Partner Marwa Hassoun on her automation journey at firm ArentFox Schiff

“I have this painful task,’ and I want something that will alleviate the burden for everyone.”

Meet Marwa Hassoun

She’s a Partner at US law firm ArentFox Schiff, which has offices in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, and Washington DC. 

The Boston and Los Angeles-based lawyer co-leads the firm’s National Security Group and, among other things, her work entails figuring out export classifications (a lot of them!) for her clients. 

Marwa is an innovation powerhouse, directing ArentFox Schiff’s Innovation Committee. Not only has Marwa utilised Josef bots to manage data for global regulatory audits, but she’s worked on automating advice for complex trade laws, like helping clients determine their export classifications.  

We spoke to Hassoun about her work and her automation journey.

How did you end up working in international trade and investment law?

It was totally by accident. People come out of law school nowadays and they know they want to be an international trade lawyer or an national security lawyer. I guess I’m old, because that was not a thing when I was graduating from law school.

I’m fluent in Arabic and I did a summer at a law firm in between my second and third years of law school. There was an international arbitration in London that involved a Jordanian pharmaceutical company, and there were a lot of documents in Arabic, so they just kind of plopped me in.

I did it and it was fun. Since then, I’ve been doing various international trade and investment work, including export controls, sanctions, and foreign investment in the United States. 

What does the International Trade and Investment Group at ArentFox Schiff focus on?

My practice is based on getting things in and out of the US. The US has sanctions against so many people and places, and they change constantly, so I stay busy primarily with that. We also do a lot of investigations, and regulatory work for our clients.

You’re automating export classifications with Josef. Can you tell us more about that?

Typically we train clients to conduct their own export classifications, which almost always ends up with either a complicated questionnaire that requires you to jump around or a scary Visio chart. We kept finding our clients got stuck on something, or had inconsistent answers, or went in the wrong direction. I kept thinking, ‘I have this painful task,’ and I want something that will alleviate the burden for everyone, especially our clients.

Export classification is when products are on a certain list – a list that has many, many subcategories. Depending on where on the list as well as other factors, you might need to get authorisation from the US government to export to whatever country you’re trying to export to.

I knew clients were frustrated with the repeated task of classifying things every time they made something new or modified something with an export classification, so I thought it would be cool to automate the process, with easy ways to obtain answers to questions that may pop up as the person is conducting the classification.

We are now building it with Josef, and Josef is super user-friendly. The goal is to ease the pain and get the engineers, or whoever is responsible for export classifications, to interact with the questions without getting mad because Josef is going to be kind and guide you to get consistent answers, and ultimately to a classification. And then suddenly everyone wants to do export classifications!

“Automating export classifications frees us up from having to answer questions that don’t require a lawyer, and gives us more time to focus on complicated questions”
– Marwa Hassoun

Sounds cool! What are the benefits of a bot like that to you and the firm?

It frees us up from having to answer questions that don’t require a lawyer, and gives us more time to focus on complicated questions, and in a situation where an engineer determining classifications gets stuck, they can ping us or ping their in-house counsel to get guidance depending on the risk level of the classification.

Users can step in and out of the bot – the answers given are all saved. It lends itself to really easy record keeping.

We want to say ‘Here are our offerings in these areas that make you depend on us a little bit less, but allow us to to help you and at the same time we’re going to update this for you.

When regulations change and there is an impact to export classifications, Josef also will allow us to just insert or alter a legal piece instead of rebuilding it from scratch, every single time.

We’re working with Josef to figure out valuation, and the clients are excited about the self-sufficiency of automated classifications.

I’ve talked to other regulatory law areas in food and drug law, and medical devices, to gauge their interest as to whether or not something similar would be useful for them.

What else are you using Josef for?

We recently used Josef for an enormous regulatory audit for a multinational client facing an enforcement action by the US Department of State. 

We interviewed 600 people – across 17 sites all over the world – in nine weeks, using a Josef interview bot to track the answers and data, then we instantly generated a report after each interview. 

To create metrics out of that many interviews is really tedious and not worth it if you didn’t have some sort of mechanism like Josef to collect and track the data as it’s coming in.

So now we get to generate some nice graphics for our report to the U.S. Government.

We also used Josef to create a transaction testing bot – it’s another data collection tool for the same audit. In the old days – like last year – we would have done this on a spreadsheet.  But now we’re tracking information in a more formal way, where our rationale is more clear for how we’ve come to those decisions. 

It’s faster. I’ve talked to the legal professionals supporting the project and they made it through the work in a way that couldn’t have happened if we were still using spreadsheets.

“Using Josef we interviewed 600 people across 17 sites all over the world. With the answers and data we instantly generated a report after each interview. ”
– Marwa Hassoun

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading ‘Meltdown: What Plane Crashes, Oil Spills, and Dumb Business Decisions Can Teach Us About How to Succeed at Work and at Home’ by Chris Clearfield.

Chris specialises in helping people develop and execute on change models. So in terms of the innovation work that I’ve been doing, he’s actually helped me with various basic concepts like the cultural needs around change.


What do you get up to when you’re not working and innovating?

I have four-year old twins. They’re pretty cute, which is what keeps them alive. We do a lot of arts and crafts and we go to the park more times than I care! That keeps me busy outside of work.

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