Rekha Shenoy points legal professionals toward understanding their data and collaborating with IT teams on technology systems that are straightforward and self-service writes LexBlog
What are some key technologies that legal professionals have developed fluency in and why?
Rekha Shenoy: In today’s modern world, when you think about collecting evidence for litigation of any type, much of that evidence is in digital form. Key technologies are essentially anyplace communication or documentation that’s relevant to litigation is present. A lot of it happens in emails, which are probably the most common area where evidence is gathered. Understanding your email stack, like Microsoft Office and its suite of products, becomes a critical task for legal professionals.
But the complexity has grown dramatically beyond email. There are both internal and cloud-based places where critical evidence gets stored – SharePoint, Google Vault, Dropbox, Slack, and so on. A wide variety of data is created and stored in these areas. For a legal professional, it’s important to know where company data is stored and which sources are relevant for typical litigation; to have a process, everything from information governance to legal holds to preservation collection; and then finally, to process this data.
What is technology competency within the legal profession, and why is it important?
Legal technology represents an interesting cross section of professionals. They deeply understand the electronic discovery process, so they recognize the legal implications of collecting, preserving, and storing information relevant to litigation, as well as making sure that the necessary safeguards are in place. They also understand technology from the IT side of the business, in terms of what is relevant and how to use it.
More importantly, when you think about large corporations, the sheer magnitude of electronic data that gets processed in a given year is so large that automation becomes critical. Technology competence within large enterprises often involves a team that understands how to preserve, collect, and process electronic information relevant to the large amount of litigation that they are subject to.
How are you coaching and advising customers on technology issues? How can you help them move past any technology phobias within their legal departments?
We see many concerns from a technology perspective when it comes to automating standard legal processes. Many times when companies are growing, they don’t have a significant legal burden, so they typically depend on outsourced legal counsel for much of this work. The company gets charged for these services in the form of billable hours, and it’s a model that works fine for most companies until they get to a certain size.
At some point, the real imperative for the company is cost savings, to pull some of that work, some of that cost burden, in-house and manage it internally. I’ve seen companies take an employee from the IT side and train them on legal. I’ve also seen the legal function evolving to becoming more technology savvy.
Often, when the legal department is suddenly tasked with doing something that they’ve previously outsourced, there is a big fear of adopting the technology. One of those fears is around legal holds and preservation and discovery of data, and getting their arms around where all of this data is. The other guiding factor — and the real technology phobia — is going from outside counsel that deeply understands how to do this for hundreds and hundreds of clients to building that competency in-house. The common perception is that the technology required for a corporate team to manage litigation response themselves is difficult and cumbersome to use. Zapproved understands this very real fear. Unlike complicated e-discovery tools, which require dedicated experts, our Digital Discovery Pro software is simple enough for everyone in the legal department to master with minimal training.
As the world continues to become more digitally dependent, and the sheer amount of litigation makes a fully outsourced approach too expensive, building e-discovery competency in-house is a non-starter.
In that process, we always begin with the most prevalent source of information, and it’s usually the Microsoft stack. That alone is enough of a challenge and getting more complex, with Office 365 and things of that nature, for legal departments to track where this data is. How relevant is it? How do I preserve and collect it? Then how do I process it in an efficient manner? Most importantly, when we say efficiency, we mean [processing the data] in a timely way so that they can serve the needs of the legal team.
How will those who resist technology be at a disadvantage as our professional environment only continues to progress?
The preponderance of evidence that’s needed for everything from small cases to very large class action lawsuits happens to be, especially when it comes to corporations, in electronically stored information. In this world, to support the needs of the corporation with early case assessment all the way up to every sort of litigation, it’s important that legal professionals understand how to appropriately collect, preserve, and provide for the disposition of data that is no longer in physical form – it’s all in an electronic form. To fulfill a responsible legal function in large corporations, this becomes a blind spot for professionals unless they get comfortable with it.
What best practices can legal departments and IT professionals collaborate on?
A variety of new technologies in legal tech today serve two purposes. One, they represent the legal point of view. Legal Hold Pro from Zapproved and other products like it are designed to mimic what the legal process requires. At the same time, they require less hand-holding from IT. Often, the challenge with creating a program around electronic discovery is that legal departments are waiting for IT resources or IT support. The role of a lot of legal technology is to be simple enough that their reliance on IT professionals is less and it can mimic the legal function and be more self-service.
When it comes to collaborating with IT professionals, the starting point of conversations is around data retention policies and information governance in general. Who should have what data? How much should they have? How long should that data be stored and retained? When must it be purged? With privacy becoming a bigger and bigger part of corporate governance, those often become legal mandates that IT professionals need to follow. Meanwhile, IT is looking at who owns that function going forward, because in the past it was something that they might have owned (and struggled with).
Across the board, there is plenty of opportunity for legal and IT to collaborate around information governance, and there’s never been a better time to get started.