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How Lawyer Technologists Can Traverse Two Worlds

Mary Rechtoris

Editor's Note: In anticipation of Relativity Fest, in the coming weeks, we're throwing it back to some of our most popular pieces of session coverage from 2018. This year's agenda promises even more impactful lessons, so don't miss out. We can't wait to see you in Chicago.

You may be hard-pressed to find people associating the word “lawyer” with “technology.” In fact, a tech-savvy attorney used to be an anomaly.

This is changing; more technologically proficient attorneys—and paralegals—are entering the workforce. Otherwise known as lawyer technologists, they are combining their legal and technology backgrounds to work effectively and stand out among their peers.

Lawyer technologists are much needed in today's legal climate. Technology innovation continues to change the way attorneys practice law. To stay competitive moving forward, law firms should use these professionals as assets.

Just how to do that came up during the Relativity Fest session “The Plight of the Lawyer Technologist,” where presenters from Steptoe & Johnson discussed their experiences traversing the two worlds of legal expertise and tech know-how to have the greatest impact on their cases.

Stuck in the Middle

A lawyer technologist performs litigation support tasks in addition to traditional legal responsibilities. This hybrid role lets them bridge the gap between legal and technology professionals.

At Relativity Fest, Steptoe & Johnson's Anne Frye, of counsel, and Ryan Flinspach, litigation support analyst, discussed the role of lawyer technologists, and why they are often in limbo between attorneys and IT professionals.

“Some lawyers fear tech and don’t want to learn how to use it,” Ryan added. “IT professionals assume we can’t understand IT infrastructure. So, we’re often in the middle.”

Realizing their team didn’t have a prime seat at either table, Ryan and Anne worked to gain both parties’ trust. 

Here’s how they did it.

Dispel Common Misconceptions

When it comes to lawyer technologists, inaccuracies may float around firms. For one, trial teams may assume lawyer technologists are experts in their cases. Therefore, their teams don’t provide the necessary case information, including deadlines, to help supporting technologists do their job. Lawyer technologists need to be prepared to seek that information proactively to best serve their projects.

“We don’t ask questions to be annoying,” Ryan said. “If you tell me you have a production deadline coming up, I will focus on that when it hits my desk.”

Additionally, Anne found educating trial teams on e-discovery and data volumes is crucial. In one instance, an attorney asked her to print every document for a 10 GB case. He wanted the documents on his desk to sift through.

“He asked me how many inches the printing job would amount to,” Anne said. “I told him: ‘It wouldn’t be inches; the papers would fill many semi-trucks.’”

Educating IT professionals on the e-discovery process is important as well. A lapse in procedure could have steep consequences, so awareness is key.

"I often talk to them about worst-case scenarios," Anne said. “I'll describe what could happen when you inadvertently produce privileged documents."

To prevent that from happening, Anne suggested using Event Handler Express in Relativity. The tool can help set flags for any privileged documents in a production.

"That person will then pause if they see 15 privileged documents in a production set," Anne said. "Then, they will figure out why, and if those documents should be there."

Talk Like a Lawyer

Getting trial teams on board with lawyer technologists requires speaking their language.

Earning her law degree in 2006, Anne started her legal career at a boutique real estate law firm. Her job was exciting: she helped clients buy and sell their dream homes or invest in properties. When the market crashed a couple of years later, Anne’s role changed. The firm started doing condominium association collections.

“I went from being in a position where I made people happy, to people thinking I was taking everything away from them,” Anne said. “After doing some soul searching at age 27, I retired from the law.”

From there, Anne got a part-time job doing document review. Growing up in a tech-savvy home, Anne was always around technology. Anne soon realized her technology skills surpassed her coworkers’.

“I spoke a language my counterparts didn’t speak,” Anne. “So, I thought, ‘why not combine my tech and legal backgrounds?’”

This combination proved crucial when Anne joined Steptoe. She described technology in a way attorneys understood. And Anne knew the one thing attorneys prioritize: client development.

At her previous firm, Anne’s team built a document repository to handle a hefty document review for a client. Down the line, that client chose that firm to handle a due diligence project thanks to that repository.

“By taking that extra time on litigation tasks, my previous firm won a huge deal,” Anne said. “Telling this story helps me start gaining trial teams’ trust.”

Anne also speaks openly with trial teams about her team's role.

“I tell attorneys: ‘I am not taking your case. I am trying to help and be your friend. Let me be that friend,’” Anne said. “We are all on the same team.”

On the Flip Side … Speak IT

It is equally important to speak in terms that resonate with the IT professionals. With 10-plus years in the technology industry, Ryan knew how to speak their language.

Ryan took a position doing word processing at a law firm. Soon after he started, Ryan did more IT-related tasks for the firm.

“I had a forward-thinking boss who knew of my IT background. He asked me to streamline and automate processes,” he said. “I soon became one of the two IT people at the firm.”

Being on a small team meant that it was crucial for Ryan to collaborate effectively with colleagues of different backgrounds.

“It is important for IT people to know you speak their language and have a knowledge of SQL,” Ryan said. “I always talk to them about the EDRM. I explain where our team adds value, specifically in areas like processing.”

Find Your Super Users

Oftentimes, attorneys may want to use advanced technology on their cases. They may, however, not know who to ask about getting a job done. It is important for lawyer technologists to get the word out on what they do, and how they can help.

A good way to start is to find paralegals and associates who are well versed in Relativity. For lawyer technologists based largely on the technical side of their firms’ operations, this connection to like-minded colleagues on the case team’s side of the house can mean having a greater impact on every case.

“These super users have relationships with the partners that we don’t always have,” Anne said. “They can say: ‘Let’s call Anne or Ryan about how we can use Relativity to do this a better way.’”

In the legal sector, technology will continue driving change. Forward-thinking law firms realize this and see the value in lawyer technologists.

“We add a huge value; our team finds the smoking guns,” Ann said. “We can drive collaboration across the firm that may not have otherwise occurred.”

Don't Miss Relativity Fest 2019 for More Lessons

Mary Rechtoris is a senior producer on the brand team at Relativity, where she's always collaborating and looking for new ways to develop and socialize stories.