I give you fair warning, what I have to say may shock you. I have gone to the dark side, sold a portion of my soul and joined forces with my one-time arch nemesis. I am now in litigation support.
I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up off the floor.
There. Better now? Great. Let’s examine this miracle of wonderment in greater detail, shall we?
For as long as I can remember in my paralegal past, I have been turned on by technology. The first time I remember that tingling, exhilarating sensation overcoming me was while sitting in the hot seat during arbitration. Exhibits were flying in hard copy as they were distributed amongst counsel, witnesses and clients; deposition excerpts were being called out, blown out, highlighted and redlined, and all the while my boss was whispering reverently in my ear, “Play the video clip! Play it!”
I admit it freely and without shame: I was like a 16-year-old staring down the likes of Robert Pattinson.
As my career progressed and the firm I was working for began to explore the depths of electronic project management tools, I became obsessed. The paradox between my deeply ingrained (and still true) belief in meticulously organized paper files and the seemingly infinite benefits of technology assisted reviews perplexed me, grabbed me, shook me and then blew my mind. I stubbornly followed every electronic search with a detailed review of my master file index log, but the fact that CTSummation could generate a log of 23,356 documents containing the phrase “fiduciary duty” in less than 60 seconds slapped me across the face time and time (and time) again.
And so began my love affair.
Six weeks ago, I had the opportunity to return to my legal roots as a litigation support technologist. I was beyond stoked. This was like a fantasy come to life. Legal world + case work + technology. I was about to come unglued the morning before my first day. Immediately I was bombarded with words like Terabyte, predictive coding, PTZ paths and delimiters. Just when I thought my head would explode, I found myself incredibly fortunate to have a boss who continues to be as patient as they come.
“All-knowing,” “all-seeing” and “technological wizard-like Buddha” are just a few of the nicknames I have bestowed upon this man, who is kindly and patiently walking me through the lamest of questions and the most difficult of concepts. Today, he hasn’t laughed at me (at least not to my face) and I have come to learn that what I previously thought of as my “mad computer skills” were really just those of a savvy user. After six weeks on the job, I stand before you so much wiser, which has gotten me to thinking about the concept of litigation support. Why does it even exist? What is its purpose?
One of the greatest hurdles a litigation support team faces is debunking the misconception that litigation support is only for “litigation.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Litigation support is the bridge between efficiently and effectively defending or pursing a claim and the technological barriers that stand in the way. In fact, litigation support can and should be utilized in all areas of law.
In 2005, a little-known case in New York called Zubulake v UBS Warburg appeared on the national radar. During the course of the discovery process, it was determined that a great deal of relevant evidence was in the form of e-mails and other electronically stored information. The case brought electronic discovery, or ED, into the spotlight.
What is an attorney’s duty to preserve potential electronic evidence?
How do we find the needle in the haystack of relevant evidence?
Enter litigation support.
Today, our phones serve as instant Internet connections. Email, Facebook, texting, poking and pinning are just a few of the ways our society is communicating. There is no way to avoid the truth that we communicate almost entirely in electronic form. While we cannot control this shift in technology, we must have the tools to manage it properly.
In 2006, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were amended to require that all attorneys, regardless of the areas of law they practice within, be held accountable for the preservation of certain relevant material that could potentially become evidence within a case. It also set forth specific guidelines for the collection, preservation, management and production of electronic evidence. The process that followed has become known as the EDRM or the Electronic Discovery Reference Model.
Litigation support’s job is to translate the often complicated ED process into a platform that can be applied to the defense or pursuit of a party’s claims.
Let’s face it, technological questions are hard. At times, it may seem as though we speak another language. There are considerations and phrases that are difficult to understand. Words like “gigabyte,” “PST” and “load files” muddy the waters and often make electronic discovery appear unapproachable.
Fear not. These are the types of questions and problems that litigation support professionals are trained to solve. This former paralegal-gone-techie is over the moon excited to be involved in the process.
Lindsay Valek is a litigation support specialist with McNair Law Firm in Columbia, S.C.