Originally published in February 2016, this post earns continuous attention and feedback from readers. Take another look as you perfect your career development goals for 2017.
e-Discovery has always appealed to me because it’s a very neutral practice of law—the data is the data, and you try to identify what needs to be produced or reviewed in the most efficient manner. However, building a successful career in e-discovery (or in any industry, for that matter) isn’t quite as clear cut.
Succeeding in litigation support takes skills that aren’t always easy to define—they depend on the projects you’re working on, the people you’re working with, and the tools your organization uses.
However, throughout the past decade working in the industry—as everything from a contract review attorney to my current role as technical analytics manager—I’ve found there are some skills you just can’t get by without.
1. Strong (and Smart) Communication
This may seem obvious, but many people take communication for granted. In litigation support, you’re often working with people who don’t necessarily have a technical background, such as attorneys, paralegals, and clients, and it’s easy to forget the person you’re helping doesn’t use the tools, or even the lingo, you use every day. It’s your job to explain the technical concepts in a way that makes sense.
How to hone it: Determining what information you should provide takes practice, but you can start by taking note of the questions your clients regularly ask, then practice answering those questions with several levels of complexity. You can practice this on people at your office or even other colleagues at events or user group meetings. If all else fails, follow this rule of thumb: If people want more in-depth technical answers, they will ask for them.
2. An Understanding of How Data Works
There are many different sources for data, and many e-discovery platforms on which they can be loaded. Knowing metadata and the different data types will give you a jump on understanding how to construct better searches or filters and will help you perform different types of advanced analysis.
How to hone it: To truly understand data and become adept at handling large volumes, you need to study up on how databases work. Start by watching webinars and tutorials to become familiar with different databases. As you become more advanced, you can also put your skills into practice to better understand how different options impact your environment or how you may need to adapt your existing processes.
MySQL is also available as open source and can be run locally. Though there are some parts of the syntax in MySQL that differ from SQL, it will give you a great base and a better understanding of metadata, how searching works, and infrastructure. It’s your doorway into a much bigger world of analysis.
3. A Knack for Problem Solving
Troubleshooting is an everyday part of litigation support and a skill that requires both practice and a strong foundation of knowledge. Incoming data won’t always be to specifications, workflows will not always produce the results expected, and whomever you are supporting will not always ask things you know how to answer—and that’s okay. The difference between being good at your job and being great at your job is how you approach these situations.
How to hone it: The best way to develop a knack for troubleshooting is simply through experience, which you gain by being proactive. Volunteer to be involved in issues your team is trying to solve to learn the rules, learn what doesn’t work, and expand your understanding.
Savvy research skills are also a must, so it’s important to know ahead of time what technical resources are available and how to find answers quickly. Proactively explore your software’s documentation, bookmark important sites, and practice researching problems and questions. That way, when trouble arises, you’ll know exactly where to look for an answer. And when you can’t figure it out on your own, don’t be shy about asking for help from a third-party, like kCura’s advice team.
4. Proven and Practical Expertise in a Specific Subject
Becoming a subject matter expert in a particular type of technology or process, such as analytics or data processing, can help you stand out from the crowd—not only if you’re in the applicant pool, but also when you’re in a meeting involving a technical discussion.
How to hone it: Start by determining what tools and technology you use on a daily basis, then pursue educational opportunities—such as trainings, webinars, or certification programs—that match those needs. For example, if you work with Relativity every day as a system administrator, it would make sense for you to become a Relativity Certified Administrator (RCA). For me, as a technical manager on Consilio’s analytics team, it's been beneficial to not only become an RCA, but also an Analytics specialist and Assisted Review specialist.
There is one additional skill—or, more accurately, learnable attribute—that’s essential for anyone working in e-discovery: curiosity. At the end of the day, we’re all working with data, trying to get to the bottom of a problem, and it’s essential to do our research, ask questions, and learn what we can. Being curious will get you much further than being experienced.
What other skills do you think are essential in e-discovery? Share them in the comments.
Morgan Garcia-Lamarca is a manager at Morae Legal. He has more than a decade of experience in e-discovery, including testing and implementing technologies—such as technology-assisted review, email threading, and conceptual categorization—used by review teams. Morgan is also a Relativity Certified Administrator and holds three specialist certifications, making him a Relativity Expert.