Rebecca Hernandez Benavides is the Director of Legal Business and Strategy at Microsoft.
What are three points that describe you?
How is telework/quarantine going for you?
I am very fortunate to be in a position to transition my role to remote working. That is a benefit that not many people have. However, quarantine currently has everyone in my household doing the same—two kids in school and my husband in a Master’s program. The blurring of the lines between work and home and professional and family roles has not been without its challenges. Pre-quarantine I enjoyed and benefitted from having locational separation between the office and home, such that I could easily compartmentalize my efforts and, perhaps, that made it easier to focus. That separation also allowed me to more efficiently dedicate efforts and attention to my team—not just to the work to be done, but also to their professional development.
But these are simply challenges and opportunities. Our team is making use of technology to stay connected, work collaboratively, and find and execute on opportunities to automate our processes. We have a more focused effort on creating efficiencies via technology so we can create more space for our personal lives and for our mental health and wellness—especially as that becomes a necessity because our traditional outlets for breaks (gathering with friends and family, travel, public gatherings, and events) is significantly curtailed.
How did you become involved in legal tech?
I started my legal practice about 20 years ago (!). The roots of my involvement in legal tech really started at that time. When I started my career, legal was just beginning that journey into tech adoption—starting with platforms and processes for e-discovery. Within the first five years, I had worked on two large litigation matters: one that relied on a war room full of banker’s boxes of hard-copy documents and another that relied on a large volume of electronic data that necessitated the use of computer-assisted review. Seeing the vast differences in productivity, scale, and information gathering between the two matters opened the door to leveraging technology throughout my practicing years. Over the years (and as I have moved to business roles supporting legal organizations), I have had the opportunity to work on enterprise technology projects that are rooted in that earlier experience—increasing productivity, scaling resources, adding efficiency, and enabling access to information.
What projects have you been focused on recently?
When I joined Microsoft three years ago our team undertook a significant project to reimagine our platforms for legal service/supplier selection and matter management. While we had the foundational systems for setting up matters, billing, and managing budgets, we needed more to manage the value propositions that we expect from our law firm partners—e.g. advancing diversity in the legal profession, increasing the use of AFAs, and opening up opportunities to leverage technology to deliver and enhance legal services. We also wanted to provide our colleagues in the legal department with data that enabled them to be more informed consumers, bringing in easily-accessible information based on feedback and compliance metrics. We have had some successes and our work continues, including bigger investments in department-wide knowledge and experience management.
We also started working directly with our strategic panel firms to advance their efforts around innovation. This is an undertaking that sits on both the client and firm sides. We started hosting Trusted Advisor Forums specifically on the topic of innovation. Through a great partnership with Bold Duck we introduced, trained, and put into practice design-thinking methodologies. Our intent was to give both our legal department colleagues and our law firm partners the tools to create user-centric solutions in order to enable increased adoption, reduce change management efforts, and scale beyond custom, single-use solutions. Our last forum involved a “Business Design Challenge” with our firms after which two projects were selected to move into an “Accelerator” program where the teams engaged in a deeper dive on scope definition, mission statement development, customer-focused interviews and feedback, and service blueprinting. We continue to work with those teams on getting their solutions built and embedded in our work.
On a daily basis, my team is always looking for ways to automate our processes and making use of Microsoft’s suite of productivity tools to reduce manual churn, capture knowledge, and drive consistency.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that really helped you when you were starting out in the field?
ILTA was probably the first legal tech resource that I was introduced to. Through available recordings, meetings, and conferences, it certainly helped me understand the various products available and their use cases. A number of the ABA sections and divisions have always been great resources where, over the years, most have introduced technology-focused training, content, and discussions. CLOC has grown tremendously since it was founded and it remains a strong avenue to explore technology use and advancements to support legal operations.
What do you see as the most important emerging tech, legal or not, right now?
AI-enabled bots because collecting, focusing, and quickly accessing information and data is critical to the practice of law. Document automation is also important, especially where it starts to emerge into areas that were not traditionally thought to be amenable to automation.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
Be curious. Invest the time in learning and development. Take risks and take on new opportunities (even if you have to train into them). Don’t underestimate yourself and what you can do. Recognize and own the value you bring to your work, to your organization, and to your colleagues.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
So many! First, the prior year’s recipients of this honor are all amazing, many of whom I would list here. I absolutely have to call out Florinda Baldrige at Norton Rose Fulbright. She was a pioneer in the e-discovery space and has been a mentor and colleague throughout my career. Currently, I get the chance to work with so many great women at Microsoft and at our partner law firms including Wendy Butler Curtis; Kathleen Orr; Vedika Mehera (Orrick); Amy Monaghan (Perkins); Bethany Knoblauch and Melissa Speidel (K&L Gates); Candice Carr; Patti Barbery, and Lydia Petrakis (Microsoft).
On March 3, 2021—March 4, 2021, join the ABA Women Rainmakers Committee for a two-day symposium on closing the legal tech gender gap. Both days include recognizing the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s 2021 Women of Legal Tech Honorees. Get inspired by Ignite-style sessions from leading women in legal tech, breakout sessions with leaders in the field, and interactive workshops.