Ashley L Hanke Of Malkin Law: How AI Is Disrupting Our Industry, and What We Can Do About It

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Continuing Education: Attorneys should prioritize continuous learning on AI-related skills such as data analysis and AI ethics. This enables attorneys to stay competitive and effectively leverage AI tools in their practice.

Artificial Intelligence is no longer the future; it is the present. It’s reshaping landscapes, altering industries, and transforming the way we live and work. With its rapid advancement, AI is causing disruption — for better or worse — in every field imaginable. While it promises efficiency and growth, it also brings challenges and uncertainties that professionals and businesses must navigate. What can one do to pivot if AI is disrupting their industry? As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley L. Hanke, Esq.

Ms. Hanke is an alcohol beverage attorney at Malkin Law, PA. Hanke works with clients across all three tiers of the alcohol beverage industry, including distilleries, wineries, breweries, importers, distributors, retailers, and brand owners. Additionally, Ms. Hanke counsels unlicensed third-party marketing companies and industry members on trade practice and promotional activities, including compliant advertising and social media. Hanke is highly experienced in advising companies on all aspects of the alcohol beverage industry, with a specialization in formula and label compliance, contractual agreements, intellectual property, FDA & TTB compliance, the Craft Beverage Modernization Act, licensing, and navigation of the three-tier system.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I have had a long-standing interest in the alcohol and cannabis industries from a legal perspective because they are two highly regulated industries and regulations vary state to state. My desire to pursue a legal career in the industry was solidified after working on a vineyard in Tuscany. During this experience, I was involved in the wine-making process from beginning to end and developed an understanding of the intricacies of the industry, starting from the acquisition of real estate to carrying out agricultural activities, as well as vinification, labeling, sales, and exportation.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Malkin Law is a boutique law firm that specializes in a niche area of the law — alcoholic beverages. Unlike many large law firms that may allocate 5–10% of their practice to the field of hospitality, my colleagues and I pride ourselves on being experienced when it comes to all matters related to the production, distribution, sales, and marketing of alcoholic beverages. Additionally, Malkin Law is known for its superior client services and unprecedented response times to client inquiries, whereas we hear from clients that other large law firms that they have worked with in the past do not have the same personalized approach.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Curiosity, Adaptability, and Proactivity: The law, by design, is not static. Advancements in technology and constant changes in the law are happening every day. Although the courses I took in law school provided me with a solid foundation to start my career as an attorney, learning and intellectual development is ongoing. Being adaptable and open to constant changes in my field is crucial because, oftentimes, federal and state regulators will issue guidance that supersedes or overturns previous guidance, and all of a sudden, how a certain trade practice activity was carried out for years may suddenly be deemed non-compliant, and I need to be able to adapt quickly to counsel my clients on how to proceed with the impacted practice or activity in a lawful manner. I think of myself as a motivated self-starter, so my curiosity to learn the ins and outs of alcohol beverage laws coupled with my proactive nature, has been extremely helpful in my career, in that my mastery of new topics provides me with a competitive edge in the legal field as one of the few attorneys with informed knowledge on a given issue.

For example, in 2017, the Craft Beverage Modernization Act was implemented, and provisions of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code provided reduced rates or tax credits for beer, wine, and distilled spirits produced in or imported into the United States. Due to this significant change in the law, my importer clients were paying a reduced rate of $2.70 per proof gallon of spirits imported into the United States instead of the previous rate of $13.50 per proof gallon, which was a significant cost saving for my clients. However, when the Act was first implemented in 2017, to receive the reduced rates, certain substantiating documentation and spreadsheets had to be completed and submitted to Customs and Border Protection in order for my clients to receive the reduced tax rates. During this period, it felt like no other attorneys or customs brokers knew how to properly submit the substantiating documentation to receive the refunds, so I took it upon myself to learn the process and spent countless hours working with customs to educate myself so that I could better serve my clients and successfully obtain these sizeable refunds for them. I could not have achieved this without being curious, proactive, and adaptable.

Let’s now move to the main point of our discussion about AI. Can you explain how AI is disrupting your industry? Is this disruption hurting or helping your bottom line?

The majority of clients that my firm counsels are “upper-tier industry members,” meaning manufacturers, importers, brand owners, and wholesalers of alcoholic beverages. I have seen AI disrupt the alcohol beverage industry in a variety of ways, ranging from the use of AI tools by my clients to optimize marketing strategies via paid social media buying tools to refining their production processes with AI algorithms that analyze data related to quality control, product formulation, and ingredient sourcing. I would say that this disruption is a positive one.

Which specific AI technology has had the most significant impact on your industry?

Casetext (a legal research platform that uses AI to help lawyers find relevant case law, statutes, and regulations quickly and efficiently) impacted me as an attorney. For my clients, Overproof, an online platform that provides AI solutions for the beverage alcohol industry, allows them to link data, accounts, and depletions on a single platform to facilitate brand growth.

Can you share a pivotal moment when you recognized the profound impact AI would have on your sector?

One pivotal moment in the legal sector was the emergence of AI-powered tools for legal research. For example, platforms like LexisNexis Context have transformed how attorneys conduct legal research. These AI tools can sift through extensive databases, identify relevant case laws, statutes, and precedents, and provide insightful analysis, significantly reducing the time and effort traditionally required for legal research.

How are you preparing your workforce for the integration of AI, and what skills do you believe will be most valuable in an AI-enhanced future?

At Malkin Law, we have taught our staff that the information that is generated from AI tools and the usefulness of AI comes down to experience, familiarization with AI technologies, and training on both the technical aspects of AI and its applications in legal practice. We emphasize that AI tools are not error-free, and the generation of information using AI technologies must be independently verified. However, there are multiple AI tools that are very valuable thanks to how they facilitate our everyday work, such as note-taking during meetings, which “joins” virtual meetings and sends a transcript after the call.

What are the biggest challenges in upskilling your workforce for an AI-centric future?

Oftentimes, employees may depend too heavily on AI tools and rely on AI without understanding that skills and experience are required to get the most out of this technology and leverage them effectively and efficiently.

What ethical considerations does AI introduce into your industry, and how are you tackling these concerns?

As an attorney with in-depth experience drafting website Terms and Conditions, Privacy Policies, and Cookies Policies, the main ethical considerations that AI introduces to my industry are data privacy and confidentiality considerations. Attorneys have a duty to maintain client confidentiality and protect sensitive information. When using AI tools, it’s essential to ensure compliance with data privacy laws and regulations (e.g., GDPR, CCPA) and to implement robust data security measures and protect confidential and/or proprietary information.

What are your “Five Things You Need To Do, If AI Is Disrupting Your Industry”?

1 . Client Education: Attorneys should educate clients about the implications of AI in legal practices, including that while AI technologies can improve efficiency and reduce costs in some instances, AI is by no means a replacement for qualified legal professionals.

2 . Continuing Education: Attorneys should prioritize continuous learning on AI-related skills such as data analysis and AI ethics. This enables attorneys to stay competitive and effectively leverage AI tools in their practice.

3 . Address Ethical Challenges: Attorneys must navigate ethical and regulatory challenges associated with AI adoption, including data privacy, transparency, and client confidentiality. Developing ethical guidelines, implementing robust data protection measures, and staying informed about legal and ethical standards are essential.

4 . Leverage AI for Efficiency and Accuracy: Attorneys can utilize the power of AI to streamline routine tasks, improve efficiency, and enhance accuracy. AI tools can assist with notetaking, case management, and other routine tasks, freeing up time for attorneys to focus on legal tasks that AI cannot assist with.

5 . Consult with an Expert: Collaborating with AI experts and technology partners can help attorneys leverage AI solutions tailored to their specific legal needs. Attorneys can also use AI experts to assist with the training of support staff as needed.

What are the most common misconceptions about AI within your industry, and how do you address them?

I would say that the most common misconception about AI amongst attorneys is that AI will cause a reduction in demand for legal professionals. While AI may potentially to impact the demand for certain types of mundane administrative tasks that can be automated, it will in no way eliminate the need for legal professionals. I address this misconception by educating others on the benefits of AI, such as the use of AI tools to automate routine tasks and improve efficiency, while emphasizing that this is by no means a replacement for qualified legal professionals who use creative, analytic, critical thinking skills to think outside of the box and solve real-world legal issues to achieve the best legal outcomes for their clients.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails”- Dolly Parton. I grew up sailing on my father’s sailboat, so this quote is one of my favorites for multiple reasons: it always brings a smile to my face due to the childhood memories that it invokes. And as mentioned earlier in the interview, I feel that I am a person who can adapt to change and make anything happen using the resources that are available to me.

Off-topic, but I’m curious. As someone steering the ship, what thoughts or concerns often keep you awake at night? How do those thoughts influence your daily decision-making process?

With advancements in technology and increased access to information, I worry about data security from both a personal and professional standpoint. AI systems are vulnerable to security threats such as data breaches and malicious use. My daily decision-making process is impacted by this concern, and I find that I practice law — and life — with an abundance of caution by prioritizing security measures and disclosing sensitive information only on an as-needed basis.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

A movement to emphasize the importance of language skills in connecting people and fostering global communication and understanding throughout the world. Language learning promotes cultural exchange and understanding by enabling individuals to immerse themselves in different cultures, traditions, and perspectives.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.