Sometimes The Cutting Edge Draws Blood

I’ve read with some interest some of the commentaries about the recent moves of high-level eDiscovery experts from various firms and vendors. As someone who made a much less glamorous move myself recently, I’m curious about the different reactions. One of them was from Rees Morrison that caught my eye:

Ay, there’s the rub. Just when an employee becomes expert in e-discovery, some vendor or consulting firm poaches them. The lure of more money, variety, and an upward career path persuades those who learn the trade at the expense of with a corporation or law department. As I have written, it is hard to keep talent when dollars and stimulation beckon

Rees, of course, is looking at this from a managerial perspective. Many, many firms have been pushed into eDiscovery as the hot new area to have some expertise, however they didn’t actually have any expertise in-house. So they found someone with some technical chops, and worked to get them trained. Eventually, with some training, some experience and a whole lot of work, they have someone who is pretty darn good, if not expert.

The problem here though, is that internal processes for promoting, and rewarding, this new found expertise don’t keep up with the overall market. Let’s face it, eDiscovery is a hot, growing, market. If you want to be in the forefront of it, you have to make a commitment, and an investment in your people, and the resources available to them. You can’t dabble on the cutting edge, you’re either committed to being on the forefront of eDiscovery, or you run the risk of the people you’ve invested in, leaving for greener pastures.

In all honesty, I’m not sure many firms should be trying to be on this cutting edge. Depending on outside resources is better than relying on underdeveloped and underfunded internal resources. Sure, it’s great to be able to say to a client that you can handle eDiscovery in-house, cheaper than using an outside vendor. But you have to actually handle it, cheaper. Mishandling it, cheaper, is not an option.

If you’re going to play here, be prepared to live in a competitive environment, be prepared to invest and commit to the resources and people you need, and be willing to go out and recruit experts when yours inevitably get poached. The cutting edge is exciting, and can be highly rewarding, but there is risk.

Interestingly, I find myself thinking back to the 90’s, when the same sort of complaints would be heard from small and medium sized businesses about their IT people. IT skills were hot, and you might spend time training someone, bringing them along internally, and saving money compared bringing in an established “expert”, but eventually your person became an established expert and a company willing to pay for one would grab them up.  Business survived by finding the proper level between skills, technology, people, and outside resources. Law firms will too, but like everything else, they’ll do it slowly. 😉

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