Collaboration in eDiscovery has its own special challenges. First, communication between lawyers and technologists often requires translation. Second, participation is a prerequisite – but not a given. Third, continuing education and professional development improves collaboration.
Recently I had the pleasure of facilitating a lively discussion on improving collaboration for the Women in eDiscovery Indianapolis chapter. The participants were a diverse group of experienced eDiscovery professionals. On the law firm side, there were paralegals, lawyers with an eDiscovery practice focus and litigation support managers and staff. Service providers were represented by project managers, consultants and contract review coordinators. This article was inspired by that discussion.
Translation is the key to communication
Communication is essential to collaboration. The tremendous amount of specialized terminology (aka jargon) in eDiscovery is a significant barrier to communication for the uninitiated. Even for experienced eDiscovery professionals, it can be challenging to talk across the law-technology divide.
Never take communication for granted. Adjust your delivery to your audience, taking their knowledge and experience into account. Explain terms and give specific examples where needed. Restating points in different words and asking clarifying questions are good tactics to confirm mutual understanding. This is especially important in complex projects.
Looking for career development opportunities? People with the hard knowledge and soft skills to facilitate communication are a tremendous asset to any eDiscovery project.
Takeaway for lawyers: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Collaboration begins with participation
You can’t collaborate if you aren’t on the team. Being brought in sooner topped the wish list. When they’re brought in early in the process, eDiscovery professionals assist lawyers to prepare for the meet and confer, identify potentially responsive ESI, put together budget and staffing projections and assess technology options. Moreover, a comprehensive discovery plan based on input from all team members saves time, money and difficulty in the long run.
Lawyers learn through experience – their own and others’. Avoidable cost overruns or adverse discovery rulings in a case can be a teaching moment for the whole firm. Sanctions cases and other noteworthy eDiscovery decisions are also good educational resources.
Experience doesn’t have to be negative to have an impact. Several people noted many of their best clients (internal and external) are lawyers who have seen firsthand the benefits of using technology and working closely with eDiscovery support staff. Enlist the more technology-aware lawyers and paralegals among your clients to help publicize success stories.
One of the biggest obstacles to participation is many lawyers’ lack of awareness about available resources. A common refrain of the discussion: A necessary part of our job as eDiscovery professionals is educating our clients that we’re here and we can help. Develop lunch-and-learn programs, checklists and practice aids for eDiscovery. Also be ready to seize the opportunity for informal education in hallway and elevator conversations.
Takeaway for eDiscovery professionals: Be proactive in offering advice and assistance.
Educate yourself to support your team
It goes without saying that we bring value to the case team when we’re good at our jobs. EDiscovery is an exciting field because it’s constantly evolving. It’s a demanding practice area for the same reason.
Ongoing professional development is essential. For lawyers and others, this includes staying abreast of case law and rules changes that impact discovery obligations, legal arguments and risk analysis. The enormous variety of data sources and improved eDiscovery tools requires a dedicated effort to keep up to date on technology and process solutions that directly impact your cases.
Some projects require specific research. Unfamiliar data sources are a common source of questions. Admitting you don’t have all the answers – at least not at your fingertips – is a sign of professional maturity. Colleagues, consultants, software vendors and industry literature are all good resources. ACEDS sponsors regular webinars on a wide variety of topics in eDiscovery law and technology. For Relativity users, Relativity has an online resource center including documentation and training videos.
Takeaway for everyone: Constantly seek out education and skills training.
Where law and technology meet, miscommunication tends to follow. Collaboration in eDiscovery requires good communication skills, translation between legal and tech and an openness to seeking out resources. Legal and technology professionals alike benefit from continuing education and professional development in this fast-changing industry.