December 7, 2023

Matt Garretson on Navigating Technological Advances in Mass Tort

Author: Pawan Murthy

Matt Garretson, a partner at Wolf Garretson and principal advisor of IBEX Legal Services’ Claims Review division, shares his thoughts on the evolution of the mass tort industry and provides practical suggestions for law firms on embracing new technologies.

Q: Can you share a little about your background and current roles?

A: I’m a partner at Wolf Garretson and principal advisor for IBEX Legal Services’ Claims Review division. My career spans over 25 years, focusing on the design, oversight, and administration of complex mass tort and class action settlements. It’s been a fascinating and challenging field, continuously evolving over the years.

Q: Based on your extensive experience, how has the mass tort industry changed?

A: When I started, the industry landscape was quite different. There were only a few firms offering specialized administrative services for settlements. In the past, the focus was squarely on quality, backed by skilled labor. Over the past decade, this space has become highly competitive and price sensitive. As competition intensified, we started seeing a tension between cost efficiency and maintaining high-quality standards. Initially, being less price-sensitive allowed us to focus on quality. But with the ongoing competition, there’s been a noticeable dip in quality, almost a race to the bottom in price, which doesn’t always save money in the long run.

Q: What are the recent trends you have observed in the industry?

A: The introduction of technology is a significant trend. It has the potential to maintain quality while competing on price. It’s a natural progression but a remarkable one. The industry feels like it’s undergoing significant innovation. Another trend is the increased availability of capital, which lowers the entry barriers, allowing more law firms to enter the market to prosecute mass tort cases. This influx is driving competition and increasing the volume of work for firms that provide case processing support services.

Q: Has there been a reluctance in the legal industry to embrace new technologies?

A: Yes, to some extent. Law firms, particularly in mass torts, have had considerable success with traditional approaches. Changing a successful formula can be daunting. Furthermore, law has always been regarded as a domain for skilled labor. Introducing A.I. and machine learning, with their capability to take on some of that work, can seem antithetical to the way attorneys view the practice of law. The reality is that we must continually seek ways to represent our clients better and to ensure the firm’s ongoing success. Technology can help, but it must be done carefully, by truly understanding its benefits and limitations. 

Q: With the growth in mass tort cases, is there a sense of urgency for law firms to adopt new technologies and methods?

A: I believe that leaders of law firms are eager to experiment with new software, tools and services, as they hear about the potential benefits. The challenge lies in the implementation. Firms are grappling with how to integrate these changes organizationally while managing ongoing cases. There’s an intellectual understanding of the need for change, but putting it into practice is where the hesitation often lies.

Q: Do you have any suggestions for firms looking to explore new technologies?

A: Leading a firm through such transitions requires courage, as it can be threatening to those accustomed to the old system. The key is to gradually introduce changes. Some firms opt for a complete switch to new processes for new projects, which can have risks – especially if the new process does not work well. The approaches I’ve seen work effectively involve starting with a pilot project or running a new system parallel to the existing one. These methods allow firms to compare efficiency and effectiveness. Start with identifying a small body of work to pilot a new technology or apply new technologies parallel to existing methods. For either of these approaches, I would recommend assigning specific individuals to these tests so they can be focused on developing best practices with the new technology while not interfering with firm-wide operations.

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