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Legal versus IT – How Technology Bridges the Divide

Created on March 31, 2016

Solutions Consultant at Exterro

bridging the gap between IT and LegalIn my almost four years of working at Exterro and almost ten years in e-discovery overall, I have had many interesting, unexpected conversations with individuals in Legal and IT departments. Although I come from the legal side, I really do understand the landscape that IT is charged to take care of, which can be vast and complex especially for large organizations. Legal is charged with something relatively less complex; find the information that is being requested – nothing less and nothing more – that is responsive to the request and is not privileged and deliver it to the requesting party. What is the #1 item that makes Legal's job challenging? In my opinion anyway? Data.

So, back to the conversation between Legal and IT. Recently, I participated in a call with a prospective client who seem extremely interested in the possibility of having ECA, Collection, Review and Production capabilities at their fingertips. Both Legal and IT were present on the call. Here's how it went (with slight paraphrasing):

Paralegal from prospective client: “So how does your system get to the data sources we believe have responsive data?

Exterro: “We use connectors that are part of our Data Management application which then access the data sources and are able to see inside the data source."

Paralegal from prospective client (and without a second of hesitation): “Oh, forget it then. IT would never let us do that. We couldn't possibly have access to the systems that have responsive data."

[My inner voice: “WHAAATTT? Really? That's going to make your job very difficult."]

Exterro: “In the traditional landscape of Legal and IT and data, this was not really possible. Today there is technology that makes this possible. Legal, IT and even other parts the organization can use the application to access data sources and find the responsive data they are looking for."

Paralegal from prospective client: “IT would never let us do that."

[I'm sensing a theme.]

Exterro: “For many organizations, technology such as what we are looking at here enables a completely different approach to the data portion of e-discovery."

Paralegal from prospective client: “IT would never let us do that. Brian [the IT attendee], would you let us do that?"

[Silence from Brian.]

Paralegal from prospective client: “I'm encouraged that you did not immediately say 'no' … I guess that's good."

[Personally, I wasn't convinced Brian's lack of response was at all meaningful or encouraging.]

This conversation was absolutely stunning to me! And also very sad. Legal has been conditioned not to expect to have access to data. And I don't think this particular organization is unique.

If we accept that Legal's #1 challenge in fulfilling the e-discovery process is data, then what can been done so that the above conversation never happens again? Legal and IT are unequivocal partners in this regard and must believe this to be true. They need to be prepared to play together in that sandbox and radically support each other in the task of finding that responsive grain of sand.

Here's some suggestions:

1. Focus on the Goal. The goal in this case is all about data. Collaboration will improve once Legal and IT understands they are working on the same goal and not at odds with each other. It does not have to be about IT protecting their control over the data landscape, but about a critical mission to the organization, which is responding efficiently to requests for data.

2. Define Leadership. Both Legal and IT need some to lead the effort. This does not have to be a formal title but rather someone who understands what needs to be done and can rally the teams to make it so. When interdepartmental teams are working closely to solve a problem, effective leadership will greatly reduce the inevitable conversation/competition of whose idea is better and therefore should be followed. Instead, a collaborative process with all meaningful input will result. This will lead to adoption of the new process by all stakeholders.

3. Write it Down. The leaders identified in step #2 need to gather resources from Legal and IT a conference room and brainstorm the interdepartmental collaborative process on a big whiteboard. Ask someone to write all the ideas on the whiteboard and someone else to take thorough notes of the decisions and agreements. Make sure everyone is heard. Minimize cross talk if you can. No idea is stupid and no concern is invalid. (One of our most successful clients actually does this process every six months to assure changes are constantly being incorporated in to the current process.)

4. Communicate Effectively. Meetings aren't always necessary and email isn't always the best choice for communication. Don't rely on “that's how we always do it." Use the most effective communication mechanism with the goal of everyone is heard and everyone is aligned. Schedule weekly meetings if you have to! Do not embrace limited communicate in an effort to protect your individual sandbox. Nothing good will come of that and you are creating a struggle that affects everyone's ability to do their job.

The bottom line is that in the world of Legal compliance and e-discovery, Legal and IT cannot be bickering, uncooperative or protective. This behavior puts the organization at risk, which translates to everyone in Legal and IT also being at risk.

For more on how technology can play a role in creating a more streamlined process within your organization,

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