a weekly column. And initially, I focused on New York cases, but I started to write more and more about technology because blogging was proving to be really useful to me. So I would write about why blogging was valuable for lawyers. Then I started using social media. I was one of the first lawyers on Twitter and Facebook and so I started writing about the value of social media to lawyers and the fact that it was not just the fad and that lawyers needed to understand it. And from there, you know the article that I was writing and the content I was creating led to my ultimately writing two different books. I wrote “Social Media for Lawyers.” I coauthored it with Carolyn Elefant and that was published by the ABA in 2010 and in 2012, my “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” book was published by the ABA and at the same time, a local judge reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to co-author Criminal Law in New York, which isn’t tech, but that’s where my- I took over for her co-author and thats where my third book comes. So that’s a Thomson Reuters treatise. So, you know I just ended up in technology because I was using technology and as you know blogging and online tools and trying to tell lawyers why it was so important to stay on top of these changes and why they would be relevant to their practice and help them become better lawyers

Hannah: [00:04:02] And currently you’re at MyCase as a legal tech evangelist. So what exactly does that entail? What’s that role like? What do you do for them in that capacity?

Niki: [00:04:14] I was hired by MyCase in 2012 right after my “Cloud Computing for Lawyers” book came out. At the time, it was a small startup and I was the fourth employee or fourth person, the first employee. It was acquired in 2012, six months later by Folio which is-Folio had its IPO in 2015. So, the MyCase side of the business had grown to about 100 employees. So we’ve grown really quickly and my title ultimately ended up being Legal Technology Evangelist. Initially, I had other titles and we eventually settled on that one. And what I do as Legal Technology Evangelist is what always done for MyCase and what I was doing before I came to MyCase. I spent a lot of time focusing on educating lawyers about the intersection of law and tech. So I do that by speaking at CLE’s across country. I speak anywhere from 8 to 13 to 14 times a year depending on the year.

Hannah: [00:05:16] Wow. That’s a lot of speaking engagements.

Niki: [00:05:21] I do a lot of speaking. I write my weekly article for The Daily Record still. I write for Above the Law. I often write for the GPSolo eReport with ABA. I also write for some other ABA sections too, either for the printer, online magazines or publications. So I do that. I educate lawyers about the intersection of law and tech and those different ways. And then I also do work internally within the company. I advise product about different features and how you know they might help lawyers. And I also work with marketing a lot as well.

[00:05:57] And I also am sort of the expert on the industry and so I track industry trends and where things are going and let the different leader, members of leadership team know when I come across stuff that I think is relevant that we need to talk about.

[00:06:10] So I mean this goes hand in hand with that. Today, I wanted to pick your brain about developments in legal tech and the hurdles adopting in-attorneys adopting some technologies. And since you know that’s the world that you live in and you’re very prolific in that world. So I guess it’s sort of just some groundwork, what are some of the legal tech trends or some emerging technologies or developments that you’re seeing a lot of buzz about that you find particularly exciting in the legal space.

[00:06:38] I always like the stuff that’s up and coming. So in the last two years I’ve been really focused on wearable tech and Apple Watch, in particular. And you know, what’s been interesting to me is that’s sort of a super technology because you don’t see a lot written about it except when it first came out.

[00:07:00] You don’t hear much about it except more watches are showing up on people’s wrists. And I’m waiting. I’m hoping that the ABA tech report will actually ask that question, or a legal tech survey, will actually ask about wearables. They haven’t done that up until this year because I’d be interested to see how many lawyers actually use wearable tech like Apple Watch. Anecdotally, I just wrote a piece on Above the Law. I’d belong to a legal online legal forum for lawyer mothers. That’s really a very large forum with over 8,000 people and someone posted about the Apple Watch and it was really interesting to me to see how many women said they use it and how many said that they use it for the reasons that I predicted women lawyers, in particular, would want to use it when it first came out in 2015. So I wrote a follow up articl
e on Above the Law and there was also, at the same time, a piece came out indicating that 30 million watches had been sold. It just strikes me as a sleeper technology that has a lot of use to lawyers not just women lawyers.

[00:07:55] Well that’s one and then the other is A.I. That’s the one I’ve been more interested in because it’s sort of coming to fruition now and there’s a lot of movement in that case.

Hannah: [00:08:05] Yeah. So I guess that’s one of the topics that I had flagged that I wanted to ask about. I know a lot of the buzz about it has just been you know robots are taking over and they’re going to take all our jobs. But I think for the most part, what’s actually people are sort of landing on as the most realistic path is that it’s a new technology and a lot of people are still figuring out how it fits into new industries. But it might be very helpful. And is already proving to be very helpful in automating some just small tedious task. So can you just talk a little bit about the A.I. trends and your thoughts about it coming into the legal field and maybe even if you have any predictions on how that will impact the field or manifest within the legal field, that’d be great too.

Niki: [00:08:51] So, I just wrote a post on the MyCase blog about A.I. and how there’s already a lot of automation tools available particularly in practice management software, which is what my company creates for lawyers. You know there’s already a lot of automation capabilities built into this type of software that isn’t necessarily A.I. So there are already a lot of things lawyers can do to automate their practice, whether it’s you know creating workloads for different types of cases that have built in deadlines, or document automation, and assembly you know with templates. And you know there’s a lot of different lawyers can already do. And then you know, where A.I. comes in, it’s not just automation. It’s intelligent automation and the reason A.I. is so exciting right now is because a lot of the different technologies that are needed to truly make it useful are all sort of coming of age at the same time.

[00:09:45] And you know that’s why the smartphones suddenly emerged in 2007. Because certain technologies made it so that you could actually have small processors and small enough memory chips. And then a lot of it could be done in the cloud and off of the phone. Otherwise it’s you know we wouldn’t have been able to have it in such a small piece of equipment in the same thing happening with A.I. But in a more theoretical sense because it’s not a piece of equipment. It’s programmed software. But what’s happening is there’s a couple different areas where it has a ton of potential and some companies are doing some really interesting things, but I really think it is in its infancy. So for example legal research, I just wrote a piece Above the Law. I interviewed some of the people high up on product Lexus and also at Thomson Reuters and they’re doing some really interesting stuff with legal research but they’re just you know 2015 is when they will be rolled out and rudimentary stuff and they’re really trying to be a little more in-depth in creative in how they’re doing it and they have lots of different plans. Lexus just rolled out some of the A.I. stuff. WestLaw came out with it in ’15 but Lexus also just acquired Ravel Law and also Lex Machina. So they have sort of put in the groundwork to build off of A.I. So there’s a lot of possibilities in legal research and also data analytics, which is part of what Lexus is doing and I know WestLaw is looking into that as well.

[00:11:09] And then another area is what LawGeeks, for example, does which is contract analytics and creation and that’s also particularly, that’s all that something that actually readily available and some of the companies are doing the really interesting work with it in terms of legal research case access and really interesting stuff that they’re doing as well. So there’s a lot of potential. And I think in the next year or two you’re really going to see a lot of that comes to fruition and at the end of the day what it’s going to do is ultimately remove some of the mundane and more tedious activities from lawyers’ place so they can focus on more be interesting analytical aspects of practicing.

Hannah: [00:11:50] Right. Yeah it’s really interesting. It feels like sort of in those capacities, a very natural progression from some of the automation that already exists. So, I think that people will be surprised at how easily it kind of fits right into their practice based off their the, you know, practices they already have in place.

Niki: [00:12:06] Yeah, I think you’re in right.

Hannah: [00:12:09] In general, you also you talk a lot about lawyers in tech in the kind of intersection in how lawyers are adopting tech. In general, do you see when lawyers are looking to bring tech and other practice that there are hurdles that a lot of people face either at adoption or implementation that sort of hinder lawyers from having, you know, I was going to say a fully tech-savvy practice, but maybe a practice that benefits from technology as much as it could?

Niki: [00:12:36] I think there is a lot of hurdles. I belong to the solo small section of our local bar association and you know where I’m in Rochester, New York, which is New York which is a mid-sized metropolitan region it’s not a large metropolitan area. So I think that the smaller cities tend to be a little slower when it comes to lawyers and tech adoption and you know there’s all sorts of hurdles that they share with me their experience when it comes tech and it’s really interesting to hear it right from the horse’s mouth. You know some of them just want nothing to do with it. They’ve always, a lot of them tend to be older that say this: “they’ve always practiced law. It’s fine just the way it is,” “thank you very much. They got–they’re going to be retiring in a couple years,” or “they’re reducing their case loads and so you just don’t even want to deal with it.”

[00:13:20] Others want to use technology but they’re overwhelmed at the prospect and I think that oftentimes the bulk of lawyers but you know that practice in law was difficult in and of itself. You have to stay on top of your practice areas and changes in the law. You have especially if you have a solo or small practice you’re busy, you are doing a lot of administrative stuff, and the other aspects of running a practice that you never learned in law school. And the concept of trying to understand these rapid changes and tech and then figure out what’s right for you and how to implement and how to implemented in your practice is really can be a little overwhelming and it’s a really big challenge.

[00:14:01] So, I think that’s the biggest challenge for lawyers and then the other one is the more intuitive the tech is the easier it is. So, I think that it’s key to try the platforms out and figure out which ones really are intuitive and have a shorter learning curve than others. So, but it’s not easy anyway.

Hannah: [00:14:20] Right. Yeah and I mean so once they have you know sort of gone over those hurdles and they’ve decided that you know tech, they can take the plunge and embrace tech, What do you seems to be the biggest benefit of doing so. I know that for some things it’s just you know automation to save you some time but it seems there’s also a lot of trends where this makes people more mobile or they can adopt more nontraditional payment structures or client communication structures. Do you see any of those benefits being you know really standouts for adopting tech or any sort of trends on the benefits of adopting tech in a firm?

Niki: [00:14:59] Well, I think there’s, I mean cloud computing, I wrote when I wrote my cloud computing book I covered all the different benefits. And so I always, when I speak about cloud computing I always, tell my audience to go check my bo
ok or my writing before 2012 because you know I worked for a cloud computing company now so, but you’ll find that if you read what I wrote before I was working for the company say the same thing I say now so and that is that there are tremendous benefits the cloud computing and a lot of the things that you’ve touched on are really because of cloud computing and the idea that your long firm’s data is not stored on a premise-based server like a server in your closet or in the basement. It’s stored on a server owned by a third-party that you access through an Internet connection on your smartphone or your computer or your tablet.

[00:15:51] And so what that allows you to do is access your firm’s data no matter where you are through a reliable secure connection. So, you can enter, and lot of them, most practice management softwares allows you to enter billable time no matter where you are. So you can track time and enter it on your smartphone. So you don’t lose track of your billable hours and you can bill them and then when it comes to billing. Once you enter that time, it’s time in it’s automatically associated with an invoice. You pull the invoice up you edit it. You send it through the software. The client receives it. The client can pay using online using credit card or debit card. So it simplifies and streamlines the billing process. You get paid faster. You can set up automatic reminders if the bills are not paid. That goes out your client.

[00:16:34] You can communicate with your clients through secure portals, which in light of some recent ethics decisions, that can protect you from at the border, when you’re trying to cross the border, from overzealous border agents. And also when you’re dealing with particularly sensitive information, ABA Opinion 477, recently indicated that certain information, you know may need to be dealt with in different ways and that e-mail might not suffice so you may need to use a secure portal or use encrypted communication for certain types of client data. So at the end of the day you’ll have you have more secure communication their clients they can access information through the portal they can upload and download documents if you allow them to. And it streamlines your communication, reduces calls to the office, let’s them self help, and puts everything in one place. So there’s an incredible amount of benefits because of computing and technology that lawyers have available to them if they just take advantage of it.

Hannah: [00:17:37] And are there any concerns, specifically I guess with cloud computing, I’m thinking the first thing that comes to mind will be any potential ethical concerns for switching to that kind of platform for managing your firm?

Niki: [00:17:50] Well absolutely there are. Third part of my book addresses the security and ethical concerns and you know at this point more than, I want to say it’s like 22 or 23 states have addressed the ethics of cloud computing may have also that lawyers can use cloud computing. They all establish the same standard which is that lawyers have to take reasonable efforts to ensure that confidential client data stays secure and then they go about that in different ways some of them have you ask specific questions. Others provide more general guidelines. But at the end of the day the lawyers duty is to thoroughly vet the third party provider that houses the information for them. But in many ways that’s not different. That’s no different than what lawyers have always been doing when they outsource document storage to third parties or use a process server you know you have an obligation to vet your employees and vet third party contractors that you give access to confidential client data and you do the same thing with cloud computing providers, some of the questions are a little different. But at the end of the day you need to ensure that the data is going to be secure that there’s backup and backup to different coasts or different geographic regions that it’s frequent backup and you just have to ask the series of questions. I include them in my computing book I have them listed online as well and there are you know there’s plenty of other people that provide questions for vetting providers so that’s really what’s your primary obligation is when you do to make the move to the cloud

Hannah: [00:19:25] And I’ll link to I’ll link to your book as well on the show notes for anyone who wants to look it up and get more information on that. And then in general do you just have I guess any advice based on your experience you know dealing with all these letters and all these different types of tech. Any general advice for people who want to adopt tech I guess just generally or just bringing more tech into their practice?

Niki: [00:19:47] Well there’s lots of great resources whether it the ABA’s book they have a lot of books. There’s a series they released in recent years you know the iPad in One Hour or Social Media or Twitter in One Hour. You know different books in one hour to help you get up to speed on certain topics that are tech related. So that’s a good resources. Plenty of blogs online that you know Above the Law where I write there’s a number of columnists, myself included, where you can follow those posts you know click on the technology tab at the top and follow those posts. Bob Ambrogi’s blog, LawSites, is a great blog to read the top of tech. There’s a bunch of online sites like that. So I mean what I typically recommend lawyers do is spending 15 20 minutes a day one way or another on learning about different aspects of legal technology. And so if you spend, take a few bites a day to get information on tech and learn about it then over a period of time after a couple of months you’re going to start to feel more proficient. And that might be the way to start the time to start implementing the information you’ve learned and using some additional tech in your practice.

Hannah: [00:20:56] Great. Perfect. And to wrap up my interviews I usually like to ask the guest a series of rapid fire questions just for fun. You ready.

Niki: [00:21:05] Sure.

Hannah: [00:21:06] OK where do you get your legal news?

Niki: [00:21:09] Well one of the things for MyCase. First of all, I maintain my own brand online but also MyCase’s brand. So I spend a good part of every morning going to my RSS feed and that is where all of the different blogs that I like to read are located that deal with legal technology, practice management. So through my RSS feed which is Feedly is the one that I like to use be like.

Hannah: [00:21:34] Feedly. And what’s your favorite social media platform?

Niki: [00:21:38] Well it used to be Twitter. I’m finding Facebook’s a lot more social these days. And that’s often where you have better conversations. But I’m particularly interested in LinkedIn now because I have amassed a large number of followers. I have about 120000 followers on LinkedIn right now and most of them are in legal tech base so I’m I’ve been trying to find ways to make use of that more. Twitter I have always liked. I have 25000 followers or close to that on my personal account but it’s getting to be more of a source of information rather than communication which is how it used to be. So I don’t interact on that much and I’ve been looking at LinkedIn a little more.

Hannah: [00:22:20] Yes it’s interesting. I feel the same way LinkedIn’s kind of been on the right. I’ve been getting more and more articles from there recently. Yeah. Never used to. If you weren’t a lawyer what would your job be?

Niki: [00:22:30] I think I’d probably be a journalist. I mean and I’m basically legal tech journalist at this point and writing is my I think my biggest strength. And so I probably would either I think I would be a journalist or I think it would be some sort of nonfiction writing.

Hannah: [00:22:44]
That makes sense. And do you have a productivity hack, something that you do when you really need to get some work done or write an article or something like that?

Niki: [00:22:50] I don’t know if I have a hack. It’s more choose the right time. I need to write at certain times of the day other times of my writing a lot more muddled and it takes a lot longer to fix it the next day. So I need to more than anything, know when to do certain tasks based upon my own sort of biometric. Is that the, not sure if that’s the right word.

[00:23:16] Yeah, sure. And then the last one is what’s a good or maybe even the best piece of advice that you’ve been given?

[00:23:23] I think my, that same cousin that told me about blogging, that was a great piece of advice when I was sort of a he’s been a mentor to me when I was leaving the public defender’s office because I’d gotten really burnt out, I really almost just wanted to leave the legal field at that point because I was so burnt out and he told me you really need to try some other areas of law before you make that decision. And you know he was right I think that working in that law firm made me a better lawyer and made me a better writer. It gave me an added perspective and on the practicing law and understanding how what it’s like to run a practice that I actually use now and understanding how different types of lawyers practice which comes in really handy with the MyCase platform and knowing how lawyers in different practice areas are going to use it.

[00:24:11] So I think that was probably, those two pieces of advice to start blogging and also to keep practicing law in a different area before I just bail ship. So I got good advice from that cousin. He’s David Rothenberg a lawyer in town here.

Hannah: [00:24:26] Wonderful and that’s it. So thank you so much for joining us, Niki. Do you have any parting words of wisdom anything we left out that you want to give to the listeners before we leave?

Niki: [00:24:35] I think just to embrace change. A lot of change happening right now and it’s better to embrace it than to ignore it.

Hannah: [00:24:42] And if anyone wants to reach out to you what’s the best way for them to do so?

Niki: [00:24:46] Probably my you can e-mail me at

Hannah: [00:24:56] OK. Thanks so much Niki.

Niki: [00:24:58] Thank you.

Hannah: [00:25:02] That’s this week’s episode. Thank you for joining us and see you next time.

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