This article is brought to you courtesy of Legaltech News and was originally published on August 11, 2020.
While ACEDS membership and the number of certified individuals is growing, ACEDS president Mike Quartararo expects the e-discovery industry itself might take longer to fully bounce back from layoffs and the other lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mike Quartararo, president of the Association of E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS), won’t officially celebrate a year on the job until October, but he’s had more than a year’s worth of work in that time. COVID-19 has sent ripples throughout e-discovery and the legal industry general, prompting a litigation slowdown and subsequent layoffs.
Fortunately, ACEDS’ status as an online education provider has made it easier to adapt to a new world where business, industry conferences and even certifications are conducted online. Quartararo, who before coming to ACEDS served as managing director at eDPM Advisory Services and director of litigation support services at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, believes the e-discovery sector will eventually bounce back.
However, the same jobs might be located in different places when it does. Below, Quartararo discusses why he thinks e-discovery gigs are headed away from law firms and what e-discovery professionals may need to know in a post-pandemic world.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Legaltech News: This was probably not the first year that you were expecting. How did the onset of the pandemic impact your plans for this year? Is this a different e-discovery industry than the one that began your tenure at ACEDS?
Michael Quartararo: I don’t think it’s changed my view of the industry. But it’s certainly impacted us in that as a professional association in the space, we kind of count on that ability to interact with people in-person. So we’ve kind of been—as has everybody in the space—forced to go virtual with our events, our chapter meetings, attending conferences, all of those kinds of things.
Do you see the impact of COVID-19 forcing ACEDS to rethink the way that it approaches its mission long-term?
At the end of the day we’re a training and certification association, and if ever there was time to be an online education provider, it’s a good time for that. So we’ve been fortunate in that regard.
We are fortunate to be positioned to offer a lot of what we do online. For instance, we’ve pivoted from our exam is offered at a thousand testing centers around the world. It was a really light lift for us to moved it online and provide online proctored exams.
Towards the beginning of the pandemic we saw a slowdown in litigation and the resulting layoffs that occurred within the e-discovery industry. Are we starting to see that trend reverse itself?
I think it’s likely to continue for a while, in my opinion, just because it’s not quite clear. There’s more recently been a surge in layoffs. The surge has been in COVID-19 sort of rising up again across the nation and I think… the e-discovery and litigation space is probably going to be flat for a few more months until we kind of figure this out.
But I’m optimistic that everybody is adapting well and finding their way through this. I think that on the other side there will be an increase in litigation and therefore e-discovery projects, and so we’re posed to continue offering the training and certification to those who need it.
Do you think that all of the e-discovery jobs that were lost during the initial stages of the pandemic will return? Or will that talent simply be clustered in different places than before COVID-19?
I think some of it will come back, but I think that there will be a shift in the work force in that more people will go work in-house or at vendors as opposed to law firms, maybe.
But that all remains to be seen. I think it’s a big question mark… If I had to guess I would say more vendor-centric employment opportunities because I think more of the work is—as it has been for years—moving in-house. There will just be more opportunity for jobs on the vendor and corporate side than on the law firm side.
Are there new skills that e-discovery professionals will have to learn or emphasize if they hope to remain relevant in a post-pandemic world?
I think the skill set pretty much remains the same. If there’s any sort of area of specialization, I would say it’s more around dealing with issues like machine learning or AI or TAR. Those kinds of skill sets are going to become more valuable as we come out of this thing, because people are going to be looking for more efficient ways to, for example, review documents. If there’s an application that helps in that regard, I think that’s going to become a more useful skill.
And then I think on the information governance side of things with everybody moving to the cloud, understanding issues around SaaS-based offerings, maintaining those kinds of information governance protocols on the left side of the EDRM are going to become really important.