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How to Describe e-Discovery to Your Family Over the Holidays

Brendan Ryan

The holiday season is upon us, and as e-discovery professionals everywhere make the most of their time off with stress-free fun outside the office, they also spend lots of time with family.

Tableside dramas, political debates, and awkward silences aside, it’s a joyous time to bond with relatives and a great opportunity to talk about the jobs we love. But legal technology is a combination of at least two already-complex fields, so when Cousin Larry or Aunt Edna asks how things are going at work, it’s not always clear where to begin.

Is there more work to describing e-discovery than to the work itself? We aimed to find out by asking a few friends how they explain their jobs around the holiday dinner table.

meagan-sauve-120x120Meagan Sauve, e-discovery consultant at Millnet

"I usually reference something like Star Trek and say, 'You know that character who walks into the room and says, ‘Computer, show me the data?’ It’s absolutely nothing like that.'”


Shamus Flower, senior director at Huron Legal

"I’ve been married for 11 years and my wife could not describe what I do. People ask, and my go-to is 'So very big Company A sues very big Company B. As a part of that, Company A is entitled to files and information from Company B. That’s often a lot of information. My company handles that whole process of Company B turning over the relevant information.' They then usually turn the conversation over to another topic."


Caroline Pollard, litigation support coordinator at Ballard Spahr LLP

"I used to think it was difficult when I was a paralegal—these days, it’s almost impossible. I have it down to: 'Consider this: If you file a lawsuit, we’re going to need to look at all your emails and documents. What I do is I manage the process of collecting, processing, and reviewing your emails so someone can figure out what they need to turn over to the other side.' If they have more questions after that, I’m happy to go into more detail, but most people’s eyes glaze over, and they say, 'Pass the turkey.'”


Vincent Liu, senior project manager at Ricoh Legal

"Imagine I own a massive collection of movies in a warehouse. Now, imagine a friend lent me a movie several years ago and forgot about it, but now he wants it back. There’s a scene in the movie that might win him a big bet he made with someone. I catalogued all the movies in my warehouse, but he doesn’t remember the name of the movie—just general things about it. We start narrowing it down. Maybe we start with a genre, maybe he knows one of the actors, or maybe he knows the decade—anything he can remember might prove to be valuable. Welcome to e-discovery. My friend is a lawyer, the movies are documents, and the bet he’s trying to win is a lawsuit."

milton-cervantes-120x120Milton Cervantes, director of product strategy at Complete Discovery Source

"I’d use visuals: stacked plates to represent data types, glasses to represent tags, and cutlery to represent software features, such as a knife for structured analytics and a spoon for assisted review. Then, I’d create mashed potatoes art to get my point across. Eventually, everyone would get so confused that I’d shift to the explanation I use with my kids: a Star Wars analogy. All the information on the Death Star was stored inside R2-D2 and planted there by Princess Leia. I’m the member of the Rebel Alliance who worked behind the scenes to extract the data out of R2-D2, figured out the thermal exhaust port vulnerability, and created the attack plan to bring down the Death Star. Kids always grasp technology faster."


Warren G. Kruse, vice president of digital forensics at Altep

"A football wouldn’t be the only thing kicked during holiday festivities if I talked about e-discovery at the table, but if pressed, I’d tell my family that data is being created constantly, and we prepare what is needed, carve it up when it’s done (a sharp knife with a skilled operator really makes a difference here), and enjoy the use of advanced technologies that produce a banquet for our guests to review. And for dessert, there’s a sweet pie of cost savings topped with great outcomes. I love my job!"

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