Sonya Judkins_ Advisory Board Interview

The Expanding Role and Influence of the Modern Litigation Support or E-Discovery Manager

ACEDS Advisory Board Chair Ari Kaplan Interviews Sonya Judkins, ACEDS Advisory Board Member and Manager of Legal Discovery/Compliance at T-Mobile

What has been the typical role of a litigation support or e-discovery manager?
An individual who could help the law department support the workload of a law firm at a lower rate given the rising costs of e-discovery. As expenses increased, law departments sought to avoid paying higher hourly law firm rates by leveraging the talent of an internal litigation support or e-discovery manager.

What has changed to prompt the evolution of this role?
I believe the use and understanding of technology have had a tremendous effect on the transformation of this role. Instead of simply serving as a factor in reducing the budget, now these types of professionals are being called upon to participate in strategy sessions and budget conversations to more effectively impact the trajectory of the law department.

What is required to succeed in this role?
Success requires patience and strong communication and organization skills, among others. We are usually thrown into situations where the odds are against our team. To serve most effectively, one needs to pause, consider the options, analyze key problems, and create practical solutions that do not always have a precedent. And, you need to do so without adding to the budget. While success may have different interpretations, IT and legal often have different objectives, applying unique talents to understand those distinctions and align expectations is critical. For that reason, the e-discovery manager is often the ambassador of the law department litigation team.

How can a litigation support and e-discovery manager navigate the different worlds within a corporation?
One has to be nimble and capable of pivoting seamlessly. A single call or decision is not always related to a matter in a linear fashion, which complicates the approach to problem-solving. As a result, it is critical that the legal team recognizes that an e-discovery or litigation support manager can offer tremendous value due to their varied exposure to each case. In fact, because of their experiences, they naturally right-size the approach to any type of matter.

What are the challenges of serving as a litigation support or e-discovery manager?
The single biggest challenge is the willingness to invest in solutions that can transform the organization’s litigation profile. And, it is critical that the correct individuals with the appropriate levels of seniority are involved in the implementation of a given solution. In fact, they need to be associated with the effort over the long-term to ensure long-lasting success.

How should litigation support and e-discovery managers view their role?
They should not limit their responsibilities to a single case or remain content with a limited role. Look for opportunities to apply your skills and experience to other matters and groups beyond the legal department. For example, if you develop a new process for issuing legal holds with tracking software, consider ways that the finance or procurement teams can adapt your ideas and workflows.

How is the role of a litigation support or e-discovery manager evolving?
It is increasingly being held by a professional a more senior-management-level position with a seat at the table. It has become more of a business stakeholder, rather than someone who was historically executing a task for cost reduction. In fact, the litigation support or e-discovery manager is much more of a strategic leader offering solutions to problems and working to proactively prevent litigation. To the greatest extent possible, you need to position yourself at that strategic level by providing advice and guidance on best practices to impact policies and change downstream. It is important for litigation support and e-discovery managers to take initiative from the beginning of a matter to the end despite the extensive workload.

About the Author

Ari Kaplan on Email
Ari Kaplan
Principal at Ari Kaplan Advisors
Ari Kaplan, an attorney and legal industry analyst, is an inaugural Fastcase 50 honoree, a fellow of the College of Law Practice Management, and a finalist for the International Legal Technology Association’s Thought Leader of the Year award. He is the author of Reinventing Professional Services: Building Your Business in the Digital Marketplace (Wiley, 2011) and The Opportunity Maker: Strategies for Inspiring Your Legal Career Through Creative Networking and Business Development (West Academic, 2nd Ed. 2016). Kaplan serves as the principal researcher for a variety of widely distributed benchmarking reports, has been the keynote speaker for events worldwide, and is the founder of the Lawcountability® business development platform. He is also a two-time Ironman triathlon finisher.