By Jim Gill
The role of the paralegal started in the 1960's in an attempt to streamline the delivery and cost efficiency of legal services. Today, that goal remains, especially in the field of E-Discovery. As companies increasingly look to bring more e-discovery in house, paralegals have seen their role progress from one of administration and attorney support, to more specialized e-discovery leadership. But challenges come with the expanded roles.
Like E-Discovery itself, e-discovery paralegals hardly existed ten years ago. Today, it's common to see paralegals, especially those at large corporations, performing the function of the e-discovery manager or e-discovery coordinator. In many cases, these professionals possess more e-discovery knowledge and skill than the lawyers they work under, making them invaluable assets for both the legal department and the company as a whole.
Linda Luperchio, a paralegal who is Director of IG & E-Discovery at Hanover insurance says, “On a daily basis I'm responsible for e-discovery requests that come from either legal, or IT, or that come straight to me. I am always listening to see what others need so I can find the right data; my job is to find out what they're looking for and help them find it, while making sure we're defensible."
Tara Jones, Lead Paralegal for Litigation at AOL, meets the challenges of her role by approaching E-Discovery from a legal project manager's point of view: “As simple as it may sound, you have to be organized. You have to know the end goal. The best way to do that is through project management. Each case should be presented like a project, and you should be able to track the case from the beginning of discovery all the way through until a final answer is given. You should know at any given time in the process how many more steps there are to go. If you put it in a project outline, then you'll know how long it should take for discovery based on the past. The best predictor of the future is the past. When you have the process documented, it makes things much easier because it can be very overwhelming, especially when you are brand new."
To more effectively navigate the challenges E-Discovery brings to their job, paralegals should focus on these four areas:
- Plan Ahead
The responsibilities of a paralegal begin well before an actual e-discovery project arises. Even though E-Discovery is often thought of as a reactive activity that is triggered by specific events, there are many tasks and responsibilities that are consistent across projects. Putting a plan in place ahead of time allows the legal team to hit the ground running without overlooking important details.
- Establish a Repeatable Process
As the central spoke in the legal department, it's usually the paralegal's job to serve as e-discovery project manager. Clearly defining roles and responsibilities and documenting everything not only keeps projects on track, but it creates a reasonable and defensible process.
- Develop a Custodian Interview Strategy
The role of the paralegal is not simply that of task manager. Through custodian interviews, paralegals can play an instrumental role in gathering key information to help determine the scope of e-discovery and even drive case strategy.
- Incorporate Technology Wisely
Paralegals' relationship with technology has changed substantially in recent years. In many companies, manual processes have been automated with new systems, and processes that traditionally were outsourced to third parties are now being performed with in-house tools. Not only does e-discovery technology automate many of the processes that paralegals oversee, freeing them up to focus on other aspects of matter management, it also creates a more defensible process, since manual tools like spreadsheets are prone to error and deleted data.
Beth King, Sr. Paralegal at Vestas American Wind Technology, backs this up. “When it comes to legal holds, you can't just do it yourself. Don't create some Excel spreadsheet and try to manage it manually. Make sure you are automating, because automation does the job for you, and you don't have to think much about it. Once you get the notices out, the process should really run itself. Then it's just a matter of following up on the reminders that come from the system."
Technology also can help with managing legal operations beyond E-Discovery. Cutting edge legal project management systems are specifically designed to orchestrate the workflows and activities associated with legal processes, including: e-discovery, matter intake, witness ID/deposition tracking, case management, etc. This ensures consistency, provides visibility into all projects, and improves efficiency, cost control, and communication across all stakeholders, enabling you to reliably manage resource workloads and deliver more value to your clients.