Electronic Discovery on a First Date

Electronic Discovery ChatFor those of us who have been working around litigators for years, we are very aware of what the term “electronic discovery” means. We are familiar with why it exists and how it effects the practice of law for litigators.

But, how should we describe “electronic discovery” to someone who has never heard the term before? Better yet, a person who has had very little exposure to the legal industry.

For instance, how should we describe it to a recent college graduate who just joined your legal service provider company?

How should we describe it to our curious or confused family members?

How should I describe it to the paralegal students taking my Legal Technology course at Georgetown?

How should we describe it to a stranger at a networking event or a cocktail party?

Don't forget that first date when you know you will be asked “what do you do for a living?”

Depending on their background, some litigation support newbies are new to the term “electronic discovery”. Other newbies are aware of the term and interested in working in our industry, but how do they describe to their family and friends this new career they are interested in?

Let's think about the components of “electronic discovery”:

a) The practice of law

b) Attorneys, more specifically litigators

c) The discovery phase of a litigation matter, more specifically identifying, collecting, reviewing and producing documents

d) Client documents, more specifically documents in electronic format

Now, if we wanted to come up with a sentence to describe a career in “electronic discovery” that answers the questions posed above, we could begin with “I assist litigators…” or “I help litigators…” We need to include a reference to the electronic documents in a way that is easy to understand, perhaps by simply naming a common document type. We could reference “e-mail” or “e-mail and their attachments”.

Here are some ideas:

1) “I help litigators identify their client's e-mail and attachments that should be produced to the other side.”

2) “I help litigation attorneys select their client's e-mail that is okay to share with opposing counsel.”

3) “I assist attorneys discover which of their client's e-mails should be shared with the attorney on the other side of the case.”

Imagine the person you're speaking to has no knowledge of the legal industry and our terminology in litigation matters. How would you simplify “electronic discovery” so that they could walk away with a basic understanding?

What do you think of the suggestions above? What have you come up with? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



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    • Audey Seawright

      Good question! It took me a few years to figure this out and I think I tend to go a bit deeper. While the brevity is nice it does leave a lot to the imagination. When I described myself as such to my grandpa he thought I was a legal secretary. Also an important role during which a good deal of time is often spent reviewing documents…but electronic discovery is something more than retrieval. It requires knowledge of the process that support the laws governing discovery, and also an expertise in the appropriate technologies and the pitfalls of implementing them without good process. After all, what is collection without preservation? What is search without validation? So this is how I tend to describe my role:

      “I help litigators handle the majority of the evidence shared
      in civil court. When companies sue each other, or have to answer to the
      government, all of the proof for their claims is typically found in the documents created during every day business. We usually think of that as the records in a filing
      cabinet, but more often than not is emails and the attachments that are
      sent/received, and the electronic files like Word, Excel and PDFs that are created
      and stored on shared file systems. Preserving that data, collecting it in a
      sound matter, processing it to extract the information about those files (like
      dates, filenames, text) and organizing that info into databases where litigators can
      make and store decisions about those documents is the essence of electronic discovery.
      Helping legal teams manage this process of obtaining data and finding the relevant documents that are useful in making or defending an argument is how I tend to spend most of my time.”

    • Eli Nelson

      How about – I help attorneys get their arms around the gigantic amount of information that they have to understand. And then talk a little about how much data we all create every day compared to last year, five years ago, ten years ago.

      • LitSuppGuru

        Thanks for chiming in, Eli. Always a pleasure to get your point of view.

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