The e-discovery space is filled to the brim with bright minds, often working behind the scenes to ensure the toughest projects go off without a hitch. That’s a huge task, and there are always unique hurdles to jump.
Each year, our individual Innovation Awards winners represent the folks who make it look almost easy.
To get their perspective on what’s difficult and what’s rewarding about this space, we connected with two of this year’s winners: Attorney Tech Evangelist Kate Bauer, manager of e-discovery services at Steptoe & Johnson LLP; and Lit Support All-Star Rachel McAdams, e-discovery technology specialist at A&L Goodbody.
On what challenges make their segments unique.
Rachel: I think that lit support teams are unusual, because we tend to know a bit of everything! We know about digital forensics and IT systems, data analysis and data science, legal issues and how to apply legal rules; we know about the cloud, information governance, how to operate sophisticated technology, and project management. We also know how to present to clients and different stakeholders, and how to pitch our ideas and advice to the right audience. The breadth of skills in a lit support team is really striking when you think about it, and I think that makes us different.
Kate: We used to lament the proliferation of traditional data forms like email and loose files; now we’re dealing with the proliferation of platforms. I think the law firm segment’s unique challenge is effectively streamlining review of many of the newer data sources (e.g. short message data and Slack).
On what skills are most essential to success in e-discovery and legal tech.
Rachel: The key skills for me are agility and flexibility. I think there is an argument that it’s the very technical skills involved in operating software and understanding the technology processes which are most important, however the nature of e-discovery means that you're juggling priorities, changing requirements, and new unforeseen requests from your clients. It's very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that there is only one way to carry out a certain task or project, or to default to the way you've always done it. Willingness to learn is also crucial. Our industry changes quickly. Without being open to learning new things, we can't face the challenges that e-discovery throws at us! I think this was the skill I needed most in the early parts of my career, when there was so much to learn.
Kate: Early in my career, my priority was getting things right. I spent hours digging into nitty-gritty details. Once I had a cohesive picture of how e-discovery tasks and tools fit together, I began to shift my emphasis toward becoming more efficient. These days, the most important skill (which I’m still developing) is tailoring my message to my audience by identifying the information they want from me, and the information they need (whether they want it or not). In the past, I was completely immersed in the work of making cases run smoothly: a very behind-the-scenes place to be! Now I routinely find myself needing to address e-discovery to partners, executives, and clients “at a high level.” My career experience has taught me that success requires great attention to detail, so it’s an ongoing challenge to identify the essential “high-level” points without veering off into the weeds.
On how to foster collaboration between multifunctional teammates.
Rachel: I think the important thing to remember is that everyone is heading toward the same goal, even if we have different means to get there! A good step in fostering collaboration is starting with a common language—which may mean some education on all sides about what needs to be done, how, and why. It's also important to be kind: different people will be under pressure at different points of a project, and it's key to appreciate that and build it into how you manage your team. Similarly, everyone should be an equal stakeholder in the project. We need communication from the start between different teams and groups, and joint project plans to ensure the right people are being told the right information at the right time. When everyone is equally invested and equally valued, you'll get better results.
Kate: Ask questions about what the people you’re working with do and be interested in the answers. I owe so much of my own efficacy to simply knowing who to call to get a task accomplished. If someone isn’t very forthcoming, take what information they do give you, and do a bit of research. For example, my brother—who has been working with computers for years—always tells me his job is too complicated to explain. Sound familiar? Anyway, he finally told me “data engineer” best describes it. I went digging around for articles about what data engineers do. Whew! The amount of jargon rivals e-discovery. No wonder he thought explaining was a hassle! But as I read articles and began to decipher what his job entailed, I began to see how the expertise he possessed could be applied in a variety of areas. We had a great conversation about his work after that.
On what’s to love about this industry—and where it can grow.
Rachel: I love the fast pace of our work—we always have a new challenge to solve. Every project can offer something new and unexpected, and a chance to do something different or innovative. What I think is interesting is that, because so many people enter into this work from diverse backgrounds (legal, IT, cyber, and forensics, to name only a few), I find the industry to be very welcoming. Everyone is on a level playing field. Still, I also think there is space for e-discovery skills to be recognized as more general data skills, and put to use for projects outside the traditional e-discovery space. My firm is taking a good lead on this, ensuring that we are in the right conversations with the right people to show how we can leverage our technology and skillset to deal with challenges outside our initial remit.
Kate: I love puzzles, and every e-discovery project is a new puzzle waiting to be solved. The rapid pace of technological innovation keeps me on my toes: I can’t get complacent because there’s something new to learn practically every week! As for cultural growth, speaking as a tech-head who became a lawyer, I think both sides frequently talk past each other. Once trust is established that the technology works and the technologists know what they’re doing, lawyers often want the technologists to handle the tech while the lawyers handle the lawyering. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work particularly well. Effective e-discovery requires sincere collaboration. I find that the best collaborations happen when case teams take the time to describe their document review goals to the technologists at a high level, and the technologists use that guidance narrow the considerations in play on the matter.
On innovating every day.
Rachel: I genuinely think that people are more innovative than they realize. Litigation support teams are naturally innovative, looking for better ways to do things, even if that isn't always labelled as “innovation.” To me, innovation has to mean talking to people and finding out their challenges. I'm not a lawyer, and I don't always understand or anticipate what roadblocks they might have, or what they are trying to do manually that could easily be automated. I think increasing your visibility in your organization, being open to questions, exploring possibilities (even if they don't work out), and showcasing what you do, are good places to start. It's hard to innovate from the inside out, so you need that exchange of ideas between teams and between peers.
Kate: Innovation really just boils down to taking the time to improve things that are not working well. My advice to teams who want to pursue a more innovative mindset would be to start with identifying a small, daily annoyance and begin thinking about how to fix it. I’m reaching far back with this example, but in the pre-Relativity days, case teams had free reign to create any tags they wanted. In some databases teams would create hundreds, even thousands. For every production, I would have to read through every tag in the database, identify any that included “priv,” then check the contents of those tags against the production set. When we brought Relativity in, I made it a point to create a single field to store all privilege calls. Getting case teams on board with that system has simplified productions for all involved. My point is, innovation isn’t always fancy tech. Sometimes it’s just seeing something that is broken, and coming up with a simple solution to fix it.
On what it means to win an Innovation Award.
Rachel: It's been a really lovely recognition of the work that I do. It was a surprise to be nominated, and I know that all the nominees this year were fantastic, so winning is a huge honor. I don't think anyone is successful by themselves, and I've been lucky enough to work with fantastic colleagues over the years who have really taught me all I know. So the award is partly for them, as well as for me.
Kate: For end users, e-discovery is like a car. You care that the car gets you where you want to go, and don’t generally give much thought to the building or maintaining of it unless something goes wrong. Similarly, in our field, case teams expect e-discovery to work well. Fulfilling those expectations requires highly specialized, evolving technical knowledge and intensive effort. The Innovation Awards are meaningful because they shine a spotlight on the people whose valuable, behind-the-scenes efforts often go unnoticed on successful projects. It makes me so happy, year after year, to see these unsung heroes getting the recognition their tireless contributions deserve! While I never expected to be one of the recipients myself (again, like many others, I generally define my success in e-discovery by not getting noticed), I’m so very honored to have been chosen for this award.
Sam Bock is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.