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States Winning Together: Perspectives on Inter-agency Data Collaboration

Scotti-Lynn Moore

As with most things in life, sometimes a little inspiration is all we need. California has recently doubled down on inter-agency collaboration, and for many other public-sector teams, their experience may be the inspiration that starts a new wave of higher-efficiency, more collaborative work.

Even before the pandemic hit, the California Department of Justice and California Resources Board worked together in harmony—a relationship fostered, in part, by leveraging the power and convenience of RelativityOne.

At Relativity Fest this year, we talked strategy with Sean Cotulla, program manager for e-discovery and litigation services at the California Department of Justice (CA DOJ), and Andrew Muffett, legal analyst at the California Resources Board (CARB), about how moving to a cloud-based e-discovery platform helped fuel a collaborative relationship between their separate agencies.

The Need for Inter-agency Collaboration

Not that long ago, most legal document review was relegated to paper and file folders. While this may have been sufficient in decades past, technology has been advancing at increasing speeds with no end in sight.

This means vast stores of data are generated in every organization—private and public—around the globe. And when litigation, investigations, or records requests arise downstream, millions of pages of potentially relevant material might require collection and review. It’s a heinous process for anyone, but in the public sector—where multiple agencies may need access to and an understanding of the same data, but no established mechanism for sharing this work product—it can be a nightmare. Still, under pressure by duties to work and respond in a timely manner, there’s no excuse for a slow job.

The key in many of these cases is to build those inter-agency connections, so work can be shared—not repeated—and matters can be managed as responsibly as possible.

But what does inter-agency collaboration actually look like?

Essentially, it involves understanding each other's workflows and learning from peers to create as many universal tool applications as possible. “So, really, the exchange of ideas, the exchange of workflows, the exchange of data that we all work with—it has really helped all of the agencies, I think, to have a more cohesive understanding of what e-discovery is and how to utilize the tool to the best compacity that we can,” said Sean.

By opting to collaborate and build upon each other's processes, these agencies can simplify inter-agency interactions while continuing to be innovative and flexible.

The Journey to RelativityOne

The California DOJ works closely with other state government agencies, often fielding data access requests and ingesting data from a variety of departments. “We needed a new and better way to manage the complexity of the unstructured data that we were receiving,” said Sean. In their efforts to find a suitable solution, RelativityOne seemed a sound choice for the California DOJ.

Another government agency, the California Resources Board, which works closely with the CA DOJ, was in a similar boat: they needed a better way to handle the massive influx of case documents, especially since they didn’t have a review platform at all.

“It was the California DOJ that had referred us over to Relativity through a third-party vendor, so we moved a lot of our larger and complex investigations over to that third part host and they hosted our Relativity instance there,” stated Andrew.

To further evaluate Relativity, CARB decided to test out an on-premise instance for smaller cases, ultimately leading them to make the move to RelativityOne just prior to the pandemic. “Having both at the same time was a good way to see what Relativity could do for us in, maybe, the long-run, once we had that comfort level, and skill level, with the product,” Andrew explained.

One of the biggest deciding factors to move to the cloud? The evolving pandemic and RelativtyOne’s FedRAMP authorization. With this qualification in place, selecting and moving work into RelativityOne was a simpler process for the agencies.

Real-world Benefits of Cloud Collaboration

Sean and Andrew had a lot to say during Fest about how their agencies’ shared access to a single, end-to-end platform in the cloud has had an impact on daily operations—and big-picture strategies.

Streamlined Collaboration

With multiple agencies using RelativityOne, project workflows are streamlined between agencies during collaborative projects and information exchanges.

“We know how to work on each other’s tools and platforms, and we’ve been developing some common workflows and protocols for some of the same work that we do. So, we’re not having to do twice or three times the work on each side and it’s all just done once. And it's been fantastic,” stated Sean.

Even inter-agency hand-offs are easier—instead of complete productions, they can just share load files because the tool is the same across the board.

Managing Workloads

To keep up with increasing demands for public records data, the CA DOJ leverages RelativityOne to keep track of requests, helping to limit work inefficiencies by cross-referencing produced documents in efforts to identify already completed requests.

Furthermore, by saving search parameters to find documents, as well as creating a repository for completed requests, agents from multiple teams can track down the information they need without completely redoing the work.

Elevating Their Network

Inevitably, with a diverse group of workers spanning multiple agencies, there will be skill gaps identified and knowledge needing to be shared. To ensure everyone can work together, establishing a shared knowledgebase is key.

According to Andrew, CARB leverages internal Zoom training sessions as well as the Relativity Community for insider tips and tricks, and the California user group, where departments share best practices. The CA DOJ knows there’s a bit of a learning curve when it comes to how they work, so they use a variety of mediums, such as webinars, podcasts, a video library, and even an employee handbook in Relativity. These training materials provide the needed technical knowledge, along with operational protocols, to help guide employees at any level with the same standardized information.

In education, this is what we call a community of practice. By creating educational pathways geared toward building collective understanding and sharing best practices specific to their operational standards, these agencies have been able to span the knowledge and skills gap by nurturing a tailored learning community.

The Future of e-Discovery in the Public Sector

Data is on an upward trajectory with no signs of stopping. So, what’s the next big thing possible in e-discovery? Artificial intelligence.

“Everything’s being tracked. That’s an enormous amount of data, and people will choose that convenience over privacy, and I think they’re still trying to find a balance of that privacy. That's going to be years in the making,” Sean said to Fest attendees.

From virtual assistants and social media to GPS navigation and smart homes, technological integration into every aspect of life only exacerbates the amount and types of data available for e-discovery investigations. And, as Andrew mentioned, let's not forget about VR (virtual reality) workspaces.

With so advancements in a short amount of time, it’s hard to tell what’s coming next. But the best prepared, most collaborative data and legal teams will be well poised to handle it all.

Your Questions about RelativityOne Government, Answered


Scotti-Lynn Moore is a member of the instructional design team at Relativity, focused on creating educational content and delivering e-learning materials for Relativity users.