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There are more unicorns than you think.
The age of jack-of-all-trades lawyers is coming to an end as it relates to eDiscovery. As both lawyers and staff increasingly need greater focus in key areas, eDiscovery is now so complex that it too requires deep specialization. As such, there have been countless articles by so-called eDiscovery authorities saying “lawyers must invest the time to learn and become steeped in eDiscovery and technology.” These same experts continuously repeat that “a new wave of young lawyers savvy in the ins-and-outs of electronically stored information (ESI)” are necessary to keep law firms up to speed. But what lawyer has the time to learn an entirely new field while supporting a caseload? Where are these mythical, young, tech-savvy attorneys?
The people who nod along while reading these articles assume they were written specifically for large law firms with dedicated electronic discovery teams. Firms with the ability to carry the overhead. However, most lawyers are already stretched too thin to add Computer Scientist to their legal resumé. Truly, most people found their way to the law through their passion for the nuances of language and not a passion for Boolean search terms.
But the mythical eDiscovery unicorns do exist and there are so many of them that they can be added to legal teams at large and small firms at far more attractive rates than traditional attorneys command. But they are not lawyers - they are eDiscovery Project Managers (PM). If eDiscovery truly lives in the space between law and technology, it makes sense to tackle the challenges and opportunities from the technology side first. Most lawyers already delegate eDiscovery down the chain, so adding an eDiscovery specialist to stay abreast of technology while lawyers remain attentive to developments in the law seems the best and cheapest way to get from deficit to proficiency.
This Article Examines:
General Responsibilities of eDiscovery Project Managers
All lawyers must be familiar with eDiscovery basics, but three current trends are pushing eDiscovery out of reach for amateur practitioners: (1) the growing number of published eDiscovery decisions; (2) rapidly evolving technology to collect, process, and review ESI; and (3) corporate efforts to manage records more effectively in response to new compliance requirements.
Dealing with ESI is intricate and tedious work as the systems commonly used to create, send, store and manage it were never designed to support litigation. By welcoming eDiscovery PMs onto the case team, firms can avoid falling into the grey area of knowing just enough to know they don’t know enough. Accordingly, to engage in eDiscovery effectively, experts in how data functions, where it lives and how to manipulate its countless complexities are a new necessity.
General duties of an eDiscovery Project Manager:
Using eDiscovery Project Managers vs. Paralegals or Legal Assistants
Lawyers who let someone else deal with ESI on their behalf understand the complexity that is involved well enough to know that they can’t do both their job and catalogue masses of data at the same time. That said, lawyers still need to know enough to be sure they have the right people doing the right jobs. It seems many firms still assume that learning the complexities of ESI and keeping up with advances in technology is something paralegals or legal secretaries can just do. Unfortunately, lawyers placing this burden on their staff are actually putting themselves and their clients at risk.
In litigation and audit scenarios, extracting data most likely to be relevant to a matter and getting it into a format that can be reviewed with some degree of efficiency requires a specialist. That person is, and always should be, an eDiscovery Project Manager as the actual details to be handled with ESI are endless and the skill set needed to do it effectively requires endless education and training. Accepting the difference between these two roles is already helping some lawyers take great leaps in efficiency and is even reducing eDiscovery billing to their clients. No one would have a tax lawyer try their commercial litigation case, would they?
Outsourcing eDiscovery Project Managers can be more cost-effective
Not every matter involves ESI, but every matter could and the eDiscovery Project Manager role is unique to the need. The good news is that the supply of PMs in the job market has caught up with demand causing rates to stabilize in the past few years. With annual salaries as low as $54,571 and a national average at $70,226, law firms do not need to pray that they find that rare, tech-savvy, young associate who can competently handle the entire firm’s eDiscovery activity.
These days, law firms can very easily gain the benefits of an eDiscovery PM on an as-needed basis by partnering with an eDiscovery vendor. That said, there are still some pitfalls to using eDiscovery PMs as part of an eDiscovery vendor’s solution. Some of the established eDiscovery vendors offering Project Manager services may not have the requisite experience or legal know-how to best support a firm’s specific needs. Further, some of the newest eDiscovery technologies on the market don’t even include Project Manager services – they claim to be so intuitive that anybody can use them for any case.
To offset these pitfalls and altogether dubious claims, a new way to get eDiscovery Project Managers in-house is starting to gain traction among small to mid-sized firms. Full-time, dedicated eDiscovery Project Managers are being made available by eDiscovery vendors using the same model that has been applied for years with back-office, non-skilled staff like mail clerks or hospitality specialists. The difference is that these dedicated eDiscovery Project Managers are thoroughly vetted and can be stationed either on-site at firm offices or off-site at the vendor’s offices. These outsourced Project Managers are also given full access to the vendor’s technology systems most commonly resulting in ZERO BILLING FOR DATA PROCESSING. That’s right, this new model allows firms to gain the expert functionality of an experience PM for a fixed monthly fee without the headaches and costs associated with hiring, benefitting and managing the position while completely avoiding variable and exorbitant data processing charges. This is proving to be a winning situation for firms as they control costs while facing increasing amounts of eDiscovery work.
By outsourcing eDiscovery, lawyers can get the job done faster and with greater accuracy, which reduces cost to the firm while freeing up key personnel to focus on their core competencies. For firms that create the eDiscovery Attorney position or an entire practice, good for them, but they should limit their business to counseling. Even though some firms can process small batches of ESI; for big batches, it is still advisable to retain a vendor as outsourcing minimizes the chance that the firm’s lawyers or staff will have to offer testimony or sign an affidavit concerning the data collection or chain of custody. Most firms would rather rely on third parties for such testimony.
In closing, it isn’t realistic to expect lawyers to be able to have a simultaneous mastery of both their substantive legal area and the technology. This is a time when both the law and the technology are evolving at blinding rates, so litigators are going to continue to need help and support from experts. At IST Discover-E, we have years of experience helping our clients with their eDiscovery needs along with full scale legal support management systems and outsourced PM engagements. We are expert in creating and customizing eDiscovery processes that best fit our client’s needs and expectations. Our model is uniquely transparent, easy to understand and effective in aiding our clients get the decision they want for their clients.
At IST Discover-E, we have years of experience helping our clients with their eDiscovery needs along with full scale legal support management systems. We are expert in creating and customizing eDiscovery processes that best fit our client’s needs and expectations. Our model is uniquely transparent, easy to understand and effective in aiding our clients get the decision they want for their clients.