Cover Story: Law Technology News
By Monica Bay
Electronic data discovery is not just raising havoc with trial strategies, risk management decisions, litigation budgets, and document retention policies, it’s also uprooting traditional support staff job descriptions in law firms, corporate law departments and vendor shops.
With EDD now a $2 billion industry that is expected to double by next year, according to the 2007 Socha-Gelbmann Electronic Discovery Survey, there's a lot of chaos as organizations try to select and use the sophisticated new technology that is necessary to conduct discovery in almost any litigation. Many trial lawyers and paralegals simply do not understand technology (and don't want to), while many IT professionals do not understand the nuances of law.
But for firms and their clients to succeed, there is no choice — they simply must adapt — and that includes redefining responsibilities. Traditional support staff roles that segregate tasks into legal (paralegals who handle document coding, deposition summaries, managing exhibits) and IT (harnessing the hardware and software) are about as useful today as floppy disks. Roles are blurring, and new titles are showing up on business cards. And there is a lot of opportunity for the ambitious.
Over the last five years, one definite trend has emerged: new roles for lawyers — as trial support staff. Firms are hiring non-partner-track staff attorneys to oversee EDD operations; using partners as ombudspersons to interface between trial lawyers and support staff; establishing e-discovery practice areas; and even spinning off subsidiary EDD companies.
Phoenix consultant Michael Arkfeld,* a former federal civil litigator, says many trial lawyers are eager to delegate anything to do with e-discovery. They are relying upon vendors, consultants and designated staff attorneys "to provide the magic wand to make it happen properly," he says. "Generally, every firm has at least one or two attorney 'champions' they rely upon to handle EDD matters. They are extremely valuable and rare."
David Baker*, chair of Chicago-based consultancy Baker Robbins & Co. (www.brco.com), is among the many observers who see more lawyers jumping to EDD management roles in law firms. What's in it for the firms? Trial lawyers want consulting-level assistance, not just technical information, he explains. They want their trial support team to understand the litigation process, deadlines, and strategies.