Memes, Law, and AI? Yes, Alex Su, Head of Community Development at IronClad, is that versatile. We were fortunate to sit down with him to discuss his content, his thoughts on the industry, and where AI will take the practice of law.
Alex: “If you're on Instagram you probably know me for my memes and Tik Toks. What you might not know is that I began my career as a pretty typical Biglaw associate. I ended up making a pivot to legal tech startups six years out of law school, to sell software to lawyers.
Somewhere along the way I discovered the power of social media marketing, and now I've got a unicorn job at Ironclad, a legal Al company that's focused on contracts.”
Matt: “Wild ride, man. How did you end up going from BigLaw to Legal Tech?”
Alex: “It definitely didn't happen overnight. After leaving Biglaw, I went to a plaintiffs' firm where I saw them use legal tech to level the playing field against huge litigation teams on the other side. After some introspection and setbacks (including starting a solo practice that ended up failing) I decided to jump into the tech space. I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time and saw how tech was revolutionizing other industries and figured it wouldn't be long before it happened to the legal industry.
Matt: “That's awesome. You were one of the first people (actually maybe the first person) who I knew who made a move like that. Did people trip up when you did it, Friends/family in particular?”
Alex: “They definitely did. Especially since there's this perception that if you go into legal sales (like tech, recruiting, and others) you're a failed lawyer. You also lose the feeling that you're Headed In The Right Direction. So explaining yourself to your friends and family can be hard. But I had the support of my family and loved ones, and was in a good financial place after paying off loans and saving up money. I figured I'd be making a bet on the next few decades of my career.”
Pivoting from Big Law to Social Media
Matt: “ So you’re all over the internet. Memes, Tiktoks, Reels, Tweets etc. How’d you get into it and how did you go from memes/videos to writing on Substack?”
Alex: “It all started on Linkedin of all places. I was a sales guy who struggled to get in touch with the lawyers I was trying to sell to. So I decided to try my hand at ‘social selling’ by writing about my career journey on Linkedln. I built a small following over the years, and saw firsthand how it could help drive business development.
When the pandemic hit I was in the right place at the right time. In March 2020, I was actually scared I was gonna get fired because all of my buyers stopped responding to me. All my work dried up. So I decided to experiment with all kinds of new things, including putting out controversial hot takes, hosting Zoom meetups, and making video skits poking fun at the legal industry. Those videos took off, I got on TikTok, and ended up riding the wave.
About two years ago, l started writing long form commentary on Substack about what I've seen and heard in legal tech. Given my social media platform and unique position in the legal ecosystem, I meet lots of people and hear about all these changes that are taking place in real time. My goal is to share those insights with my subscribers. That’s why I write the newsletter.”
Matt: “Yeah that's how I found your stuff - TikToks via Linkedin. Funny the comments you used to get vs. now get.”
Will AI Replace Lawyers?
Matt: Do you think AI will replace lawyers and if it replaces you, what are you going to do with your life?
Alex: “Definitely not. This latest wave of generative Al is really good at summarizing information, which at first glance might seem like it would replace lawyers. But lawyers do so much more. Complex stuff like counseling, advising, managing risk in dynamic environments. In fact Al might create even more demand for legal work given how people seem to be using it carelessly these days.
However, I do think if your practice involves *only* summarizing and providing information, or copying and pasting text into legal docs, you might be in trouble. I'm optimistic about the impact of Al though, I believe we'll see lawyers do more high value work in the long run.
As for me, I'll just thank my lucky stars that I pivoted out of law. Until Al can make memes reliably I think l'll be ok, haha.”
Adoption of AI
Matt: “What do you think lawyer adoption of Al looks like? Are firms & legal departments going to jump in and start using these tools right away?”
Alex: “I believe we'll see pockets of early adopters for Al. Generally I believe small firms and corporate legal departments will be the first ones to lean into it. My belief comes from my experience selling e-discovery tech. Biglaw has a harder time adopting because there are so many partners who have to approve the tech. Like a lone partner who objects to Al can kill off an entire initiative! There’s also this underlying incentive challenge, where efficiency might reduce billable hours.
Also I believe there are certain use cases that are ripe for Al. Contracts for sure, given what l've seen with our customer base at Ironclad. Any time you have a large amount of structured text, you're going to see opportunities to process that information more quickly with Al. Other use cases include startups that are focusing on use cases like generating discovery responses and summarizing documents into chronologies or timelines.”
The Effect of AI on Legal Professionals
Matt: “Now what about legal professionals? Paralegals and legal assistants in particular. Do you anticipate Al having a big effect on their roles?”
Alex: “We definitely will see impact across the board. But historically people said the same thing about paralegals when discovery technology became a thing 15-20 years ago. They said the technology would remove the need for paralegals. And yet history has shown it actually increased the demand. That's the story of technology in a nutshell. We can easily see what tasks it replaces but it's so hard for us to imagine what new work it creates.”
Matt: Now what about the big elephant in the room - ChatGPT. We have that recent story of an attorney using ChatGPT and receiving fake court cases/fake holdings. What's your take on that situation and how do you think courts will react to Al use going forward?
Alex: “Everyone's worried about ChatGPT. It can make up cases and laws that don't exist, which can be dangerous for clients who try to use it on their own. But another challenge, we've seen recently, is that it can enable careless attorneys to use it as a legal research tool, without actually reviewing the underlying cases.
ChatGPT is a free chatbot. It's not the same as an Al-powered legal tech tool that's trained on legal data and documents. It's good for some things and less good for others. Over time it will improve, and people will learn to use it safely. And in doing so, the courts will relax and start to accept it. There’s historical precedent for this: Many years ago the courts were worried about online legal research tools because before then, everyone used physical books. But these days it's not even an issue.
In the meantime though, I highly recommend manually verifying the output of any kind of AI you use. If checking over its work makes you lose efficiency gains, then maybe Al isn't the right tool for that task. At least not yet.”
Alex: “The world is changing and while the legal industry has historically been insulated from these changes, it won't be for long. The combination of Al, social media, and changing market dynamics means that the career formulas that worked in the past won't necessarily work in the future. But lots of things will get better. And as the world changes, and traditionalist lawyers push against them, you can always rely on me and Matt to make fun of them.”
Alex Su is a former lawyer who now works at the intersection of law, technology, and new media. Currently, he’s the Head of Community Development at Ironclad, a technology company that helps accelerate the contracting process for corporate legal departments. Earlier in his career, he was an associate at Sullivan & Cromwell and clerked for a federal judge. Alex graduated from Northwestern Law in 2010, where he was an editor of the law review and the student commencement speaker. Alex also publishes a weekly newsletter called Off The Record that includes his commentary on the changes coming to the legal industry.