Taking Notes: Perspectives from e-Discovery Veterans

When historians, anthropologists, and sociologists seek to discover the truth, they consider one data point uniquely valuable: the first-hand accounts of storytellers.

There is a lot to be learned from neighbors, historically and geographically, about the world around us. The same is true about our professional circles. It’s pretty incredible how much knowledge is at your fingertips if you’re willing to turn to your neighbor and ask about their experience.

So, with a keen interest in hearing their best stories, we reached out to a few members of our community to get their perspective on the recent history of the e-discovery industry. Ed Fiducia, regional vice president and senior e-discovery consultant at Inventus; Mike Hagen, manager of litigation technology at Procopio; and David Horrigan, our own e-discovery counsel, have decades of combined experience in our space. They had some insightful stories to share about how technology and processes have changed since their careers began.

Arrested Developments?

While the progression from paper evidence to digital documents may seem to have happened quite naturally in hindsight, it didn’t go quite as expected for the folks who worked in the trenches during the shift.

Two of our veterans from the legal technology field—each with more than two decades of experience—presented an unexpected theme when asked about the most surprising development they’ve seen during their careers: what didn’t happen was almost more noteworthy than what did.

“The development that has surprised me the most is actually a ‘non-development,’” said Ed. “As our industry has matured, I’m surprised that we still haven’t seen as much standardization among processing engines and review platforms as I would have expected.”

This is in stark contrast with an earlier challenge in the move to digitization, he says.

“I remember, back in the early scanning days, everyone had their own ‘proprietary’ image file format. Even then, it only took a few years for 300 dpi Group IV TIFF to emerge as the standard. But we’re still not there in e-discovery.”

According to Mike, it’s not just the technology that’s left unexpected openings for improvement.

“Despite the tremendous changes in technology and the way we communicate, create, and store information, law firms—big and small—have not kept pace with these changes. I still find so many lawyers stuck in the old paper model,” he laments. “Also, both old and new lawyers have no clue as to what a gigabyte of data translates to in terms of physical, tangible, paper equivalents.”

So there’s another reminder that, no matter how much progress we make, there’s always room for more.

Good Riddance

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of opportunity to look back with a satisfied smile at yesterday’s way of doing things.

“I’ve said it a thousand times: You just haven’t lived until you have Bates stamped phone books by hand!” jokes Ed. “I still have my stamp.”

Fortunately, the analytics and speed-to-review made available by modern e-discovery software means most review projects now look much less like an assembly line. We’d venture a guess that far fewer of today’s reviewers go home in slacks ruined by ink stains from one of these bad boys.

For his part, David, doesn’t miss the paper days.

“The digital age has brought many hassles to the discovery process: new and challenging data sources, corrupted media, and screen fatigue, just to name a few, but we should remember the everyday hassles they replaced,” he notes.

“Gone are paper cuts and Bates stampers, and also gone by the wayside is being trapped in elevators. Yes, on two different cases, I was stuck in elevators—once for close to two hours—because we weighed the elevators down with too many Bankers Boxes of documents. As you sit there in 2017, not stuck in an elevator, remember how far e-discovery has brought us.”

Why It’s Still Worth It

Naturally, all this revolution can make for a lot of stressors on professionals who are in it every day. True veterans in our space, though, are in it for the long haul. So what keeps them coming back for more after years in the middle of it all?

Though the legal profession is notoriously hard on its people, one of the many benefits of new and emerging technologies is that they’re purpose-built to save time and stress—even if it can be difficult to keep up with it all.

“Constantly changing technology keeps me from getting bored,” says Mike—with one small caveat. “It also keeps me wanting to retire early.”

For some, it’s the community that helps them feel at home in this industry.

“What keeps me coming back is the personal satisfaction I get when someone becomes a life-long client or colleague,” Ed says. “It’s incredible how many relationships—both on the client side and the vendor side—are now more than 20 years old. Friendships that last in good times and bad.”

Sam Bock is a member of the marketing communications team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.