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Driving the Future of Law: Insights from Sam Breen

Welcome to the Future Lawyer Boston interview series, where we spotlight the trailblazers shaping the future of the legal industry. As the lineup for this thrilling event grows, we're thrilled to sit down with legal legends like Sam Breen, Lead North American Privacy Counsel at Philips North America, to delve into the cutting-edge realm of legal innovation.

At the forefront of legal innovation stands Sam Breen, a seasoned legal counsel with over a decade of experience in privacy, technology transactions, and regulatory compliance. Currently serving as the Lead North American Privacy Counsel at Philips, a global leader in health technology, Sam advises on legal matters pertaining to data privacy and cybersecurity, ensuring that products and services are built on a foundation of trust while fostering innovation and growth.

From innovation to the future to emerging legal tech, take a look at Sam’s vital insights into the legal sector below!


From your perspective, why do you believe conferences focused on legal innovation, like this one, are crucial for the advancement of the industry?

I love the legal innovation space. I think there’s a popular narrative that the legal industry is slow to change if it changes at all. But that’s not the case at all. The practice of law has always adapted to suit the needs of society and the economy. I just don’t think those developments are observed to be innovative in the way new mouse traps or electric trucks are perceived to be innovative. 

But, if you think about, the Simple Agreement For Future Equity created in the Bay Area by Y-Combinator, that’s a great example of legal innovation that doesn’t get the fanfare of, say, a Legal Zoom or a DocuSign. So, I think conferences focused on legal innovation are great because they are forums to discuss new ideas, new ideas being what most people think of when they think of innovation. But legal innovation conferences are great because they also become forums to look back on prior legal innovations and build on those ideas.


Looking ahead, what do you envision as the future of legal innovation? Are there emerging technologies or cultural shifts that you believe will have a profound impact on the legal industry?

If you are asking if I think AI is going to replace lawyers, I’d say, definitely not. Automation has already taken its bite out of some fee generating areas like document discovery, but those aren’t the areas where lawyers provide the most value. 

I think non-lawyer entrepreneurs see the legal industry as ripe for disruption, but we’re a long way away from a generative AI product that can produce procedural motions of the calibre a good litigator can. I think the question of how much technology will impact the legal profession will ultimately be more of a political question than a product innovation result. For example, if you look at EU privacy laws, their AI law, and to some California’s proposed AI law, a lot of those laws and regs distil down into what could be characterized as a desire to maintain human oversight and human accountability of technological tools and technical advancements. If the political will turns the other way and society decides it would like to cede reason and accountability to the machine, that’s when I’ll consider opening a boxing gym slash coffee shop. 

But, other than AI, the area that I’m always most interested in legal innovation is the B2C use case. If you think about the 3 examples I mentioned before, SAFEs, DocuSign, and Legal Zoom, those were innovations for the client, for individuals. I think there’s a lot of buzz, money, and marketing behind B2B legal innovations, like the AI contract lifecycle management systems, etc., but I think the best application for the law and technology lies in the innovation that solves problems for the clients, not the lawyers.


How can senior in-house counsels encourage collaboration with professionals from other fields, such as technology, data, or business, to foster a more holistic approach to legal transformation?

In-house counsel must be comfortable engaging the subject matter experts in their company or business and listening to them about how the business is changing, adapting, innovating. Part of an in-house counsel’s job is to broker consensus and to, kind of, officiate between subject matter experts. It’s imperative that the in-house counsels take a holistic view of legal transformation because ultimately the company will pursue the change agenda it wants and if the legal transformation doesn’t happen concurrently, it can negatively impact performance. When in-house lawyers are trusted by their subject matter experts and trust their subject matter experts in other fields, problems are addressed more expediently and deals get done faster.


What metrics or indicators do you find most valuable in assessing the success and effectiveness of newly implemented technology within corporations?

Ultimately, in-house counsels are subject to many of the same quantitative metrics that the rest of a business is subject to. So, there’s got to be an apparent value add or cost savings for any technology. Success and effectiveness are usually measured in minutes or dollars saved versus another technology solution or the previous technology solution. That’s for standard enterprise technology tools. 

For those legal entrepreneurs out there, I find the efficiency value proposition less compelling than a solution that purports to increase revenue by solving a legal problem for the company, not by helping the lawyers work more efficiently. 


How do you suggest senior leaders can address and overcome resistance to innovation, both at an individual and organisational level?

I’ve had the good fortune in my career to witness some amazing, large-scale organisational change and innovation efforts. I think the most important thing when fostering a culture of change and innovation, on both the individual and organisational level is, you have got to empower people to work in new ways and people have to trust that they will be allowed to try, and fail, new ideas, modes, and processes, and that those efforts won’t be judged negatively but as a natural aspect of innovation. 

This can be difficult in legal departments where “right” and “wrong” are loaded concepts and where no one wants to be wrong. But, I’m talking about sanctioned creativity and innovation, not reckless freewheeling. The innovation process is a change process and when you change the way something’s done, you might get a different result. So be it. Que sera sera.


As the legal industry continues to evolve, visionaries like Sam Breen are leading the charge, pushing boundaries, and shaping the future of legal innovation. Stay tuned for more thought-provoking discussions and insights from the forefront of legal transformation.

Don't miss the opportunity to hear more insights from Sam Breen and other legal innovators at Future Lawyer USA in Boston next month! Join us as we explore the future of legal technology and innovation, charting the course for a dynamic and transformative legal landscape.

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