No one—especially in a field like this one, where every matter is a different animal—would argue against the fact that real-world experience is the best teacher when it comes to work. There’s nothing quite like thinking on your toes and navigating new scenarios when the stakes are real and people are counting on you.
Still, if you aren’t adopting the right approach, crumbling is a very real consequence of working under pressure. In this space, that could mean thousands or millions of dollars in consequences, or a failure for justice to be won. That’s not just untenable—it’s unacceptable.
Practice, Practice, Practice Makes Perfect
So, like an athlete, the key is simple: practice, practice, practice. It will give you the skills to work effectively under the tight deadlines and demanding scenarios that are par for the e-discovery course.
How you pursue that practice is important, too. We know that legal teams aren’t generally amenable to experimentation during real cases. A bit like data surgeons, e-discovery professionals are tasked with a job of precision. Unless all parties involved are all-in for a risky approach (a condition my gut says is even rarer in the law than in medicine), you can’t just try things out on a real-live case in the hope that they’ll actually work. The stakes are too high.
That leaves you with the next best thing to real-world experience: hands-on exercise. You need to build the right mental muscles to break records and climb obstacles on your next real matter. In fact, if you’re practicing enough, the result is not just muscles growing—it’s your brain reducing the energy you need to spend on the task.
This effect is perhaps more applicable to simple tasks than those requiring higher cognitive functioning. Still, by continuously practicing the daily tasks of administrating an e-discovery project—like assigning security permissions or running processing jobs—you are freeing up brainpower to learn and apply new skills, like using the latest analytics or getting a better grasp of cybersecurity best practices.
In case that isn’t reason enough, here are a few more:
1. You can advocate for the next generation of software and features to help make your team more effective.
New technology is coming frequently, case law is always evolving, and data types are changing. Staying on the cutting edge can be a professional boon throughout your career.
2. Before you experiment with new features in a live project, it’s critical to practice in a no-risk environment with expert guidance.
No sense making it up as you go on live data, when you can get instruction in a training environment to help hone your skills and answer your questions.
3. Trainings make great networking opportunities.
You’ll meet peers and experts from across the legal world, and get a chance to learn new tips and tricks from teams like yours.
4. Continuous learning makes getting—and keeping—your industry and software certifications much easier.
Tests are hard. Take them as infrequently as possible by getting continuous education credits that help maintain your certified status. Taking classes that level up your skills over time will help you build the knowledge to pass and maintain that certification.
5. Participating in the latest training opportunities could be a game-changer for your career.
You can bring more value to your team by sharing what you learn with everyone, and teaching your colleagues can do more than increase efficiency: it can be empowering, and a good opportunity to build authority and start turning heads up the ladder.
How to Start Overlearning
If you can’t expect to practice new techniques on real cases, and no two cases are alike anyway, odds are you won’t get a chance to fine-tune your entire skillset with any regularity. Even if you’re feeling confident in your existing skills, that lack of practice can mean you’re not doing your best work—not to mention the missed opportunity to add new skills and tools to your repertoire.
Overlearning is when you keep practicing a skill past the point of improving that skill with each effort. As described by Scientific American, it can feel counter-intuitive: the natural inclination is to keep at something until you’ve mastered it, and then stop investing in building that ability. But studies show that practicing beyond that point helps make your abilities more resilient.
Fortunately, there are innumerable opportunities to engage in ongoing training throughout the year. You can attend conferences, join user groups, sign up for training courses, watch on-demand webinars—the list goes on. Just jump in.
To gather support from your team, try starting small. If you pursue free resources to start and can showcase a positive change in your productivity, it’ll be a good stepping stone to earning approval for courses and conferences that require some expense. Additionally, you can prove the value of these pursuits by bringing takeaways back to your team. Don’t be shy about sending follow-up emails or scheduling time for a presentation during team meetings to share what you’ve learned.
Sam Bock is a member of the marketing communications team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.