By Tim Rollins
Author’s Note: In this series, we’re interviewing e-discovery professionals to understand what a typical day (if such a thing exists) looks like for them. The days portrayed in these articles are a composite of the tasks performed, conversations held, and meetings attended, and give others a sense of the way more experienced e-discovery practitioners structure their professional life. Today we’re looking at a day in the life of Beth King, RP, Senior Litigation Paralegal at Vestas.
I start my day usually around 6:00 or 6:30. And the reason I do that is because I often have calls with people overseas and so, because of the time differences, I try to come in early for those. Often, those calls may involve explaining a legal hold to somebody who doesn't believe anyone's entitled to any of their private information, or believes it's proprietary data and doesn't understand the legal system in the United States is challenging. So that's one thing I have to try to do – explain why all that information is relevant and must be preserved. As a member of a smaller legal department, I tend to squeeze in e-discovery among other pieces of my job. I’m the only paralegal, and we fluctuate between six and eight lawyers, plus a department administrative person. I usually have around 25 legal holds, but not all of them are active every day.
The bulk of our legal holds tend to be employment issues. So with those, the legal hold is developed. There's a flurry of activity in the beginning—gathering information and writing a position statement and response to the claims. Usually, it slows down after that because the EEOC is pretty seriously behind in its investigations. It's not like it happens right away. It takes a while.
We have Outlook 365, and we use their eDiscovery function, so I'm often searching emails in Microsoft to collect information, identify other resources, and just gather the basic facts of a matter. Actually, I would say a lot of my job is fact gathering. Most of my job, in fact. It’s just a matter of how or where I’m gathering the information. Am I interviewing witnesses? Am I searching for records? Am I collecting records? Am I organizing them?
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A lot of my cases never rise to the level of litigation, but we have to do investigations for these matters. An employment investigation could involve five or 10 or more interviews, and witnesses are working on different schedules. I frequently interview at least one person per day either for a document collection, facts or something else. If I have a litigation matter, I will include questionnaires within the legal hold notice, and that identifies where I can find documents or where the custodians are storing their documents. It makes them think about it; that's what I like about the questionnaire. Before the questionnaire was included within the legal hold, I used a template similar to the questionnaire. In addition, I'm asking them questions about the incident, so I'm doing fact finding as well as document locating.
When you’re working in-house, it’s like a moving target. You start your day and you think you're going to work on one thing and then, you get pulled off on some other higher priority or some other crisis or something that has a higher value than the little things. I might get a subpoena for a particular record or set of records, which is another part of my job, but those are the “unknowns” that just show up. They're pretty demanding; sometimes, I get a simple one like a request for personnel files. The problem is they will follow up with me day after day after day, so it’s better to deal with the task right away.
I also am responsible for developing processes that surround our litigation, our leases, and contractor licensing. That’s an area where I hardly ever have time to do what I want to do, because while it's necessary for the business, finding time to do it can be difficult. Even though it's a high priority, it becomes a lower priority, because it doesn't have an immediate deadline. It's not going to make or break the business, it's just going to make it better and more efficient. I am on a mission right now to modify our legal hold procedure. Before, our policy was more about, “This is when you're going to do a legal hold.” Now I am trying to get into the process—"Here's how we're going to do a legal hold. Here's how we're going to do audits.” We’re trying to do more audits.
We operate across the United States and Canada, so which counsel we use depends on where the dispute is occurring and the specialty and expertise of counsel. Outside counsel, when we hire them, always wants everything right away and it's a little duplicative work, because the next hot time is when you get a request for production. When you receive that request, you have to respond within a certain amount of time, but you may have compiled half that stuff and given it to the lawyers to begin with. I've started holding weekly case meetings because it frustrates me to get multiple emails all the time. So we'll have a call, and we'll talk about priorities and what outside counsel is doing, what I'm doing, what needs to be done, and what can wait. One of our lawyers said, “I'm going to reach out and find out why they haven't filed an answer.” My response is, “Why? We're a defendant here. We filed our answer.” For my organization, there's a cost aspect, right? A law firm gets a case, and they want to go, go, go. But as a defendant, until the plaintiff tells us we have to do something, I'm not doing it.
Another thing that I spend a lot of time on is employee departures. When somebody leaves the company, I have to evaluate the impact of that departure on the company. First of all, if they're on a legal hold, make sure that I don't let them leave without me getting their laptop. And you would be surprised. People have to check with me before they turn in a laptop. I probably get a dozen inquiries a week, because we have technicians that work in the field and you may have a turnover. Then, if there's documentation or data that they have, I have to collect that sort of thing. So that can take a good part of my time up as well and has to be looked at in case it impacts an employment investigation or litigation.