Essential Skills for E-Discovery Project Managers

Happy New Year!

Project Management has remained a popular topic in the e-discovery world for the last few years… I think 2013 will not be different. In fact, the upcoming Legal Tech NY trade show has dedicated at least one of its e-discovery track sessions on the next level of the e-discovery project management discussion: Process. Here’s an excerpt from the session description:

What is a Quality eDiscovery Process and How Do You Defend It?

The lack of formalized standards in eDiscovery poses challenges with respect to both methodology and defensibility. With the high stakes of litigation, growing expectations on the part of the judiciary, and the increasing frequency of spoliation motions, the components of the eDiscovery process continue to be susceptible to attack. As a result, litigants are often forced to focus on defense of their process, rather than the merits. Moreover, courts are frequently asked to evaluate the reasonableness of a particular process in retrospect, only after a party has made a significant investment in technology and resources. These issues should be considered and faced head on, from the inception of a matter.

An article from nearly a year ago supports the idea that the tools are not as important as the process.  It’s easy to focus our energy on the technology used to support e-discovery, but the real priority should be the process. As an e-discovery project manager, what are the essential skills that will empower you in 2013 to help your team stay focused on THE PROCESS?

  • Continuing Education – Look into a certificate program to formalize your project management skills and take advantage of online resources like webinars, blogs, podcasts that are specific to e-discovery.
  • Be the Change You Seek – Training is a great catalyst for change in your organization. If you want your team to focus on the e-discovery process, then develop internal training that is process oriented.  Many e-discovery project managers are also the defacto e-discovery project management “trainers” for their teams. It’s not enough to train your team to use the technology, they need to understand the process the technology supports. Training will allow you to gather input on creating “defensible processes while simultaneously increasing efficiency and reducing costs” in a tangible way that can be implemented immediately.
  • Marketing & Sales Skills – I wrote about this not too long ago. Your team will need you to be able to present, persuade, negotiate and justify proposed solutions.
  • Advisory Skills – You should be monitoring trends and emerging technologies to prepare yourself for the direction e-discovery is heading in 2013 and beyond. Review the articles, blog posts, podcasts and webinars that are plentiful right now discussing what worked and didn’t work in e-discovery in 2012 and that look toward the future in 2013. Be aware of what’s going in the industry so that you can advise your team when questions arise. You will be expected to play a role in recommending alternative solutions and strategies for both internal and external projects.
  • Technology – The beginning a any new e-discovery project is “all hands on deck” and if e-discovery technology is “new” to your firm, then some degree of experimentation with workflows may be necessary. You will need to know the ins/outs of the technology solutions available at your firm to make wise and informed choices as to how you will implement them to support the e-discovery process in your organization.


So as you explore your options to grow your e-discovery project management career in 2013, keep a close watch on your PROCESSES … their quality and defensibility. 

Empower Your Team with Career Conversations

Electronic Discovery is a wide and varied skill set. There is the very technical skill set all the way to the consultative and overlaying it all is project management.  Learning about e-discovery is most often on-the-job or through conferences and seminars both in person and online. A recent industry blog post addresses the role of managers in developing talent within the law firm environment based on an article discussing the importance of having career focused conversations that empower your power players.

What this all means is that managers need to take the time to have candid conversations with their staff members about their career goals and where those fit in within the organization.  They also need to give constant feedback, since employees can’t stretch themselves and really grow unless the know what skills are beneficial and what behaviors they may need to change.  Managers should also help employees articulate their professional goals and then connect them to the resources and individuals within the organization that can help them achieve those goals.

I recommend the following two podcasts to prepare yourself for having a career conversation with members of your team.   Also, have a conversation with your Human Resources director for guidance on firm / company policies and resources regarding training & development, compensation guides and big picture organizational structure objectives before you inadvertently promise something you can’t deliver.

  1. Podcast from a leader on talent retention
  2. Podcast on building trust and keeping it

Another facet to building trust and growing your team involves knowing the difference between “job enrichment” and “job enlargement.” One of the leadership blogs I frequently read offered this advice:

Before offering someone – or before you accept an offer for – additional responsibility: consider the resources required for the success of both the organization and the individual.  If those resources can’t be freed up and provided, don’t do it.  There are too many decisions made which provide short term “success” but ultimately cause good individuals and good organizations into a downward spiral.

The key take away for me involves making sure you have the resources available to help your employee reach the goals you are setting for them or you’ll set them and your department up for inevitable failure. In this industry (and I believe many others) people do not stay with a firm or company only for the money… they stay for the opportunity to grow professionally, to learn a new skill set and to prepare themselves for the next challenge. Hopefully, your organization can provide the challenge you’re preparing them to meet through learning and career growth opportunities.

And finally, when it comes to training and development, be creative. Learn about e-discovery offers individual and team lesson plans and coaching as an alternative to traditional training classes.  Bottom line, don’t lose talented people on your team to the firm 3 floors down because there was no clear career path for them in your organization.

Are you ready for the new year?

Are you ready for 2012? Have you aligned your career goals with your personal goals? What do you need to learn about electronic discovery in order to achieve your professional goals for this year?

Let’s take a look at some of the predictions from industry insiders for what we can expect in 2012:

What do you think? Do you have any predictions of your own? If you’re planning to go to Legal Tech NY in a few weeks, what are you hoping to learn more about while you’re there? New techniques for managing electronic discovery and/or new technology? What did you learn in 2011 that will save you and your team both time and money in 2012?