Name: Sean O'Shea
Location: New York, NY
What kind of work were you doing before litigation support found you?
I temped for law firms in New York, Tokyo and San Francisco from 1996 to 1998, mainly coding documents the old fashioned way. This was my first exposure to the legal world, working on cases with large document productions at firms such as Paul Weiss LLP, McCutchen Doyle Brown & Enersen LLP, and Dorsey & Whitney LLP. I recall case rooms with hundreds of boxes and manually coding those documents one by one in databases with no document images. Redacting with tape; highlighting with a pen; searching for key terms in hard copies of transcripts. Those were the days…
How did you get the opportunity to join the litigation support community?
I was hired to work for Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison LLP's San Francisco office in 1998. This is where I first began to learn about litigation support technology. Brobeck was focused on attracting clients from Silicon Valley, and other tech corridors. The firm made a large investment in its IT Department and in its Practice Support Group. Brobeck opened a separate office especially devoted to litigation support work in the East Bay. I was mentored by a highly skilled staff, and received formal training on Trial Director at InData's offices in Arizona. Ted Brooks and Charles Halty, (founders of their own trial presentation services companies, Litigation-Tech LLC, and Juris Trial Tech Services, respectively) showed me how to use trial presentation software. My supervisors were Karen Klein, currently an operations manager at FTI, and Kevin Voccia, a senior eDiscovery project manager at Sedgwick LLP. My colleagues were Michael Skrzypek, co-author of the American Bar Association's Trial War Room Handbook, and Will Banks, currently an eDiscovery Analyst at Apple. Brobeck's Practice Support Group was a highly talented and friendly team that made a commitment to working in the litigation support field for the long term.
When did you realize that this career would be a good fit for you?
After moving back in New York City in 1998, Brobeck offered me a position working full time at their New York office. I eventually became the head of the office's practice support staff. I came to enjoy my career more and more, as I acquired new skills and took on additional responsibilities. Attorneys learned to respect my opinion on electronic discovery issues, and look to me for solutions to technical problems that others couldn't solve. Despite the fact that Brobeck eventually closed down, I was determined to continue on in the field and was hired to work as a litigation support case manager by a former Brobeck partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP. I love the fact that you can learn something new each day in my field. Each week presents a new challenge that demands that I figure out a way to automate it, or enhance its quality using new software, scripts, or various work-arounds. A career in litigation support also offers one the opportunity to travel – something I enjoy very much. I have visited Denver, New Orleans, Paris, The Hague, and several other cities to work on trials, mock trials, Daubert Hearings, and presentations to the S.E.C.
Do you prefer to be out in front and working with the clients or behind the scenes working with the technologies?
I spend most of my time behind the scenes doing technical work, but do I enjoy working with clients as well. Typically projects will require that I work away in Excel, Relativity, etc. long into the night, and sometimes straight through the weekend. I have developed an ability to enjoy the long hours spent at my PC, while still remaining focused.
Visiting clients' offices to assist with data collection, and consulting with experts hired for a case can also be a rewarding experience. Many of the techniques used in the litigation support world are not well known outside of the legal world. My interaction with clients has piqued my interest about how litigation support skills could be used in other areas, and how non-legal technology might be implemented at law firms. There is a lot going on in the field of Business Intelligence (BI) analytics (which address the processing of raw data) that could apparently be used to great advantage by Big Law.
Is there an area of litigation support that had a steep learning curve for you?
Learning Visual Basic, PowerShell, RegEx, SQL, and other languages is a process which never ends. While I have used scripts of several kinds to great effect, there's always more to learn. It's hard to both handle a full load of billable work, and pore over O'Reilly Media manuals until you've achieved complete fluency in scripting languages. I'm keeping at it though. I'd like to get to the point where I can develop simple software to do specialized tasks, and make it available on the internet.
One day when it's more financially feasible for me to do so, I'd like to take a break from litigation support and pursue a masters in the related field of knowledge management. Columbia University has a great program.
What do you consider to be one of the coolest things about working in litigation support?
I particularly enjoyed using Trial Director to assist with the cross examination of John Malone in a federal case a few years back. There I was, using technology the CEO of TCI (the man Al Gore nicknamed the Darth Vader of the Information Superhighway) didn't really understand, to help trip him up on the witness stand. Trial presentations can be nerve wracking but when everything comes together and you have a supporting role in a high profile case it can be a lot of fun. Admittedly, getting to travel to Paris on a different case was the coolest thing that has happened.
Which types of employers have you had while working in litigation support?
- Law Firm
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?
If someone wants to break into this field, they should not be discouraged even if they don't have tech skills which are directly related to litigation support. My own experience leads me to believe that law firms are not taking advantage of existing technology to the extent that they should, and that there is a great opportunity for even entry level employees to get lawyers to adopt this technology. I come across associates who don't know that there are alternatives to keyword searching when reviewing data sets for responsive ESI; partners that don't prepare video clips to use to contradict a witness on cross; and paralegals that will redact documents in hard copy. Greater direction and encouragement should be provided to the current litigation support professionals and paralegals at law firms, and more people should be hired to increase the quantity and quality of technical work. Anyone willing to work long hours doing work that can admittedly be a grind, can prosper in this field.