by Kevin Duncan - Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton on June 16, 2016
Despite years of education, professional experience, and ongoing research, no one—in any profession—can know everything. In a field as multi-faceted as e-discovery, to admit that fact is to take the first step toward success.
Bringing your best technical, legal, and project management minds onto a single team is a pivotal piece of e-discovery strategy. Unifying these teams into a dedicated e-discovery group, in our experience at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, enables stronger end-to-end support for clients.
If your team is like ours, a united front can help you unlock your potential for solving complex e-discovery challenges. To establish whether your team is collaborating as effectively as possible, ask yourself these three questions. If your answer for any of them is “no,” it might be time to make a change.
1. Are you keeping good tabs on your projects as tasks move between teams?
Naturally, the different stages of the EDRM lend themselves to different types of expertise. Attorneys conduct custodian interviews to enable thorough but targeted collections, technology specialists collect the data, and litigation support professionals often manage processing. But e-discovery is also iterative, and many steps don’t have a defined beginning or end. If your team is repeatedly taking on, handing off, and losing sight of your projects’ progression, you’re introducing unnecessary frustration.
For instance, attorneys should conduct custodian interviews right alongside the technologist (in our case, typically the project manager). That way, the technologist can triage data in real time. This approach pays off in ensuring all potentially relevant data is collected while preventing costly over-collection. In one instance, we recognized that there were several backups stored for the same email account with no corresponding deletion practice. Since the attorney and technologist were present for the collection, we were able to ask follow-up questions and exclude irrelevant or redundant backups from our collection, saving the client thousands of dollars.
When it comes to processing, this same PM can identify problem data earlier, understand what’s relevant to the matter, and readily answer IT questions. This has helped us identify problematic formats and data sets, come up with solid and efficient e-discovery plans, and work with opposing counsel on determining (or revising) protocols. For example, in one case we identified all the SMS and chat logs, CAD formats, container formats, and user files well in advance of the 26(f) discussions and ESI order. As a result, we had valuable insight into the data and were able to restrict discovery formats and tailor production protocols to account for these file types. With clear rules and protocols in place tailored to our data sets, we encountered no surprises as we coasted to our production deadline.
This integration is valuable for project planning, but also for the end client because it can save them money and shorten turnaround. In order to stay competitive, we need to offer not only high quality service but also deliver that service at a great value. With e-discovery costs absorbing so much of the litigation budgets, we make sure our clients are aware of the value we provide and how we save them money.
2. Is your leadership unified and on the same page?
When some of your team works in IT, document review is treated as a separate entity, attorneys work independently, and project managers are scattered across the board, it can be difficult to keep track of your overall progress—even though everyone’s goals are ultimately the same.
Bringing all of our team members under a single e-discovery umbrella solved these challenges for us. We are a unified group with three branches, just like the U.S. government; our team breaks down into legal (attorneys), operational (PMs), and technical (analysts) segments with a team leader who provides oversight of us all. Whereas before our communication might be stuttered and a fear of duplicative work was very real, we’re now able to stay connected, creating all sorts of efficiencies.
Even if that sort of organizational change doesn’t make sense for your team, setting goals together and establishing frameworks for how these groups’ leaders can stay connected—instead of operating in silos—can have a big impact on your efficiency. One of the best ways to stay connected is to set and stick to regular meeting schedules. There’s nothing like reconnecting with a team member who may work in a different market to get the creative juices flowing.
3. Do you have recurring opportunities to share knowledge with your entire team?
With a unified team assembled, meet regularly to stay abreast of projects, developments, and new information. We meet weekly to talk through projects with our technologists, PMs, and attorneys to keep everyone updated on status, discuss upgrades for our technology, share lessons learned from recent conferences and trainings and implement improvements to standard workflows. We talk through what’s happening with our caseload, discuss unique issues we’ve encountered, brainstorm to tackle challenges as they emerge, and get a head start on what’s on the horizon.
Overall, you’ll find that being closely integrated means your teams’ learning curves are clipped. There are opportunities for every team member to grow skills in their own niche as well as their colleagues’. By working more closely with the attorneys on our team, our PMs are becoming well-versed in legal issues such as cross-border data privacy issues and the importance of 502(d) agreements, and, in coordination with our e-discovery attorneys, are providing that insight to case teams and clients during the meet and confer process.
The osmosis of new skills that will make each person more confident happens naturally once you’ve established a good cadence. One important advantage of our team’s integration is the drastic improvement in technology skills of our attorneys and paralegals. By working closely with the project managers and analysts, they receive invaluable training that provides them with insight into the review and command of the data. This keeps our case teams nimble and confident.
I know that the collaborative effort is working when a new attorney who has been asking me to run basic searches or reports for weeks suddenly goes missing. With each results delivery, I try to show them how I got the result with screenshots or go to their office and set up the search with them watching over my shoulder. Wondering what has happened with my missing attorney, I stop by their office and ask, “Why haven’t I heard from you?” to which they reply, “I’ve been running the reports on my own. Thanks for showing me! The partner loves these reports!”
It’s also cool to watch our analysts go from asking “Why would you do that?” about a workflow option to, just a few months later, anticipating a need or opportunity in advance and having a solution ready before it even comes up. Because of our team’s integration, our analysts naturally learn more about the big picture; they are able to see downstream into the EDRM cycle, recognize what is essential to each team’s concern and the importance their discrete project plays in the whole. With a clear direction and understanding of the cycle, our analyst teams can concentrate and develop skills in more relevant ways and they are more confident when called upon to create custom workflows and creative solutions. When an analyst speaks up at a meeting and makes a suggestion about how a time zone offset for imaging can cut down on confusion regarding a document’s create date, I get really excited about what we are doing here at Kilpatrick.
Eventually, as a team, you’ll take better ownership of your collective skills. When you have a big picture perspective rather than dwelling on what each individual is good at today, eventually, you’ll look back and see how far you’ve come simply by staying connected and working as a real team.
Kevin Duncan is a senior project manager with Kilpatrick Townsend’s e-Discovery Team. In this role, he provides guidance to case teams and clients on all phases of the EDRM in addition to project planning, budgeting, and technical issues regarding e-discovery.