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What Our Moms Taught Us about e-Discovery

Peter Fogarty

As we approach Mother’s Day, observed in many parts of the world on the second Sunday of May, we reflect on how our mothers have helped make us who we are. This Sunday, though, if you’re trying to enjoy brunch with the family but find yourself once again explaining the basics of e-discovery, you might start believing you’ve forged this career and learned everything you know on your own. You’d be wrong.

In fact, for most of us, our success in our day-to-day jobs owes much to the maternal wisdom and guidance we’ve received.

With that in mind, we thought it would be interesting to look at how we hear our moms’ wise voices in the context of e-discovery. How do our mothers’ lessons apply to the way we engage with the world of legal technology?

Clean up your room.

Who among us doesn’t remember the feeling of dread as we surveyed a landscape of paper piles, clothes, and countless possessions strewn about our rooms, knowing we were accountable for somehow organizing everything before dinner?

Now as then, while managing a monster case from beginning to end, success is all about breaking a seemingly insurmountable task into a multi-phase workflow:

  1. Preserve and collect. Know your obligations, assess what you have, target what you want to keep, create an inventory, and filter out the irrelevant items.
  2. Process, analyze, and review. Understand the purpose and background of each individual item—what’s relevant, what’s critical, what can be filed away. Think about which items relate to one another, and how they can best be categorized and organized. Search for any missing pieces.
  3. Produce and present. Time to get everything in order and show it to the “judge” in hopes of a favorable outcome.

Mom-approved Pro Tip: Prevent a mess downstream by keeping data in order, day in and day out, before it gets out of hand. Check out these suggestions for jump-starting a reliable information governance workflow.

Follow the rules.

This was easier for some of us than others as children, but as grown-ups working in the legal industry, rule-following is what it’s all about.

When it comes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the rules that govern the behaviors and practices of e-discovery professionals may be more closely related to the guidelines we received while growing up than we think. The Federal Rules continue to change and evolve over time (most recently last December), and as David Horrigan pointed out in a recent post, different judges cite and apply the rules in different ways. Life lessons prepared us for the fact that there will always be changes to rules—and differences in how they apply, depending on the authority enforcing them.

Mom-approved Pro Tip: It doesn’t have to be a chore to stay up to date on rule changes and the industry trends that drive them. Attend the best conferences and read the best books our space has to offer.


Our mothers were telling us to share our toys since before we were old enough to remember, and for good reason. We all have a tendency to want to hold tightly to the things we value, but our moms knew that we would benefit much more in the long run by seeing the value of cooperation over self-interest.

Likewise, as Christian Levis highlighted in a recent post:

Collaborating effectively has allowed us to coordinate efforts across firms, avoid duplication of efforts, and build better strategies with our entire team.”

Whether sharing e-discovery insights and best practices within your own organization, among your client community, or across the industry as a whole, the echoes of our mothers’ voices remind us that we have much to gain collectively by inviting others to learn as partners.

Mom-approved Pro Tip: Be collaborative, not bossy, when establishing the rules for your next case. You can embrace the spirit of the revised Federal Rules and set up your team for more effective e-discovery by cooperating—even with opposing counsel.

Study hard if you want to get ahead.

It’s a bit of a paradox to call this a “no-brainer,” but it’s hard to argue with mom on this one. Just about anyone who has made a mark in e-discovery has done so by putting in the extra time and effort to hone their craft and pursue expertise in software tools, applications, and features to meet the ever-demanding needs of clients and projects.

e-Discovery education in schools is growing. More law schools are offering e-discovery curriculums that will give students a leg up once they graduate. If you’re currently in law school or studying to become a paralegal, pay close attention to these courses.

For those of us who can no longer call ourselves “students,” there are other ways to stand out. For example, the Relativity certification program is growing to cover a wide variety of roles and specialties in e-discovery, including project managers.

Mom-approved Pro Tip: You’re never too cool for school. If you’ve been thinking about earning your specialist certification in one or more areas of Relativity, this is the time to give it a shot. You can now take these exams online.

Remember where you came from.

If this post does nothing more than remind you to order flowers, send a card, or pick up the phone this weekend, we’ll consider it a success. But as the e-discovery world continues to grow and mature, the point is that we must never forget to stay rooted in the wisdom and prudence imparted in our youth. The next time you reflect on your career and the foundation of your success, perhaps these two simple words will come to mind:

Thanks, Mom.

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