An e-discovery practitioner by day, educator by night, Peg Gianuca recently moved from a law firm environment—and East Coast to West Coast—to join The Walt Disney Company as an in-house technical solutions manager.
On this month's podcast, Peg shares what surprised her about moving in-house, why it’s vital that litigation support pros can “bridge the gap,” and how her science background and curiosity to get under the hood with legal tech keep the e-discovery magic alive.
e-Discovery Technical Solutions Manager
The Walt Disney Company
“Peg has been in the industry in various senior litigation management positions for over 30 years. She knows a dozen tools inside and out, and 90%+ of people in the space. Last year she shifted gears and headed to Disney to manage their technology and e-discovery. Peg has also been an adjunct professor at Georgetown, teaching paralegal students all the magic of e-discovery, and is now at UCLA. Peg has supported and encouraged students, coworkers, and colleagues continuously and represents the best of e-discovery professionals who continue to learn new ways to do things and push the envelope."
– Janice Hollman, Program Manager, Relativity Academic Partner Program
April Runft: Hello and thanks for joining us. I'm April Runft and this is Stellar Women in e-Discovery. I'm excited to be joined today by Peg Gianuca. Peg, welcome. Thank you for being here.
Peg Gianuca: Thank you for inviting me.
AR: Can you tell us a little bit about your role and where you work currently?
PG: Sure. So after about 30 years of working in law firms and Big Law, last October, I took an opportunity to try something different: I took a job with Disney. So that was a big change for me going from a law firm to in-house. I also moved at that time from the East Coast to the West Coast. So lots of things were going on both personally and professionally.
But right now, I work on Disney's e-discovery team. I'm the technical manager. So that means I get involved in the day-to-day operations of the team. And when things are going well, I'm not maybe as involved day to day. But when things are not going well, then often issues escalate to me.
And I also then get the opportunity at Disney to help them set their plans for the future and how we're going to handle e-discovery moving forward. It's been nine months so far, but I've been loving the opportunity that that has presented to me.
AR: Excellent, thank you. And taking us back a bit, I noticed that you studied physics in college. How have you seen that scientific training shape your career path so far?
PG: It was actually my degree in physics that got me my first legal job at Ropes and Gray. I was looking for a job and they were looking for a paralegal to assist them on cases that were going on before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. So the fact that I had had a nuclear engineering class and had pulled rods in a test reactor—they thought that was very cool. And it made me a really good candidate for the job. So I went into Ropes and Gray, kind of unfamiliar with the legal side of things. But yet my science background, besides helping me get the job, really started to help me develop my career path as I moved forward.
This was 30 years ago. So there wasn't a lot of databases and tools out there that could help you with your legal cases. Not like there is today. So the cases that I was involved in with this team were really big. There was at least twenty-some parties involved, lots of paper flying.
And so we had to figure out ways to organize things. And so of course, because I'd had this science and technology training in college, I was like, "Oh, we need a database here.” And there weren't databases like Relativity out there. So we had to kind of build our own. I was able to kind of leverage that training that I had to help—I wouldn't say develop, but begin—processes that were more home grown. So that really influenced the way that my career took off, because then I was doing kind of technology things in a legal setting, way before there was something like litigation or practice support.
AR: Yeah, great.
PG: Yeah. And, you know, the other thing I love is just that I think that it gave me a good training in problem solving and troubleshooting. And just having that curiosity about how things work and wanting to figure out the best way to get things done.
I probably tend to dig into the technology side of things a little more than some of my counterparts might do. So when I worked with a firm that had its own instance of Relativity, I wanted to know how it was installed, and how we can best utilize it from the technology standpoint. And that's not always the ways that folks approach things. But for me, it just makes sense to understand the big picture as well as the day-to-day things that go on within the different tools that we use.
AR: Yeah, for sure. Getting “under the hood” with your technology.
PG: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
AR: Great. Well, you've also taught litigation and trial technology at Georgetown. So I'm curious, what have been your biggest takeaways from the classroom to date?
PG: To date, yeah, and actually, I just wrapped up my first class at UCLA teaching legal technology. I've always been a big proponent of training. I love that it's an opportunity to give people tools and to help them take control of their careers a bit.
When I was in some of the firms I worked with, like Latham [& Watkins LLP], I helped develop training classes. And those training classes would be geared sometimes for paralegals, for attorneys, for staff—and just at different places in your career and in what you do, you need different aspects of an application. So it just kind of made sense to me that when I got the opportunity to teach on a collegiate level, it just was kind of a natural progression.
And I also find that teaching provides that opportunity to make a difference for others. My two daughters are in college, and sometimes when I hear stories about their professors, I'm like, "what?" Just because I, for me, I want the students to understand the technology. My classes are very project-driven, and I want them to finish the project, because I feel like being in there getting "under the hood," as we said earlier, I think that just makes it sink in and have more meaning for students.
I know that I've worked with the education portion of Relativity, which was a great addition that allows me in the classroom to actually provide instances of Relativity for my students to log into, and they could do projects like, do a review, set up batches, run a production … and being in there and hands-on, then when they go for those job interviews, when they go back to their jobs that they're currently working on, perhaps, they have real skill that they can apply and talk about. So I just think that's a great opportunity for people to be able to do that kind of thing.
It's more, too, than just teaching. I personally love this field. And I love the things that I've been able to do over the years. But not everybody's really suited for legal technology, and I think that's actually part of the education process too, is to help the students figure out what they're good at what they're not good at, and then look at the legal profession as a whole and see the other types of jobs that are out there; perhaps there's a better fit for someone. But just being able to help influence that, I think, is really important. And some people go on to be legal technology folks, some people go on to be paralegals, and some of my students have gone on to be RCAs and Relativity gurus too. I find that very rewarding to see the progress that they're making.
AR: Absolutely. And just a word of background for listeners that the program that you referenced is the Relativity Academic Partner Program. And as you explained, one of the ways that we really think is important to give back is providing students in law school programs and paralegal programs access to e-discovery technology. So that, like you said, when they're finishing their programs, they have that hands-on experience.
PG: Very important. And I've encouraged other applications to do that as well, so that I can do projects in perhaps a legal hold software that's a little different than Relativity or, you know, using some of the collection tools that are out there. So I really, really have appreciated Relativity’s willingness to pitch in on that.
AR: Wonderful. So thinking about your nomination for this campaign, it mentioned that you have a wealth of experience in the courtroom. What has been the most exciting part, would you say, about courtroom proceedings from your experience?
PG: Yeah [laughs], being in the courtroom is not for everyone, I think. It's definitely a job that is long hours, lots of stress; you kind of have to be ready for anything. I often liken it to being like an adrenaline junkie.
You're always moving at top speed, you can't let up your attention in the courtroom, you have to move fast and deal with things unexpectedly. I've had attorneys change their entire strategy in like a ten-minute break and you're scrambling to get things done before the judge takes the bench again. So there's something I think that's kind of inherently exciting about that, in and of itself. I actually went to my first trial with the team at Ropes and Gray that I was initially hired to work with.
That team of attorneys were really responsible for putting me on the path I'm on today. Because I was someone who came in, I didn't even have paralegal experience, I was a paralegal in their group, they took the time to teach me and they were willing to listen to my feedback. And as we started adding technology into what we did, they were open to that and encouraging.
We went to trial for that first case that, when I actually was hired, was a case pending where we knew we were going to go to trial or administrative hearing within the next few months. And that hearing lasted for weeks. And so right from the beginning of my career, I got that opportunity to be in the courtroom. So it was a great way to really learn the entire gamut of the legal process from beginning to end.
Also, I think I had a great opportunity—I keep saying that word, opportunity, but I do feel like I've been provided so many great chances to do things. I worked with a team that was providing support for someone who was on trial in the war crimes tribunal, in The Hague. So being able to go there, travel there, and support that team and see how things operate in a massive kind of process was pretty cool.
And then at another firm, at one time, we actually represented a federal judge who was facing impeachment. Those hearings actually happened in the Capitol, in front of some of the committees, and ultimately, the final hearing was on the floor of Congress. So, again, really interesting venues.
PG: I think traveling a lot with trials was really ... [laughs] actually, it was kind of a mixed bag. You went to some really great places, went to some maybe not-so-exciting places, but definitely got to experience life in different places, which adds to your growth, I think.
AR: Yeah, for sure. It sounds like your experience in law firms has been hugely influential. So how has your role changed now? You said you're just under a year with the Walt Disney Company. What was that transition like, moving from the law firm world to a corporation? And what would you say to an e-discovery professional who is considering that transition? Like, what kinds of things should they be on the lookout for, that you've seen?
PG: Yeah, I would recommend it definitely for folks, just because, again, it's another aspect of our jobs. And just in trying to have kind of a well-rounded understanding of the field, I think it really has provided me with a lot of interesting glimpses on the other side. Again, I worked for law firms for 30 years, so it's kind of funny going into a big company like that.
For me, it was a fairly easy transition, I think, because the role I have at Disney is very similar to the role that I had in the firms. I think one of the big challenges I faced was actually just working for such a large organization. Even when I worked at Latham, which was a very big firm, I knew where to go, and who to go to for certain IT things. And so if I had some issues I needed resolving, I really had that ability to kind of go and sit in front of someone and talk things through.
And at Disney, as you can imagine, there are a lot of IT professionals, lots of specialty groups for all the different layers of business, and being able to find that person has sometimes been a challenge all in itself. I call it “my new adventure.” So as I try to tweak out where and how things are done, and how to find the people to help me resolve an issue, it's a different kind of challenge.
But I've really enjoyed that breadth of knowledge that's there within the organization.
AR: Following that thread of e-discovery, and thinking about the differences between the law firm environment, can you say a little more about how e-discovery itself is different for a media company compared to other industries you've seen, or the practice of it from the law firm side?
PG: Before I got there, I was kind of expecting it to be maybe a lot more narrow than the work that I had done for the law firm. But then I found that to be wrong once I got in the house.
I think that because Disney is such a large company, again, that they have work that runs the gamut. So just like law firms have practice groups that address different areas, I find that Disney also has lawyers in all those different "practice groups." So you know, the IP, the employment law, the contract folks, so in many ways, it's like working for a big law firm, in that it just, it runs the gamut. So we're never locked into a certain type of legal case, which is kind of what I thought going in, it would be more like that.
AR: We talked a lot already about technical skills, and getting really familiar with your technical tools. What soft skills have you found to be most effective working in this industry?
PG: I think one of the most important soft skills that you can have, and encourage in others, is the ability to work in a collaborative way.
In most situations, no one person has the right answer, I think. And I think that when you put a group of people together that have varying experiences and ideas, and then the group comes up with a solution, the results are just so much better than one person doing it. And I have certainly sat in my share of meetings where, you know, there's one person in the room trying to convince everyone else that their way is right. And that's just, I don't think it’s very effective. So being able to learn to collaborate—and I do think it's a learned skill—and not to fear the criticism, or the quote-unquote criticism, because I don't think it's necessarily criticism, but being able to throw in ideas and being open to other people's ideas—and really being able to take that all in, I think is, is a really important skill.
Also, in our profession as practice support, litigation support folks, which is where I fit in the e-discovery world, I think that that ability to bridge the gap is really important. So when I would have folks on my team who were kind of like me, that came from more of a technology background, I'd really encourage them to learn more about the law and understand the legal process.
And then in the same way, if we had folks that came into the team from the legal side, I'd really encourage them to learn more technical skills. And I think that there's a big need for that ability to bridge the gap, so you can put attorneys and technologists and our vendors and all those folks together, and draw them together, in order to build a consensus and get the job done in the most efficient way.
Sometimes I say, I'm a bit of a mediator as well, because, you know, you’ve got to balance that—the attorneys’ needs and what they're driving for, and the vendors’ needs and what they're driving for. And then, you know, us as legal professionals, trying to pull it all together and make sure everybody's satisfied. So, it's yeah, it's a bit of a mediation skill.
AR: I think it's asking for vulnerability, too, from two groups of folks who have this deep expertise in these areas—to be willing to learn things and be open to something that they don't have that depth of knowledge, and get to ask questions and admit there are parts of it that they don't understand or are not familiar with.
PG: Exactly, that's exactly right.
And I have to say that I worked for most of my career at Latham in the DC office, and I found the collaboration in that office to be a wonderful thing. The attorneys definitely made us a part of the team, were open to our suggestions. And it really, really, I think, helped build our team on the lit support side, as well as just built such a strong response to the different cases that we had. It hasn't always been that way. I've been in other firms where I've not quite been as lucky to have that kind of experience. But it really makes a difference, that team. I'm always emphasizing "team."
AR: Just a couple more to go here. You also have experience, you spent some time in Brussels working on a European practice support team for a large international firm. So I'd love to hear more about that. And if you could share some core differences that you saw between the way e-discovery is conducted in the EU compared to how we are doing things here?
PG: Yeah, so working in the EU was just a great experience. I was at Latham at the time, and they had expanded and joined with a lot of firms in the EU. I was based out of Brussels, but I supported the offices in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Hamburg, and there were a few more in there. But those were the main ones where I traveled and helped the teams.
My goal when I got there was not to "teach them how to do things," that's how we do things in the US. Instead, I really wanted to understand how they were currently working, and then introduce technology to them, things that would enhance and add value to their current processes. So sometimes that was just as simple as getting a Word template designed to help with a thing that they did. But we also then delved into the discovery side and collected data, set up new review databases, and I learned to work with some of the vendors there in the EU. So it was a great learning experience for me too, to see how things were done there. And, and in many ways, it was very similar to what we had done in the States but often the timing and delivery of things was a bit different.
I think too, now that I'm thinking back—I was there a long time ago. So I've been gone for over 10 years. One of the big differences when I got there was understanding how the things that we did were affected by privacy laws. And of course, that's still a big issue today, especially with all the new rules that were promulgated recently. So I think that's still a challenge for people working with the EU and with data that resides in the EU.
But the attorneys there were wonderful, I think. My job was part marketing, part training, and then really working as well. And then I got that opportunity to build a team and to find people in those offices who were interested in learning about legal technology. Specifically, more of the litigation support type technology, and then putting those assets into place so that we could build a team there in Europe to help those attorneys there. So again, great experience.
AR: Very important follow-up question. You were based in Belgium—are you ruined for waffles forever now on the US side?
PG: Definitely not! Definitely not, in fact, just this weekend, you know, now that I'm living here in California, I went to a mall that was close to here and they actually had a waffle counter and I was so excited. I don't see that very often in the States. I do miss the waffles, I miss the frites, I miss all the chocolate shops that were on many corners in Brussels. So. Lots of great food in Europe as well as work. Yes.
AR: Okay, last question for you. Have to ask it. Favorite Disney movie of all time?
PG: [Laughs] Yeah, that's gonna be really hard. I think about the movies that I grew up with, and then there's the movies that I watched with my daughters. The old classics for me, still—like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the original Jungle Book, those are some of my old favorites.
You know, Pirates of the Caribbean, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast. I mean, there's just ... animation versus, you know, there's so many things that's great about Disney movies. So I don't think I can limit it to just one. Maybe one in each genre. Or timeframe.
AR: There you go. Fair enough.
All right. Well, that's all the time we've got for today, Peg. This was wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here.
PG: Oh, thank you very much, April.
AR: Listeners, thank you for joining us. ‘Til next time, for Stellar Women in e-Discovery, I'm April Runft.