Name: Patrick L. Mathews
Location: Dallas, TX
What kind of work were you doing before litigation support found you?
I started my career as a paralegal back in the early 90’s. I originally started working for a government agency indexing documents into database systems. At this time scanning was somewhat cost prohibitive so we were performing full objective and subjective coding for paper collections. In fact, at the Dept of Insurance we were located out in a massive warehouse to be close to the documents. Attorneys would run searches on our database and provide us with printouts on reams of fan-fold, sprocket-fed computer paper. We would then take the printouts, head out into the warehouse and pull the physical boxes to find each document. Then we would make a photocopy of the document, return the original back to its proper box, and finally collate the documents into binders. Eventually I moved to Dallas and started working in major law firms; however, case management in these law firms for many of the cases was still a mostly manual process.
How did you get the opportunity to join the litigation support community?
I was working as a paralegal at what is now Locke Lord and over the years there ended up being assigned to most of the large, document intensive cases which utilized automated litigation. The majority of the senior paralegals running these large cases at that time were much older having spent most of their careers before the advent of the personal computer. I quickly became the “go to” paralegal for anything database related: running searches, creating reports, creating witness notebooks, etc.
I was fortunate at that time because Locke was one of only a handful of firms in Dallas which had a Litigation Support department. Duane Lites, who was the Director of Litigation Support at that time, approached me to move from being a paralegal and join his department. It was an awesome opportunity to work for and be mentored by one of the early experts in our field.
When did you realize that this career would be a good fit for you?
Even when I worked as a paralegal, I was always drawn to the computer. When I first started and was indexing documents into Summation DOS eight hours a day, I would still go home and spend even more hours in front of a computer teaching myself about relational databases and self-studying visual basic, java…basically anything that I could get my hands on. Being able to mesh my love of working in the legal field with my love of all things technical was my “dream job” come true.
Do you prefer to be out in front and working with the clients or behind the scenes working with the technologies?
Honestly, I love being behind the scenes working solitarily on a project. I especially love the challenge of a problem and trying to determine a way to programmatically perform a task that would be prohibitively time consuming otherwise. That being said, I’ve learned (at times reluctantly) that my true talent is project management and working with people.
Is there an area of litigation support that had a steep learning curve for you?
I think my greatest challenge has been my transition to the vendor side of the industry. My whole career has been in legal departments and law firms until a few years ago. It takes a special temperament to work in a legal environment. Hours can be extremely long. Personalities tend to be very strong. Moving to the vendor side has proven to be a very different environment and is definitely a learning experience. Whichever side of the coin you choose though, I do think that it is valuable to have experience on both sides.
What do you consider to be one of the coolest things about working in litigation support?
I’ve watched this profession grow over the last 20 plus years, and it is probably more exciting now than when I started. There are so many opportunities and directions you can take your career. For those of us who like constant challenges, you can be a “Jack of all trades” continually learning new and diverse skills. Conversely, you can concentrate on one area of specialization such as trial support or electronic discovery consulting and have a fruitful and profitable career.
Which types of employers have you had while working in litigation support?
- Law Firm
- In-House Legal Department
- Service Provider
Litigation Support is a well-paying career. How much has your salary increased since joining the litigation support community?
$50,000 – $70,000
How many years have you been working in Litigation Support?
Care to share any words of encouragement or advice?
For the newbie trying to break into this profession, I would suggest working at any job possible at a law firm or vendor. Get your foot in the door. Once you’re in the door, volunteer for any job that you can. I am in no way diminishing structured educational programs, but real life experience will give you a practical context for what you will learn in those classes. Finally, and most importantly, find a mentor. A mentor can offer three invaluable commodities: experience, perspective, and encouragement.