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

Road Less Traveled: 'Developing' a Legal Career Path

Michael Obregon

Success takes many shapes in the legal space. But if there’s one common refrain among strong professionals, it’s creativity. If you find a creative way to stand out in a crowded marketplace, your chances of advancement grow.

For a quiet but impactful segment of attorneys, litigation support professionals, and software developers, that creativity becomes literal. These folks are creating software solutions to tackle the challenges of e-discovery, putting their development skills to work and forging their own paths.

Three such professionals are Paul Barclay of DiscoverySmith, creators of Relativity applications that speed up document loading, automate production QCs and editing, and generate production logs; Justin Blessing of Compiled, creators of ReadySuite, an application that simplifies QC for productions; and Nikolai (Nick) Pozdniakov of HashtagLegal, creators of apps for simplifying common processes, monitoring server health and workspace details, and managing Relativity environments from an iOS device. Paul, Justin, and Nick are all Relativity Developer Partners, and these apps are listed in the App Hub.

We recently spoke with these three innovators to get their thoughts on development as a career path in the world of legal technology.

Michael: How did you get into legal technology?

Nick: I started working in litigation support in 1998, making load files and fixing computers. We made load files using Excel, Access, and text editors until one day we got a file that no one could figure out how to make. I knew some programming, so I asked for half a day to “try a few things.” I made a simple application that generated our required load file from a DAT. This was a moment that changed my perspective forever. With just six months of experience, I did something no one else in the company could. It inspired me to sharpen my programming skills going forward.

Working for vendors, I moved up the ranks from a tech position to management. I built many applications along the way, helping improve workflow and quality control. Some applications were standalone and some were meant to be utilized in conjunction with other lit support tools.

A few years ago, I decided to start HashtagLegal. It is my personal initiative and is not tied to my current full-time position. I built a website and various tools that I could share with the lit support community. Last year I decided to start my YouTube channel helping people solve common problems using software they already have as well as software they can download from my website.

Justin: I started in the e-discovery field in early 2005 working for a regional service provider in Richmond, Virginia. I was attending school at the time and earned my bachelor degree in information systems from Virginia Commonwealth University. Shortly after graduating, I worked for McGuireWoods where, in one of my roles, I was the hot seat operator for trial support.

After leaving the firm, I focused on consulting work. Most recently, I was the VP of operations for a service provider. My responsibilities included managing our Relativity infrastructure, performing forensic analysis and providing expert testimony, and overseeing the team responsible for our e-discovery services. Between all this, I started Compiled, a software company focused on e-discovery, where I created the ReadyConvert and ReadySuite products.

Paul: I’ve always been into science and technology, but was especially drawn to computers and their seemingly limitless potential—so the desire to work with computers after college was very natural for me. When I graduated back in 2002, I went on to work at a law firm that wanted to adopt technology to improve its practice. I was tasked with researching hardware and software available to law firms, and so began my career in e-discovery.

After a couple of years, I moved on to law school, but did not lose sight of working in an IT capacity. In fact, upon graduating from law school, I resumed my legal technology career at a large international law firm that had recently started using a new product called Relativity.

I was able to quickly pick up Relativity in 2008 and have been able to employ my technical know-how in the legal world ever since, embracing the platform and other new technologies to help legal teams win cases. This culmination of experiences led me to start DiscoverySmith, a developer of e-discovery software.

What’s the biggest lesson you took from your work in the field and applied to your development strategy?

Nick: A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.

Paul: The biggest lesson I took from my work in the field is the strength of collaboration. Many smart people with diverse experiences work in big law firms.

As a start-up, my development strategy is based on collaboration with partners, end users, and my team. When I first designed the software, I set out to develop software with an intuitive user interface and features that addressed pain points I experienced in my daily work. Over time, I’ve gotten to know others in the industry whose feedback has assisted with shaping our development roadmap.

How do you incorporate feedback from your customers, as well as peers or former colleagues, into your development work?

Nick: Feedback is something I value a lot. After building a prototype for a new solution, I sit down with users and show them what I have. I am lucky to be working with very talented people and they are quick to point out what could be missing or improved in my design.

Paul: Feedback is invaluable to the development process. The challenge is deciding whose input is most impactful, defined by the greatest productivity boosts for the most customers. Because I am not only a developer, but also a former Relativity administrator, I have practical knowledge in both development and Relativity use. This affords me the ability to understand and evaluate client needs, engage in detailed discussions with clients, determine which requests could benefit the most customers, and allocate resources for feature implementation.

What do you like most about developing custom solutions for legal challenges?

Justin: Being so familiar with the field and our industry, it helps having the experience and domain knowledge, which makes it easy for customers to trust you. When customers trust you, developing custom solutions becomes fun. I enjoy the rush behind creating a solution that has been a headache for customers—and knowing those solutions are being used daily. Some of my greater experiences working in e-discovery have been meeting people who used my software and tell me how it has saved them on multiple occasions.

Paul: I like building software that people enjoy using. It is very rewarding for me to hear from clients who tell me not only how much time and money they are saving through my software, but also about pain points that are finally being addressed after years of simply suffering through them.

What inspired you to take development beyond a hobby, or a supplement to your other professional skills, and into a profession of its own?

Nick: There are so many problems to be solved and there are so few people to solve them. Most people are just trying to get through their day-to-day work, so having “extra” time to do programming and help others, as well as my team, be better at what they do is always an inspiration.

Paul: I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. So the drive to start a business, coupled with my legal and technological experience as well as the current legal tech environment, were really compelling factors that led me to start DiscoverySmith.

What is the best thing about working with Relativity as a development platform? What sets it apart from other platforms?

Nick: One thing I love most about developing on Relativity is that I can have my own development environment, neatly packaged, that can be taken anywhere and powered on at will. I could climb the tallest mountain, power on my laptop, and enjoy time with Relativity without distractions from anyone.

Justin: Relativity has been great to work with on the development side. I was able to integrate ReadySuite into Relativity with just a couple of minor technical hurdles. Plus, when I’ve needed help, I’ve found their documentation, samples, support, and DevHelp site all incredibly useful.

What do you see as the future of e-discovery and legal technology, and what would that mean for you and your work?

Justin: When I look back on my start in e-discovery, we were printing so many boxes of paper. One of the first software solutions I developed focused on this “blowback” process and making printing paper more efficient. Today, it seems ironic that producing hundreds of boxes of paper and loading them into large trucks was the way review was done, even after electronic review was developed.

If we look at the future of legal technology, we can see the same pattern evolve. Analytics, and active learning, while new and exciting to some, will continue to evolve into that same adoption pattern we’ve seen before. And, of course, I hope to see Compiled remaining a leader in making processes and workflows in e-discovery technology more efficient.

Paul: I believe that, through automation, we’ll continue to see huge EDRM efficiency gains, as well as better cost management and predictability.

First, I think litigation support departments will become more efficient, which will lead to a substantial decrease in the time attorneys must wait for documents to become review ready. I think automation has the potential to increase contact and collaboration between attorneys, paralegals, and litigation support.

Apply for the 2018 Relativity Innovation Awards

Michael Obregon is a senior pre-sales engineer at Relativity.