Lawyers and IT professionals are both prone to speaking in their own specialized languages—which the other side may not understand at all. But to truly improve your eDiscovery, legal and IT need to communicate effectively.
Why Communications Between IT and Legal Are Critical to eDiscovery
In a recent forum, several federal judges noted the importance of lawyers understanding the technical details of their discoverable data—before their Rule 26(f) conferences. U.S. Magistrate Judge William Matthewman of the Southern District of Florida stated that too often, attorneys arrive in court unable to explain the technical details of discovery. He emphasized that he “would hope they’ve already [spoken with IT] before they come into court on a discovery dispute.” Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been true.
It’s not just for their own sake that lawyers need to understand eDiscovery issues. U.S. District Judge J. Michelle Childs of the District of South Carolina urged counsel not to shy away from educating judges about technology. However, to be able to do so, lawyers “need to be able to articulate that [technology’s application] to us.” Again, that means lawyers must discuss the technical issues in eDiscovery ahead of time with IT.
Good communications between legal and IT are also critical to improving eDiscovery. Whatever your goals are—whether it’s making eDiscovery more streamlined, less error prone, more defensible, or less expensive (or all of the above)—having both legal and technical experts working as a coordinated team can help.
Focus on—and Explicitly Define—Your Shared Goals
A good place to start is by zeroing in on those shared goals. Remember that you’re all on the same side, trying to accomplish the same end result. But if, for example, legal hasn’t communicated clearly with IT about how the 2015 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure emphasized proportionality, IT may still be operating under a 2006 mindset, thinking it needs to preserve and collect everything. Make sure you’re not operating at cross-purposes or making faulty assumptions due to this kind of fundamental misunderstanding.
Ask for Clarification When You Need It
When you open the door to communication between legal and IT, expect that there will be some confusion as you learn each other’s language. To minimize that confusion, be careful to:
- Define the terms you use. For instance, legal should define how courts have interpreted proportionality under the amended Rules. IT, for its part, should define how it processes data or calculates a null set. You don’t have to dumb down what you’re talking about, but make sure you explain what terms mean in plain language.
- Provide specific details and avoid generalities. It’s easy for both sides to jump to conclusions, expecting that the other has figured out what a vague request actually means. The more information you can provide in a request, the better the odds that you’ll be talking about the same thing.
- Ask questions. If you don’t get those details, don’t assume that you can figure out what a general request or a promise means. When legal says “collect this email account,” does that mean that IT should collect every email? Is there an unspoken date range or custodian limit? Both sides should ask questions and make sure they understand what the other is trying to achieve before assuming understanding.
Stay Open to New Solutions
Hopefully, clearer communications will help your legal and IT departments start to get on the same page earlier in each case. As they do, both sides should maintain an openness to new ideas and new approaches. IT is likely to have a better sense of what new technologies are available; legal may see a pattern developing in what file format a particular court favors or what review practices are acceptable. Make sure you establish a way for these departments to talk about developments or trends.
Be careful, though, that you don’t get so caught up in hot new technology that you waste time learning multiple systems. Instead, focus on using best-in-class eDiscovery tools that are proven to save time and money on eDiscovery.
We’ve developed the technology behind some of the smartest eDiscovery systems on the market. Let us know what your eDiscovery goals are; we’d love to show you how our tools can help both your legal and IT teams.