How did you get started in eDiscovery?
I had a career in technology before I ever went to law school, so I came into the legal world with both business experience and some tech background. That combination of skills and experiences gave me some insight into the business of law; I was constantly trying to bring some of the rigor of that business background into the legal work I was doing. I approached every task that way, searching for repeatable processes, documenting procedures, creating charts and training materials, you name it. The processes that I put in place were really effective at making our work run more quickly, so that was gratifying.
At that time, eDiscovery was still a bit under-defined in the legal industry. But even though there wasn’t exactly a clear path to a career in eDiscovery, I loved everything about it: the technology, the fact that there were so many puzzles to solve, and the way I got to work as if I were a detective, tracking down information and answers. I worked with Google for a brief period, as a contractor while they built out their in-house team, and then worked with the litigation support provider TERIS, assembling a professional services team there. I had all these great opportunities to really test my strengths and explore the interplay between legal and technology.
Sounds like you developed a bit of a specialty in team-building work. What lessons would you say you learned from those experiences?
Relationships are so important—probably in any field, but definitely in eDiscovery. I can’t know everything there is to know; I’ve got to rely on experts all across the organization to get things done the right way. That means I need to build bridges with the specialists on my team so we can have a framework for effective two-way communication. Usually, when I’m first starting with a team, I’ll take people out to lunch to start to learn what their concerns are, what they need help with, and what’s working well as it is.
I also have to think about how to manage things as a company, from an operational standpoint. To do that, I need to understand what all the component parts of an issue are and how they fit together. I need to know how the different product teams work and find subject-matter experts in all those areas. I need to know the people in IT, the engineers and the developers. I need to get historical information and learn where data is stored, how it gets there, and how to extract it.
The great thing is that those relationships provide so many returns over time. One of the big struggles, especially with technology companies, is that the company may be quite prone to adopting new technologies and tools without ever thinking about the downstream implications of the data that those tools create. When you’ve built relationships with your engineering team, you get invited to the table earlier—which means you can head off some of those problems. They’re also more inclined to trust you when you’ve proven that you understand how an urgent data request is a burden; they’ll know that when you say something is an emergency, it really is.
What personality traits of yours do you think make you well-suited to working in eDiscovery?
Definitely, my curiosity! It’s one of my defining traits, and with eDiscovery—especially at the start of my career, when it was so new—I got to feel like I was helping to invent something. We were building approaches, learning about emerging technologies, and solving problems. That’s what I still get to do every day. The eDiscovery space is never boring; there’s always a new challenge!
Right now, for example, we’re dealing with collaboration applications and the new issues that those types of data present. Much of the unstructured data we’re creating, as a company, is in these collaboration spaces, and it’s driving a substantial change in the way we think about data.
Another thing I love about eDiscovery is how I can dig into these tiny details and become an expert on a particular piece of technology or type of data, yet derive significant value from being a generalist. There’s lots of room to develop expertise while doing different things every day. The work is so important because if left unchecked and unmanaged, eDiscovery costs can overwhelm all other expenses in litigation. Applying a business sensibility to the practice of eDiscovery is critical to managing both data and budgets.
My background in technology was also a huge boon: it taught me the value of having a process as a starting point. In my view, you can’t build an effective, efficient, forward-looking eDiscovery program in-house without an established process. You can’t figure out where to save money and improve efficiency or measure risk against the cost to make appropriate decisions, without knowing your process.
So, does technology make your job easier, or more complicated? Or both at once?
Well, it definitely keeps it interesting. There’s been such a huge shift toward dynamic, collaborative data in the last few years. The upcoming workforce has an entirely new perspective: they’ve never experienced static documents like the ones I grew up using. Instead of an unchanging piece of paper or server-based file sharing, we’ll have six people in a document in the cloud all at once, making changes and communicating freely about what needs to happen. The way we have to think about data now is totally different, and the ability to capture dynamic content is going to be pivotal for every organization.
That’s one of the things I love about working with Hanzo: this new dynamic content is incredibly important, not just for litigation matters or investigations but also for internal documentation and historical information, preserving the institutional knowledge about how the business operates. We used to have to try to collect that data with screen captures, but we knew that wasn’t the best approach. We started putting together internal policies around the way we capture data, both for litigation and for our internal use. In concert with that, we were evaluating our standards for data retention to ensure we met our obligations. All of that would have been a tremendous burden with manual capture, but Hanzo’s tools and services are making it easier.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just getting started in eDiscovery?
One of the great things about the field of eDiscovery is that there are so many different paths you can follow. You can approach it from the legal side, the technology side, the process, and the legal operations side—all roads lead to eDiscovery! It’s still such an exciting world, especially now with the emphasis on data privacy and the overlap between information governance and privacy considerations.
A major change is in the way that organizations approach data retention. It used to be that organizations just held on to data: it was cheap to store and hard to figure out what to delete. But as eDiscovery keeps getting more expensive, and as the regulatory landscape evolves, companies are going to be forced to make changes in how they manage and think about their data. Those changes will start happening in a meaningful way and to a degree that’s never happened before.
In short, I’d encourage anyone just starting that there are lots of amazing opportunities in eDiscovery. Buckle up, because there’s lots of work to do.
We couldn’t agree more.