capitalizes on legal technology experience and expertise.
By Rod Hughes
September/October 2003 Issue
In more than a few science fiction
movies and books, technology has freed humans from some of the mundane
tasks associated with everyday living. In these stories, technology
allows its human creators to pursue more pressing issues while it
organizes, monitors and controls the flow of information and daily life.
For Mark Walker, what was once relegated to science fiction novels and
big screen adaptations has long since become a reality, albeit without
the murder and mayhem sometimes associated with the genre.
Walker, the automated litigation support
manager for the Texas-based, full-service law firm of Brown McCarroll,
has come to find technology a major protagonist within the legal world.
It’s a world full of database software and litigation management tools;
a world where technology is assigned the task of information management
so paralegals and attorneys can tend to more substantive matters.
“The career track for legal assistants
has been expanded by technology. There is a lot more opportunity in the
profession now, thanks to technology, then there was years ago,” Walker
How It Began
As a former paralegal, Walker said he knows from which he speaks. He
entered the legal world in the early 1980s following a stint in the U.S.
Army where he worked as a legal clerk. He later found a job with the
Harris County Court Clerk’s Office in Houston typing citations. “If the
military taught me one thing, it was to type fast,” Walker noted. Within
six months of entering the Court Clerk’s Office, Walker applied to be
the floating court clerk and obtained the position.
As a floating court clerk, Walker met
Judge Mike O’Brien of the 125th District Court, Harris County, Texas. It
was Judge O’Brien who would take Walker under his wing, introduce him to
the paralegal field and demonstrate just how far technology could help
him in finding his future.
“Our court was a pioneer in alternate
dispute resolution and the use of technology,” Walker said. “We had an
enormous amount of cases back then that were not being resolved in a
timely fashion. So I became a member of the court’s technology
committee, and at about that time, we began to seriously consider how
technology could help us move some of these cases along.”
Walker said through the implementation
of several database programs, Judge O’Brien’s courtroom began processing
cases more quickly and efficiently. In addition, Walker found an area of
the law that appealed to him tremendously. When Judge O’Brien made his
decision not to run for another term as an elected judge, he counseled
Walker to consider entering the growing paralegal profession.
“It was around then, in 1986, when
Susman Godfrey [a litigation firm] was trying a large case in our court.
They had a paralegal at trial who was handling substantive work for the
attorneys,” Walker explained. He said he took careful note of the
paralegal’s work at trial, and apparently Stephen Susman, a partner in
the Houston-based firm, took notice of him. Despite his lack of a
college degree — a common occurrence in the paralegal job market of the
1980s — Walker was a prime example of a capable, experienced legal
professional who would excel as a paralegal in the eyes of many,
including Susman. After a few conversations with the paralegal following
the conclusion of the trial, Walker accepted a legal assistant position
with Susman Godfrey in January 1987.
Gaining Trial Expertise
At Susman Godfrey, Walker spent 13 years working as the Dallas office’s
senior legal assistant. He worked with both plaintiff and defense
attorneys in state and federal courts throughout Texas.
“On my first day, I walked in the door
and was given a docket of about 85 cases,” Walker recalled. It was true
to form for the firm. Susman Godfrey claimed it pioneered the use of
paralegals in litigation, Walker noted. “[The firm] used legal
assistants much like it would use associates. We went to trial a lot.
There were a lot of long hours,” Walker explained.
While he loved the work, the hours were
taking a toll on his enjoyment of it and his personal life. “My wife
encouraged me to find something with a more stable work schedule than
the 80 to 100-hour weeks I was finding myself working when I was in
trial, and I was in trial a lot,” Walker noted.
Given that Walker found himself in trial
so often, and frequently on high-profile commercial litigation matters,
he said there was no shortage of firms interested in courting him.
Capitalizing on the entrepreneurial spirit that dominated the mid-1990s
and determined to write the next chapter of his career for himself,
Walker broke out on his own in 1995 and formed The Trial Team. His
company consulted with personal injury firms throughout southern Texas
to teach them to bring large commercial cases to trial.
“Commercial litigation in Texas in 1995
was a very hot area of law to work in,” Walker explained.
So hot in fact, that Walker quickly
found himself resuming an 80 to 100-hour work-week schedule again.
Fortunately, Susman placed a call to Walker’s wife and convinced her
that her husband should return to the firm and work on fewer trials and
keep shorter hours.
“After Susman talked my wife into me
going back, she convinced me to go back. And it was the right move. I
was in trial all the time. It was getting to the point where I could not
do the 80 hours a week thing anymore. When you do that for a long period
of time, it affects your health,” Walker said.
“I had taken a few computer-related classes at the University of
Houston, but that had been years before,” Walker said, describing his
early and growing technological interest. He noted that technology was
not heavily used in the legal field in the 1980s, so technology training
for paralegals at that time was at a premium. “It was rare to find even
an attorney with a computer at his desk,” Walker explained.
On his return to Susman Godfrey in 1996,
the firm was moving toward a philosophy that was beginning to embrace
technology. “It just came to a point where we realized we could do a lot
more work in a shorter amount of time using technology,” Walker noted.
At Susman Godfrey, Walker was charged
with automating case files he worked on, preparing databases for various
case files, as well as consulting on various automated litigation
support projects for the firm. “Primarily, everything I learned about
legal technology, I learned on my own. I took classes to educate myself
about technology. I paid attention to where technology was making
inroads in the legal field, and I read everything I could find to teach
myself about what was taking place,” Walker said. It also didn’t hurt
that Walker was involved in some of the most significant commercial
litigation matters of the mid-1990s, totaling in the hundreds of
millions of dollars in court awards and settlements.
Before long, his self-sufficiency paid
off. In connection with his expanding repertoire of trial experience and
his growing knowledge of legal technology, Walker embarked on a series
of speaking engagements in Texas focusing on discovery techniques and
tips for preparing for and assisting at trial using technology. At one
such engagement, Walker said he was approached by representatives from
Austin, Texas-based Advanced Micro Devices with an intriguing request.
Would he consider coming to work for Advanced Micro Devices to supervise
outside counsel handling a variety of legal matters? He was very
interested and left Susman Godfrey for this new opportunity.
“I was brought on primarily to utilize
my experience with technology in litigation. With a legal background and
insight into technology, the folks at [Advanced Micro Devices] thought I
would be a valuable asset,” Walker said. However, Walker explained while
he was charged with spearheading a task he called “Project Paperless” —
a process by which cases could be managed without generating paper
documents — when the technology sector of the economy seemed to burst in
late 2001 and early 2002, funding for the project was cut. “While I
didn’t lose my job, the handwriting was on the wall. If my main project
was cut, I might not be far behind,” Walker explained.
Finding a Niche
Like many paralegals in the 2002 economic downturn, Walker contacted a
recruiter, The Affiliates, and set about finding another job. Within a
month, Walker was able to achieve what often eludes professionals in
murky economic waters — he found a job. Brown McCarroll brought him on
board as its automated litigation support manager.
“In my search, I found my legal
experience and understanding of litigation support technology was
extremely desirable,” Walker explained. “Law firms across the country
are frequently taking legal assistants and turning them into [what I
call] converted legal assistants by making them litigation support
managers.” Such was the case for Walker, who was promptly trusted with
developing a firm-wide litigation support department, while also
implementing a new software infrastructure using technology to
centralize management of the entire firm’s court calendaring issues.
“Brown McCarroll is a large firm with
individual lawyers handling hundreds, if not thousands of cases along
with all of the associated deadlines,” Walker explained. “My job was to
identify the software application we would need and implement it into
the firm’s daily operations.”
Fortunately for Walker, and his
employer, his years of litigation experience allowed him to have a frame
of reference for countless software applications that might apply to the
firm’s needs. “We needed something that could be flexible enough to
offer centralized docketing, yet still be able to cater to the
individual needs and styles of attorneys and paralegals in our various
offices,” Walker noted. In addition to relying on his own expertise,
Walker consulted with outside firms and spoke extensively with software
sales representatives and developers.
“In my mind, it was between ProLaw and
CompuLaw Vision. Ulti-mately, we chose Vision because it’s an excellent
program with a good track record that is also rules-based, which allows
us to easily calculate and recalculate deadlines,” Walker explained. By
his second month with the firm, Walker had implemented the first
automated, firm-wide case calendaring system in the firm’s history.
“Fifteen months ago, we really didn’t
have any type of coordinated litigation technology effort. Everyone
worked with what they knew. Today, we are more integrated, and now
technology is more effectively used across the firm. Mark is in no small
measure responsible for our progress on this issue,” said Thad Holt,
Brown McCarroll’s director of administration and Walker’s direct
“Technology is really Mark’s thing. He
is not hesitant about technology at all. He gets people together, shows
them how the technology works and does so with above average
presentation skills that really help bring the important points across,”
Holt explained. He also noted that despite encountering some hesitation
by firm employees to change their practices and incorporate new
technology, it was Walker’s combination of reliable paralegal experience
and genuine understanding of technology and how it relates to litigation
that lent a great deal of credibility to the successful implementation
of the new systems.
“Mark offers a great blend of technology
know-how and legal knowledge. While he did encounter some initial
resistance to change, Mark found that by building relationships and
helping people understand the technology, he could break through that
resistance and show people technology is a resource, not a threat,” Holt
Although Walker said he has achieved success with the new calendaring
system, there were obstacles and challenges to face in the beginning.
“While upper management was supportive
of technology — the need for less physical storage space, saving time on
less productive and billable matters, etc. — not everyone was completely
committed to the process,” Walker explained.
He had some reservations initially, and
shared them with Holt and others in the firm’s management. “I told them
I didn’t want to continually spend time getting lawyers on board with
this project one at a time. For this automation to be successful,
everyone had to buy in at the beginning,” Walker said.
Management offered him their full
support, and allotted time for him to meet with groups of firm
employees, including lawyers, paralegals and support staff alike, to
review the program and its benefits. Looking back, Walker said he
believes it was time well spent. Since his maiden project, Walker has
overseen the successful creation and implementation of imaging and
digital support departments at Brown McCarroll, as well as the
development of what he calls the most sophisticated asbestos case
management program in the entire country.
He continues to speak throughout Texas
on issues ranging from discovery tips to useful trial technology and
said he frequently encounters the same initial concern with others that
he found while trying to implement the calendaring system at Brown
“I hear it a lot when I speak at
seminars about technology. People, paralegals in particular, often tell
me they are worried technology will replace them,” Walker noted. He said
he is vigilant in explaining to paralegals that technology is available
to enhance their jobs, not take those jobs away. Walker said by using
technology the way it’s intended to be used, legal assistants can spend
more time analyzing and organizing information rather than gathering and
“I often hear about lawyers being
resistant to technology. In my experience, the resistance has not been
so much with lawyers because lawyers primarily worry about cost. Once
you demonstrate the cost savings, lawyers get on board pretty quick.
Paralegals, however, worry about technology taking their work,” Walker
Walker frequently points out to
paralegals that technology has enhanced rather than detracted from the
profession. “I believe the career track for legal assistants has been
greatly expanded by technology. There is a lot more opportunity for
computer-literate legal assistants than there was just a few years ago,”
In the early days of the profession, Walker said a paralegal position
was largely considered a transient position. “People became legal
assistants to see if they wanted to become lawyers. Sometimes you became
a legal assistant because you were converted, out of necessity, from a
secretarial position,” Walker said.
When he handled hiring for Susman
Godfrey, Walker convinced the firm’s management to adopt college degree
requirements for paralegal employment. “Even though I didn’t have a
degree, I felt a college degree showed you had the commitment of someone
who could finish something he or she started. It was also my experience
that firms were less interested in certifications. While certification
is a personal choice I support, it doesn’t mean anything to most firms.
They are not standardized, and therefore are a poor standard for firms
to use in measuring skills in the hiring process,” Walker noted.
Walker said during his time as a
paralegal, he saw the early stages of the profession’s struggle for
professional status. He said he believes in order for that status to be
achieved, educational benchmarks will need to be standardized, and
technology training will be central to paralegals who want to grow in
“Legal assistants should learn all they
can about litigation technology. It will enhance their marketability as
well as building their skills, but more importantly, it will improve
their job satisfaction by elevating the type of work they do,” Walker
“Mark’s legal skills and technology
experience set him apart,” Holt explained.
Holt also said it’s this superior skill
combination that will play a dominant role in setting the standard for
paralegal employment in the next decade. “Technology is where it is all
headed,” Holt said. “People like Mark are, and will be, in high demand.”
Walker By The Book
In addition to his many speaking engagements, Mark Walker also has
authored national books involving litigation and technology. His work
- Preparing for
Trial: Plaintiff’s Edition
- Preparing for
Trial: Defense Edition
Skills, Second Edition: A Guide to Technology
All of Walker’s books
are published by PESI Law Publications.