Your single source for new lessons on legal technology, e-discovery, and the people innovating behind the scenes.

How Legal Pros Can Be Inspired by the Athletic Spirit

Daniel Pelc

We’ve finished up another edition of one of my favorite times for athleticism. Kids as young as mine hurtle down the ski jump or fly down the luge at breakneck speeds. Athletes return from awful, seemingly career-ending injuries to stand atop their sport once more.

In many ways, even amateur athletes embody the best of what lies dormant in most of us: the drive to excel and compete to the best of our abilities. Can these compelling stories provide guidance in how our industry should operate?

We’ve talked about baseball players and runners before. But on a broader level, what are the core traits of a strong athlete—and how can legal professionals learn from them?

Be Consistent

Only through consistency can an athlete measurably achieve more today than yesterday. A competitive skier may have to contend with rough conditions, strong crosswinds, and loud crowd noise. All of those interferences have to be understood and dealt with to focus on the result.

Potential impediments cannot be easily planned for in e-discovery. Unorganized data, incoherent deadlines, and unrealistic expectations can doom a well-intentioned response.

A friend of mine once benchmarked his entire operation at the company he used to own. He knew exactly how long it would take for his process to occur beginning to end. In effect, he knew how long he would need to ski down a mountain without interferences. Eventually, his benchmarking essentially showed him how much the proverbial headwinds would affect his attainable speed, how much the granular snow would affect his performance, or how much the crowd noise would affect his concentration.

By establishing consistency as a baseline, we will not be able to drown out interference, but we will know what it is and how to respond. Fall back on consistent, repeatable processes to ensure you’re team is operating at peak efficiency even in the face of unexpected moguls.

Be Improvement-oriented

I began skiing in the mid-1980s. My skis were symbolic of the time: jet black with bright teal and purple letters loudly declaring their existence. I was the envy of southeastern Wisconsin back in 1986. (Well, maybe only in my head.)

After an injury in the early 90s, I never returned to downhill skiing. Looking recently, I was shocked by the current state of the art in ski design. Parabolic? Skis don’t have to be as long and are much more controllable? Huh… Maybe I didn’t have to give it up after all.

The tried and true method of e-discovery still works. But is that enough? It is still possible to conduct a linear review with TIFF images, including PowerPoint and Excel spreadsheets. But why? Changes in technology occur rapidly in our industry. Active learning, analytics, and data visualization provide unparalleled visibility and strategy, and often show a clear path forward. The practical effect is to reduce the workload and cost of a review while increasing accuracy.

In other words, innovation is making it easier to turn with a shorter ski.

Be Committed

The athletes with whom I have trained and competed are exceedingly data-driven. They clearly have a goal and they are focused on attaining that goal to the detriment of almost everything else. Some are clearly fixated on winning awards. Others are simply focused on steadily improving their performance from event to event.

What we don’t see is behind the scenes, where they are constantly refining their craft and honing their skills. Many of them see training as a never-ending process that must include applying the latest technologies, strategy, and hard work to incrementally progress.

Highly effective e-discovery departments see improvement as a process as well. Each tool, process, and person fits together in a unique and effective workflow—taking the best of each and applying them in unison. These legal teams see perfection as a goal they will never reach, but will never stop trying to attain. Each incremental tweak improves the overall process.

Be Open to Change

Skating as a motion might come naturally to skaters. But the role of a good coach is to make recommendations that, at first, might seem uncomfortable and contrary to logic. The act of angling a skate blade, even a millimeter or two, can drastically affect the result of a complex series of jumps and spins. The alteration may feel completely unnatural when first attempted. But with time, the change in position is assimilated into the automatic sensation and the skater improves.

Many see our industry as resistant to change. The benefits of process improvement fall to the wayside in favor of “the way we have always done it.” But that isn’t the way to break personal or world records. There is no doubt that adopting new technologies and strategies will be uncomfortable at first. But with time, these innovations will seem like second nature.

Be Cooperative

Even in individual sports, athletes at all levels are supportive of each other regardless of nationality. For example, I recently saw one competitor eliminate another from award contention. The eliminated competitor congratulated their rival with a hug, and what looked like genuine good wishes.

Ultimately, these athletes are all seeking the same goal. Competition does not mean inhumanity. The e-discovery process is leaning toward cooperation and away from impediment. The matters, data, and clients we’re working with are hard enough. A little cooperation and honesty can go a long way.

The athletic spirit in the larger world burns brightly, but far too quickly. It’s amazing how quickly the excitement and spirit evaporate when a game, match, or event is over. When you’re in the (professional) trenches day-in and day-out, though, you can’t afford to let that passion go.

Hopefully, we can take some of the traits embodied in those competitors to make our own world a little better.

Take the eDiscovery Maturity Assessment

Daniel Pelc was a senior manager of industry marketing at Relativity. He is now director of client solutions and integration at NightOwl.