A Discussion with Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal [Part Three]

In our last blog post, we continued our discussion with Neal Katyal, the former Acting Solicitor General of the United States for the Obama Administration. In that conversation, Neal talked about his experience arguing cases before Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and how critical it was for this country’s electorate to be literate when it comes to rules of law.

In part three (and final post) of this interview series, we chatted with Neal about his unique perspective on practicing law, the future of legal collaboration, and how cloud-based tools can help elevate legal work.

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Discussion: Part Three

AJ ShankarThinking about your background a little more, you’ve experienced the law from so many perspectives, in private practice representing the government and as a law professor. What have you taken away from these disparate viewpoints, and how have they informed your overall perspective? Neal KatyalI think that they are all valuable. I approach the law that way, so I tend to take cases with a little bit more of a law professor component to them, a little more of a theoretical dimension. Indeed a lot of Supreme Court practice is just that way because, unlike in the lower courts, precedent isn’t strictly binding. At the lower courts, the conversations are much more about what the law is and what the Supreme Court told us the law is. At the Supreme Court, the conversation is what the law should be, and that’s why they’re asking so many hypotheticals. They’re changing a fact from your case in one way or another and trying to test the logical contours of your position.

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AJ Shankar

Switching notes, you said again in your TED talk that you got back up and rejoined the fight after your experience losing on the immigration ban. As you mentioned, you’re a believer in Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” 

That’s something important to me personally, too. We’ve thought about this a lot at Everlaw. We’ve developed our “Everlaw For Good” program to support the principle that promoting justice involves increasing its accessibility. We provide our platform, for instance, pro bono to lawyers and programs in law firms, law clinics, and nonprofits of all sizes. We aim to empower pro bono lawyers by bridging this justice gap in the legal sector.

Neal Katyal

I was just going to say I have had the privilege of working with Everlaw on a major pro bono case in which you’ve donated a lot. It’s really just an enormous benefit for an appellate lawyer. I’ve followed Everlaw for years and hadn’t had an occasion to use it in the past, but now that I have, it’s a remarkable platform. The thought that you all have put into it and the idea to give it away for free on important litigations speaks well of you and your colleagues. 

It’s in the greatest tradition of what the law is because we, as lawyers, do our pro bono work and donate our legal time. But what you do is create a force multiplier and allow that legal time that we donate or that others are working on, NGOs and the like, to make it so much more powerful. A tool like Everlaw, which was designed before coronavirus, can have lawyers spread out all over the place and harness the insights from one another right away — in real-time. Particularly at this moment, it’s such an amazing tool, so I just want to thank you for making it available.

AJ Shankar

You’ve publicly mentioned that you’re assisting the Minnesota Attorney General in the George Floyd matter. You live in Washington, D.C., and you’re obviously working closely with the Minnesota State Attorney General. What’s the process of remote collaboration in a complex litigation like this one? How do you stay close with the team when the world has changed so much?

Neal Katyal

Particularly in a case like that, there are so many different dimensions. There’s evidentiary and medical and media, and this and that. It requires a lot of coordination, and this is where technology has been really helpful. Five, ten years ago, we probably would’ve been doing this on speakerphones, emailing each other documents, and not have a nice central repository.

Now, it’s so different. I do worry that this kind of remote lawyering does lose something. I’m not going into the office, seeing colleagues, and learning about them and their families. It’s harder to do that over Zoom; there’s the shared glue that you create in an office environment that isn’t there, so that’s sad to me. I don’t know if there is a solution besides, you know, getting past quarantine to really do it.

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AJ Shankar

The quarantine has accelerated the adoption of technology. Which of the technology changes and adoptions do you think will stick around even post-quarantine? 

Neal Katyal

I think there is a good amount that will. We’ve learned we don’t need some of the ridiculousness that we went through pre-coronavirus anymore. Invariably there’ll be more meetings over Zoom, and fewer people will always go into the office. But I think the products like the litigation tools you’ve developed are particularly advantageous now, and we’re all going to use them afterward.

It’s sticky, and it should be sticky because it allows everyone to be more efficient. Even if literally everyone was down the hall from me, we would still use them to create a real-time, centralized set of databases. It uses AI and machine learning to get to various documents — that’s invaluable, and it’s going to save the clients a bazillion dollars.

Even if lawyers would prefer to go back to some of their old ways of document discovery and warehouses, paying associates bazillions of dollars to do all of that and go through document by document just isn’t the modern world. And fortunately, it’s going to make life more satisfying for lawyers because they won’t be doing some of the stuff the machines do with tools like yours.

To read the rest of our discussion with Neal, download your free copy of “A Conversation with Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal.”