By Tim Rollins
Successful e-discovery projects depend on collaboration between two departments: Legal and IT. Sometimes the two departments collaborate seamlessly, but often there are difficulties. These trouble spots may arise from organizational structures, lines of reporting, and competing priorities, but more likely, they come from the differences in professional backgrounds, mindsets, and communication styles between legal and IT professionals.
Gene McKelvey, eDiscovery Compliance Manager at Michelin, has some tips to facilitate effective communication between legal and IT departments. Prior to joining Michelin as an IT project manager, he explains, “I’d never heard the term e-discovery. My first project was assisting our legal department in assessing and deploying work processes related to discovery, but I quickly became interested because it combined my lifelong interest in the law with my IT skills and work experience.”
In the world of e-discovery, we tend to hear stories about miscommunication from the legal perspective, since most e-discovery specialists come from legal backgrounds, either as paralegals or attorneys. But in talking with Gene, I recognized that his IT background gave him a different perspective—one that it’s very important for legal professionals to hear. Here are the six key tips that he thought were most important to share.
- Know your audience.
- Avoid shop talk.
- Leverage executive support.
- Take time to build engagement.
- Make sure IT understands why e-discovery is important.
- Understand their (and your) roles.
For a writer, that’s basic advice, but maybe it’s not so natural for an IT admin or a paralegal.
IT teams may not understand that eDiscovery is a multi-step process and that the Legal/Litigation Hold is only the first step in the process of identifying and preserving potentially relevant content. If you’re in legal, don’t view legal holds as “just a job for IT.” You can’t ‘throw it over the wall’ and blindly assume it’s been completed correctly. Ensuring the proper hand-offs occur, the right personnel are engaged, and the tasks are completed satisfactorily requires frequent and regular communication. Help bridge the gap between a task-driven IT mindset and an iterative legal process.
It’s not just the IT folks who can be trapped by their background. Many attorneys are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, but there are still some who prefer the tried-and-true paper process. Here too, the communication aspect is important. Remember the “Universal Translator” from the Star Trek series? Truthfully, sometimes Gene finds that his role can be very similar, translating ‘IT-speak’ to something non-tech savvy lawyers can understand.
Coming from an IT background, it’s very easy to slip into what’s comfortable and speak in IT terminology. Technical jargon is helpful when both parties understand it, but it’s a barrier at other times. Recently, he had a conversation with one of the managing attorneys on a technology subject. Paraphrasing the attorney, he said, “You have to talk to me in terms a three-year-old can understand.”
Avoiding jargon isn’t a one-way street; it applies to attorneys and paralegals too. The IT world doesn’t speak the language of the courts. When you talk about a motion in limine or a motion to compel, an IT person really doesn’t know what that means. Take the extra minute to explain, because often it will save time in the long run by avoiding rework.
Top down support from the General Counsel and from the CIO is absolutely critical. They set the mandate, the goals to be achieved and help make sure commitments are respected.” They are rarely, if ever, involved with your typical eDiscovery project, but they have the organizational responsibility should it go badly. If they understand why you’ve instituted certain processes or implemented e-discovery technology, then they’ll be aware of the benefits gained if a problem comes up. But if the first time they’re aware of an e-discovery process or technology is when it goes wrong, you run the risk of losing their confidence.
Additionally, in many companies, IT teams are handling three to five projects plus support at any given time, allocating 10% of their time to this, and 20% to that. Having that support from the General Counsel gives you a mandate to get e-discovery work done even if it is just a small portion of a given person’s job.
Make sure that the IT teams are not just aware of e-discovery processes, but truly engaged in them. IT professionals are often very task-focused. They focus on the accomplishing the steps in a process, in order, a very specific way—and that’s the appropriate mindset for an IT pro. But if your IT team isn’t engaged in e-discovery, they may fall back on treating those projects as simply a list of tasks.
But if they treat e-discovery projects like, ‘Insert bolt A into slot B, rotate three times, and I’m done,’ then the legal team might not get everything they need out of a new technology or a new process. E-Discovery takes a more nuanced mindset. Legal teams need to make sure that IT understands what you’re trying to achieve and why you need the technology. If they understand the “why” and “how” behind a process, then IT will be aware when something goes wrong, or when a different approach is necessary.
IT teams don’t necessarily appreciate the importance of e-discovery in successful outcomes to litigation. The challenge for IT professionals is to really understand the critical role the e-discovery process plays in the overall context of a lawsuit. Some team members will be eager to help, and but with other people, you may have to lay down the law with them. If that means bringing an attorney into the room to get them to provide support, then do so. At the end of the day, defensibility is a critical element of a successful e-discovery project, and it’s critical to take the steps you need to ensure it.
At the end of the day, in-house legal and IT are partners on the same team. Everyone has a part to play and a goal to achieve that contributes to success. If you look at the role of an attorney, the attorney’s not going to get into the nitty gritty of the data sources. What they’re mainly concerned about is what is the impact of the content on their case. ‘Is this a responsive document? Is it something that’s going to hurt me?’”
As a project manager, take a step back and look at e-discovery from a high-level perspective. Legal has oversight and the responsibility to identify the steps that we need to do, who’s responsible, and ultimately to keep the project on schedule and on budget.
Improve collaboration between IT and Legal departments with the tips in Exterro’s infographic Working with IT/Legal Effectively: An E-Discovery Process Recipe.