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8 Questions with In-House Powerhouse Ben Robbins of LinkedIn

Brendan Ryan

LinkedIn employs more than 10,000—countless more if you broaden the meaning of “employ” to connecting professionals everywhere with career-changing opportunities.

One of those 10,000+ is responsible for almost everything e-discovery at the organization, as well as the technical aspects of managing and securing data on the rest. It’s Ben Robbins, senior program manager of eDiscovery, Forensics, & Information Governance.

As you can tell from his job title, there’s a lot on Ben’s plate. The technology he uses to manage it all includes Relativity, so we have the privilege of enabling his efforts and connecting here on the blog. We recently stole his attention away from the workspace for a bit to talk about his career path, the Silicon Valley ethos of information management, and his perspective on in-house e-discovery work.  

Here’s what he had to say.

1. How did you get an in-house role?

A combination of luck, timing, preparedness, and a great LinkedIn profile. I completed a two-year secondment at the CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] to set up the e-discovery, FOIA collections, and litigation support program. Shortly thereafter, I received a recruitment LinkedIn InMail regarding a newly created role at LinkedIn. The work at the CFPB was an invaluable opportunity. It’s rare to have the chance to develop the strategy, structure, process, and technology elements for a new program, especially at a large government agency. It was rewarding to help construct a department that avoided many of the common e-discovery technology pain points. This experience aided my move into the private sector.

2. What are your responsibilities at LinkedIn?

The discovery staff in Silicon Valley companies are often multifunctional. My responsibilities include e-discovery technology administration and operations, forensic investigations, records, and information risk management. The primary focus is understanding the landscape of systems that house discoverable content and developing preservation-in-place and extraction procedures to make a repeatable, defensible process. The system and content inventory process lends itself well to understanding access controls, system owners, and retention rules which are components of a cross-functional governance program and GDPR readiness. I also support other teams with technical investigations.

3. Are there any parts of your job you didn’t expect?

I did not expect the speed of project execution and cross-functional enthusiasm across business units. The general interest in timely collaboration simplifies complex projects. I spent my formative years in various government and large East Coast-based regulated corporate legal and IT departments. There, navigating bureaucracy was the norm. Silicon Valley companies seem to run smoother. Also, the free food is great.

4. What's the biggest challenge people in in-house roles like yours are facing today?

Disparate data sources are the most challenging element for discovery, privacy, and security teams. Additionally, there are teams leveraging tools and technology that are unexpected data repositories. More often than not, those unexpected data repositories do not have native functionality to appropriately secure, preserve, extract, or search, which requires a significant amount of ingenuity and deliberate policy work to manage those sources to the needs and risk tolerance of the organization. Another layer to this is the necessary inquiry into all systems containing sensitive data in preparation for the looming GDPR deadline.

5. What's one thing you want more outside counsel to “get” about in-house e-discovery?

There are many knowledgeable attorneys and practitioners across e-discovery, information governance, forensics, and information security. I believe those who understand the nature of the work also unquestionably recommend having in-house discovery staff. There is quantifiable ROI from the in-house team dedicated to strategy, tooling, inventorying, preservation, collection, and reduction methodologies. There is qualitative value from the litigation and investigation readiness that can be leveraged in privacy, security, records, and IT departments. Those who believe it can be sustained exclusively through managed services or outside counsel are not paying the bills.

6. What are the differences between how Silicon Valley approaches discovery and companies elsewhere?

The valley companies are younger, trend digital, and have the opportunity to create a workflow which makes sense for that particular organization. Many Valley companies have brought discovery and forensic technology in-house to control costs and partner with service providers only when needed. Companies tend to be in a state of growth and constant change, which introduces challenges when hunting down relevant content and information flows. Older companies can face a digital labyrinth of complexities layered through legacy systems, migrations, acquisitions, disparate or unknown system owners, political silos, knowledge hoarders, wasted budget, and litigation data spread across many service providers and law firms. The older companies also tend to have a workflow that’s been in place for decades, and disrupting that flow can be difficult to pitch.

7. Where do information governance and e-discovery intersect, and where do they not?

Governance is a broader business framework of which e-discovery is a component. Governance components include data accessibility, ownership, integrity, monitoring and audit, records and information management, privacy, and security. Many software providers in the discovery industry deceptively dual branded processing or analytics products as governance tools because the product could index or categorize, but they are rarely true “governance” utilities. Many of these tools are using GDPR as a marketing tool just the same, with no real differentiator from before.

8. What's your best career tip for someone with legal and technical aptitude trying to find their direction along law firm, corporate, consulting, and government agency paths?

Constant introspection on current skills, skill gaps, lessons learned, and self-improvement. Law firms will imbue discipline, preparation, and awareness of the corporate variables within the litigation lifecycle; consultancies provide tedious and challenging opportunities which can only be resolved via scale and teamwork; government agencies offer the whole spectrum of data handling, process, and management complexities at scale unlike anywhere, but require patience to see projects though to the end. Corporations have to deal with all these within a budget.

Ben RobbinsBen Robbins is senior program manager of eDiscovery, Forensics, & Information Governance at LinkedIn, where he’s established e-discovery, information governance, and digital forensic policies, procedures, and practices. He is responsible for mapping, preserving, collecting, analyzing, processing, and producing corporate ESI, as well as providing counsel and support to litigators and investigators.

Brendan Ryan was Relativity’s senior manager of partner marketing.