“Efficiency was always in the background” for Kate Bauer, L’19. From extracurricular activities in middle school, to starting a business during college, to working 20-hours a week while in law school, to being a full-time mom to four kids under the age of six, multitasking is the name of the game for this law student. It’s appropriate, then, that efficiency has also been a guiding force in her career at Steptoe & Johnson LLP, where Bauer has forged a path in e-discovery strategy.

Bauer first joined the firm as a paralegal in 2005 after completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia. She enjoyed many parts of the job, particularly the pro bono work – but “I also had to do some very boring, tedious paperwork,” she explained. “And when I say tedious, I mean, ‘Take these 750 emails that the attorney printed from the database and put them in date order ASAP.’” For Bauer, that 2,000-page stack of paper represented not just a challenge, but also an opportunity for efficiency. She looked at that towering pile and came up with a solution: “If they’re in a database it means I can enter the dates there, date sort them, and print them in date order” – shaving down the project from about 10 hours to just 90 minutes of work.

It was this creative brand of productivity that set Bauer on an advancement trajectory at Steptoe. She went on to become a litigation support specialist and then later a litigation support project manager, helping to bring order and efficiency to Steptoe’s e-discovery procedures amid an era of rapid technological change. Her efficiency mindset was a particular asset when she helped Steptoe launch Relativity, a powerful database software, to improve document review efficiencies.

But more than that, Bauer became a sort of evangelist for technological legal advances. Take technology-assisted review (“TAR”), for example. Often referred to as “predictive coding,” TAR uses computer algorithms to make document review more efficient than traditional document-by-document review. Relativity’s TAR algorithm uses word co-occurrences to identify conceptually similar materials. Bauer uses the analogy of a house: if you have a dishwasher and an oven and a sink all together in the same room, it’s probably a kitchen. Relativity uses similar logic to come to conclusions about documents and emails, and then groups them accordingly.  By identifying concepts as relevant and irrelevant, attorneys can prioritize review of the relevant conceptual groups (for example, employment contracts) while deprioritizing review of the irrelevant ones (for example, fantasy football).  With TAR, a daunting stack of one million documents for review might quickly be whittled down to 40,000 highly relevant documents. “It’s just a huge savings of everyone’s time,” said Bauer, and it “frees up the attorneys to do actual legal work instead of doc review.” Bauer helped get the team – and clients – on board with the new technology.

Bauer enjoyed the orderliness of those technologies – but at the same time was looking for a different outlet to flex her creativity. Law school seemed like a perfect fit. Bauer had always intended to get her J.D., but the 2008 recession persuaded her to stick with her work in the growing e-discovery industry. In 2015, the law school bug struck again.

By that time, Bauer was living in Richmond with her husband, a local prosecutor.  She was putting in 80- and 100-hour weeks remotely. On the heels of three straight weekends implementing all-night upgrades, she was managing a two million-document TAR project. “There was a lot of time pressure to complete the review in four weeks, and at the time I was the only person in the department who could run TAR. My every waking moment was devoted to that project,” said Bauer. “I was working from home, so there was no down-time at all – and I was also four months pregnant with my third.” She added, “After a particularly grueling all-nighter I thought, ‘I just don’t want to be pressing the same buttons with every single project … for the next 10 years.’” With her husband’s support, she applied to Richmond Law over the summer, and decided to enroll the following year. 

Law school certainly didn’t mean a break for Bauer, who welcomed her fourth child in September of her 2L year. Now in her 13th year with Steptoe, Bauer continues to put in 20 hours a week as a practice solutions architect, setting guidelines and creating training programs. Come winter and summer breaks, she goes back to work full time. And throughout, she maintains a full course load while also serving on the staff of the Journal of Law and Technology.

So how does she do it all? A good deal of her success means taking those same efficiencies from her professional life and applying them to school and family to ensure that she has the most quality time possible with them. “I plan ahead . . . a lot,” added Bauer. “Between living close to school and working remotely, I’m able to be home with my family when I’m not in class.”  Still, free time on weekends has become a thing of the past. Plus, “I had to overcome some of my perfectionist tendencies—there’s just not enough time for me to pull every squib case, or to draft extensive case briefs from scratch.” But overall, she found a good deal of flexibility in her law school experience.  

When it comes to next steps, Bauer plans to use her legal knowledge to enhance her work in e-discovery and technology-assisted review at Steptoe. She hopes to get back into the pro bono work that initially drew her to the legal field. And, just maybe, she’ll find some time to make up some of those lost hours of sleep from the past few years.