ILTA Monday Thoughts

I’ve tried in the past to do daily blog posts, or posts about individual sessions, at ILTA, only to get sidetracked by the avalanche of things to do rather than sit and write in previous years. So, while I’m writing up thoughts about conference from today, I’m not making any promises that will continue to be a daily occurrence. 😉

The great thing about ILTA, of course, are the people you connect with, and Sunday night having an opening reception is a great chance to start the week off by reconnecting with old friends, and make some new ones, before the real sessions start. Obviously, that was especially poignant for me this year, having left one area of the country and gone to work for a new firm. Sunday was a chance to catch up with folks from Columbus who I’ve known for a few years, or worked with at my old firm, and a chance to officially meet some of the folks from my new firm who aren’t based in Greenville. Good times.

This morning though, did not start with a keynote for me, it started with a demo of a new product on the market from Humanizing Technologies called Cavo. Well, actually, it’s not even on the market yet, it’s still in beta, but it might be worth keeping an eye out for. They’ve apparently spent the last 10 years doing R&D on a truly end-to-end ediscovery platform, taking data from collection all the way through trial presentation in one platform, complete with project and process management tools built directly in to the product. It’s an ambitious project, and time will tell whether they can provide that in a stable platform, but I like the way they are thinking, taking a matter as one large project, as opposed to a number of smaller projects.

From there, it was off to the Litigation and Practice Support Peer Group session on professional development.

That session involved breaking into 3 groups to discuss three different aspects of development; retention, training, and accountability, and then reporting back to the whole group. We were pretty successful in documenting the challenges, but I’m not sure we came up with many big solutions! I was in the training group, and while we recognize that the big challenges involve getting budget dollars, and time, for training and balancing out the need to both, keep our people trained, but also to do training for attorneys and paralegals, with keeping up with an increasing workload, I’m not sure that there are easy answers out there for that. Ditto the retention and accountability. How do you find time to even have a retention program or do full-blown assessments of staff when you are already stretched beyond the breaking point?

I think we actually hinted around a bit of an answer during the session. One of the skills we thought Lit Support folks needed to be trained on was communication. In order to function in this environment, it’s important to develop good writing, presentation, and speaking skills. One, you need these skills in order to have a good project management workflow, as it depends entirely on good communication. Secondly, though, you need these skills to sell your attorneys on the importance of what it is we do, and the value the clients are getting out of it, which will increase the likelihood of the work getting paid for, and also help show the value of having highly-qualified professionals in those positions. This may, in turn, increase the likelihood of getting training budget, and decrease the likelihood of Lit Support staff suffering burnout from being unappreciated, though not completely.

One interesting challenge that was brought up was this topic of burnout, not least of which because I know of a handful of cases where people have left this industry and gone back to working in IT, or being a paralegal due to burnout. The truth of the matter is, in a typical law firm, the Lit Support Department career ladder doesn’t have many rungs. In many cases, the person overseeing it, is the person who built it up from the ground, and is going to retire from that position. For people working under them, what’s the career path? Where do you go from being an analyst if the manager isn’t going anywhere? How much time and effort are you going to put in to learning about the industry and staying current on technology and case law when you know you’re still going to be doing the same exact work 5 years from now, and how much bull are you willing to put up with from lawyers who refuse to understand what you do enough to see it as important? For some people, it’s not long before they are ready to get out of this industry, which is sad given the real lack of qualified people in it now! On the other hand, I’m not sure what we do about this lack of career path. The truth is that for many, leaving the current firm is the only path beyond what they are doing right now.

The afternoon sessions started with Controlling Litigation Support Costs.

The interesting thing about this session was how important it is to, again, communicate to control the costs involved. Clear, concise communication between attorney and client can help identify the sources of information needed, and limit the amount of unnecessary data collected, and good communication between attorneys and the Lit Support team limits the amount of work needing to be redone, or can help eliminate the bottlenecks in the review process.

The other area where not only communication, but knowledge, really comes into play is when it comes to applying technology to control costs. It’s paramount that someone on the team knows how the tools work, how they can be applied to best cull the dataset for example, whether the results you’re getting from searches are accurate, when things have gone off the rails and the best way to get it back on track, etc. Having people stumble around with tools they don’t really understand is no way to reduce the cost of a review. You need attorneys who “get” what is going on and can easily defend the process, and the right people in place to ensure the process is working. There are no shortcuts here, and if your firm doesn’t happen to have an attorney who is also extremely adept with search and review technology, it helps to have Lit Support folks who are extremely good at communicating with their attorneys to make sure they can understand what is going on.

After that session, I took a detour to Effective Leadership Starts with Self-Knowledge

I really enjoyed this session, by Gina Buser of Traveling Coaches. Not because it taught me any new techie things, but because she talked much more about what it takes to be a good leader. Things like having integrity, authenticity, and the difference between being a boss, and being a leader, were key parts of her presentation. She talked a great deal about knowing yourself, owning your own weaknesses, and being a person of high integrity. Some take aways:

Being authentic requires being consistent, and it takes commitment, and courage. You have to live out what you say, all the time, and not be afraid to fess up to your mistakes.

Integrity is about living up to your promises. In light of that, it’s important to not promise just to get people to leave you alone. Think clearly about what you are promising and your ability to deliver on it.

As humans, we follow those who we respect and trust. People who work for you may follow your orders and do what you tell them because of your position, but are they really following you? (And, going back to the first session, are they likely to avoid burnout, or jump ship if they aren’t following you?)

Question that was raised on twitter, how can you be authentic when the organization you work for isn’t? I couldn’t help but wonder to myself just how authentic we can be while working for lawyers who may not be? It’s a legitimate question, one that we could probably spend days discussing.

Last, back to the Lit Support world for Applying Lit Support Tools to Transactional Practice.

At the end of a long first day, this session still managed to give me some food for thought. As Lit Support tools have moved into the SQL back-end, they’ve become more flexible in terms of what kinds of data they can hold, and how that data can be manipulated. That opens up some possibilities for using tools the firm already owns as part of the Litigation Practice to be used for non-litigation matters. We’ve already got well-defined and secure processes in place for sharing data, why not apply them to the need to share data with clients, and create deal rooms, etc.?

It actually makes sense, even on a smaller scale. I know in my own past I’ve mentioned an attorney who had us load all his legal research into Summation, to make it easily searchable and so he could tag and summarize the documents he was saving. I’ve also seen Trial Director used as part of a group discussion with clients about complex contract documents. It worked great for bringing up exactly the section under discussion, highlighting or blowing up text that needed to be reviewed, etc. There are myriad ways in which some of the features of these tools can be put to use beyond litigation.

Of course, this, again, requires having people who know what all of the features of these tools are, and how they work in order to know whether it’s a good idea to use them. They also need to know the limitations, where the line is between being a helpful use of the tool versus becoming more of a problem, and the ability to foresee that going forward. (Which may involve being familiar with the practice and what these attorneys are trying to accomplish.)

Of course, there are also some considerations. Who supports these tools? If you’re talking a hosted solution, then it may not be a big concern, but if you’re using Lit Support tools that the IT Helpdesk isn’t that familiar with, does your Lit Support team become the defacto 24 hour support center for these attorneys? Are you staffed for that? Does not having the one point of contact of an IT support center create other problems? How do you bill for the use of these tools outside of the Litigation workflow? Are the costs associated worth it?

Still, I think there are ways to use Lit Support tools beyond the normal Litigation workflow, you just have to really know what you’re working with and keep an open mind.

That’s it for day 1. Hope to have more later in the week!

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