ACEDS Returns With A Splash

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Well, the ACEDS 2012 (Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists®) conference is over: another practical e-discovery conference at a great location (the Westin in Hollywood, Fla.) is in the books.  It seemed to be much larger than its inaugural year and a good mixture of lawyers and other e-discovery practitioners.

It was especially good to return this year having passed the CEDS examination last fall, which tested many areas of the e-discovery process, from technology to project management to budgeting, etc.

Topics at this year’s conference included dealing with social media, best practices in project management, succeeding in catastrophic cases, e-discovery malpractice, and numerous others. The format was again fairly tightly controlled, with each speaker giving eight to nine minutes on a topic followed by questions and answers, with the moderators trying to keep everyone on task.

The speakers were knowledgeable and usually quite practical in their application of points, although too much time was spent on bios and introductory remarks, which took away precious minutes from the speakers (some of whom were slighted on time). This is always the most difficult component of a conference and for the most part it was pulled off successfully, however. I liked that so many different speakers were used, and while several spoke on more than one panel there were no domineering performances that left you wondering why they were on a panel.

One main takeaway on the programming is that I’m still struck (and somewhat amazed) that the industry has been slow to embrace that e-discovery projects require project management. While this is generally an accepted notion on the technology side of the process, it seems not everyone has accepted (or is just slowly adopting) that everything from budget forecasting to people management to documented repeatable processes also needs project management. Speaking from personal experience and watching it happen on dozens of projects the last few years here at Counsel On Call, that’s where you get your efficiencies, your productivity and in the end your success.

It is no longer acceptable, in my opinion, to take a project, throw people at it, and invoice the client when you’re done. Instead, you need to be able to know where you are at every step along the way and diligently benchmark, track and report it – and your client needs access to that same information as well. Budget awareness, project progression awareness, complications that might impact the budget or timeline, collaboration with inside/outside counsel and technology partners, etc., are each integral factors in a successful e-discovery project and for future matters.

In the end, clients hate the ‘gotcha’ moment. Project management and transparency of process are meant to reduce and hopefully eliminate those moments. At the very least, the steps along the way will identify those events that could quickly spiral out of control if not picked up on as early as possible.

One other note: This year there seemed to be more technology vendors than before. While it is important to have great sponsors for such events, I’m sure hoping it doesn’t become overwhelming with booths like so many other conferences. These vendors were each given a time to briefly speak and provide several tips but were not supposed to make it an infomercial. Many succeeded while others failed. Perhaps the ACEDS committee should have this segment pre-planned much like they do each of the other panels. The concept is good but the execution left something to be desired.

Overall it was another solid event for ACEDS, and I’m looking forward to more in the future. They are worth checking out if you aren’t familiar with the organization.

And then of course there were the fabulous accommodations. The beach is always a great place to learn about e-discovery. Just saying.

Harried, But With Purpose

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Harried. That’s the usual descriptive word for the week prior to the start of a discovery project (especially when it's been a week like this one: several new projects beginning while preparing to head to LegalTech NY next week). Assembling and familiarizing team members; developing and fine-tuning QC protocols; hour-by-hour updates from technology partners; constant discussion with outside counsel; making sure the client is getting concise and relevant information. Effectively relaying all the information to the people who need it. Logistics, logistics, logistics.

These challenges, as you might have noticed, are solved through collaboration, communication and coordination. It is the groundwork needed to achieve a successful and budget-conscious review project. The maestro of this orchestra is the project manager. It is his or her responsibility to have a plan in place, implement it, tweak it as necessary, manage the issues and move the process forward.

Much of a project manager’s time and expertise is best put to use in transitioning the project from a harried environment to one of streamlined communication and coordination. This includes accurate budgets and every member of the team knowing his or her role in the process. “A” comes before “B,” etc. Initially, ramp-up might be full of changes and the desired decision rates targets might not be met; the good PM will have a plan that accounts for the unexpected, avoid overreaction, correct what needs correction and get everyone and everything running at optimal levels.

Some may call it organized madness, but every review truly is one large learning process. It just has to be built into the process – knowing when and where the team could experience difficulties and being able to adjust on the fly. It is as critical as assembling the right team leadership and team members. It includes training on the substance of the matter and on any new software or technology that might be put into use during the review and preparing the materials that are needed for an efficient start and completion of the project. Again, each of these measures takes thoughtful collaboration and communication in order to maximize results down the road.

In the end, it all comes together to increase efficiency and effectiveness, save the client money and get the job done right and on time. Just know that the duck that appeared calm on the surface likely had its feet paddling like mad underneath to make it happen.

It's Vital To Have An (E-Discovery) Architect

I will not attempt (or bore you with) analogies about architects and house building and e-discovery protocols ... but as rapidly as things change in the e-discovery world, it is increasingly important to provide clients prescient and valuable guidance and to build processes that are consistent and reliable. That’s why it’s my pleasure to announce that Barry Willms has joined Counsel On Call’s E-Discovery Division as Senior Attorney + Discovery Process Architect.

It's a unique title, but an accurate one. Barry spent the last 14 years managing discovery matters for two prestigious law firms, King & Spalding in Atlanta and Bass, Berry & Sims in Nashville. He’s overseen and directed large teams of attorneys and has consulted numerous clients on the tactical use of technology to improve quality control methodologies and results during reviews. His ability to design and implement efficient, repeatable e-discovery processes – along with his background as a great lawyer – synchs perfectly with our E-Discovery Division.

We’ve known and respected Barry for many years and have always been impressed by his forward thinking and knowledge of the issues affecting the discovery process. We are particularly excited about his expertise in the document retention arena – those “pre-discovery” issues many of our clients continuously encounter. But he is also the type of e-discovery expert that our clients seek for project management, creating and implementing protocols, and managing quality control for reviews large and small. With his addition to our corporate team, we’ve truly strengthened our ability to provide our clients services up and down the EDRM.

Barry will also provide another voice on this blog that we believe you will find informative and interesting. Please feel free to peruse his bio or e-mail him some suggestions for a post. No word yet if he has any advice on home building.

Is 'Project Manager' The Next Big Legal Job Title?

Once upon a time, there were really only a handful of titles in the legal profession: Associate, Partner, Paralegal; General Counsel, Associate General Counsel; or simply Attorney. Sure, there were mini-steps between these positions and other classifications, but for the most part these titles offered a good snapshot of the profession – especially the way business was done. Everything that couldn’t be handled in-house was sent to the law firm. There were no Account Executives, no Client Liaisons, no Information Systems Administrators ... no other business partners to lean on.

The rise of e-discovery ended that several years ago. With the entrance of the IT and consultancy worlds, and the development of in-house IT departments, titles like Data Analyst and Systems Manager became commonplace. But the title that has seemingly had the biggest impact – at least from outside the walls of an in-house department – could very well be Project Manager, especially from the collection through production phases of the EDRM.

Practically every vendor touching the world of e-discovery has this position. If you don’t have it, or refer to it another way, you might get funny looks (We once did. “So is a Team Leader really a Project Manager? Or does someone oversee the Team Leader? Who is the PM?” Good point. Why make it more confusing than it has to be?). In our line of work, the PM can consult on the technology tools to use, develop the budget of an entire discovery matter, and handle the assembly and work of the review team, among dozens of other issues. These vital roles raise the question: Does this position merit a place, or a more prominent place, within the legal education system? Or will that just mess it up?

Like most things in our profession, top-notch e-discovery project management typically only comes with experience. A good PM has battled through the tough assignments, been able to troubleshoot while under intense deadlines or emergencies, managed matters large and small and understands the different approach each requires, and has the innate ability to become Zen master amidst the myriad roles and personalities at work on a typical discovery matter (between the technology vendors, law firm associates and partners, in-house team and it’s IT department, and the review team), among a million other issues. So it’s difficult to imagine this being taught well in academia. I won’t go into the teaching of practical applications in law school, which is another reason this will never happen.

Additionally, it’s not entirely clear how good lawyers are, as a profession, at project management. I feel like I can make this statement as a lawyer myself. The budget is often front and center of a project, whether it requires staying within it or forecasting. This has never been a strong suit within our profession. Project management also requires the ability to manage teams, work directly with vendors and other partners, and have an understanding of the substance of the case; that’s several jobs rolled into one. By nature lawyers can be good at each of these functions, but collectively it becomes more problematic.

That being said, the project manager is undoubtedly a role that is here to stay and it merits an established, accredited training ground within the profession – something beyond being certified as an e-discovery professional. Many of these training programs happen internally and organically (we do this). But outside of that, a publicly available service might need to be taught by IT professionals or consultants – someone not a lawyer by trade. E-discovery service providers might be able to step in as educators. Or maybe there is a different tract that needs creation: equal parts legal education and on-site, real-world apprenticeship. (Since summer programs are falling by the wayside, maybe this is a real alternative for law schools? Doubtful.) Or maybe there are enough lawyers already searching for new roles in the profession who could fill the need for great e-discovery project managers. Surely it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a more prominent and respected position at law firms.

One thing we hear loud and clear from potential in-house clients is that they understand the essential role a project manager plays in helping to achieve their cost savings and coordination goals. A good project manager is like gold, and I’d like to recognize Richard Stout and his team of PMs at Counsel On Call for consistently being recognized by clients for their outstanding work (Richard truly is the gold standard in the discovery/review world).

But when there’s a rush for gold, the legal profession typically is already waiting to be able to sell its supply … in this case, it doesn’t seem to match the demand – yet. I would love to get some thoughts on the subject.