eDiscovery is Killing Us All

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Image by ishane

I saw a post by Jon Canty recently that talked about what working in eDiscovery is like, complete with photos of himself working on his laptop everywhere, at the drop of a hat.

Here’s a humbling story from my first year in ediscovery. It was my day off and I was in the doctor’s office. My BlackBerry rang (remember those?) and I picked up.

“Jon, it’s Gary. I’m sending you search terms. We need them run with the results exported. We want to start reviewing tomorrow.”

It doesn’t sound bad, but here’s some context: I hadn’t heard from Gary in 8 months and would have to refamiliarize myself. I knew it was a lot of data. I was the only person who knew about the case because everyone else quit. Most important data point: I was less than a year into this and working on the vendor side. I knew how to work on the requests, but I didn’t really grasp why it was so important to the clients. So I answered him like an idiot:

“Gary, hi. Uh. It’s my day off.”

“Welcome to litigation, Jon!”

I began to understand: It would always be like this. If I continued in ediscovery, I would always be on the clock. And I decided that it was ok with me. I went into the office, worked all night, got some data into review and never heard from Gary again.

I tell this story regularly because I find it funny and it’s a reminder that this business interrupts our plans and we have to spring into action wherever we happen to be:

Now, having worked in the industry for a few years, his story doesn’t surprise me at all. Recently though, I’ve been thinking about this industry, and whether this idea of being on-call and available is something to really be proud of. It’s been documented over and over again that working that much, without the ability to disconnect, is incredibly unhealthy for people, both physically and psychologically. Is it any wonder that the rates of alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, and depression are higher in the legal industry than most other professions?  Is it any wonder that the rate of turnover at eDiscovery vendors, software companies, etc, are higher? It’s simply not healthy to be always on, to be answering phone calls and emails on a day off, while at a doctor’s appointment or at dinner with loved ones?

Can we quit glamorizing this as “funny” or a normal part of working in litigation? There’s no reason for it, and all it does is cause more issues for people just trying to do a good job without killing themselves. And if doing a good job in this industry requires killing ourselves, maybe we should just go do something else.

More and more, as I get older, I’m really leaning toward the latter. If you’re working a job that requires giving up any hope of having down time to disconnect and actually live a life outside of work, I hope you find that rewarding and manage to avoid all of the health issues involved. Just don’t expect the rest of us to be impressed by how much you work. You may feel important because of it, but being so important at work, comes with a price elsewhere.

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