I spent last week in Las Vegas attending ILTACON17, the annual users conference of ILTA, the self-described “… volunteer-led, staff-managed association with a focus on premiership.” It is essentially an enormous peer to peer group of legal IT professionals and the conference has become arguably the best technical educational conference in the legal space.
So, with all the educational activity going on there, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to remark once again on the subject of why technical education is important in our profession. Several years ago, at an ACEDS conference, I was speaking on a session about our profession with my old friend, Mary Mack. At the time. Mary was a consultant like myself and now, of course, she is the Director of ACEDS.
We were answering questions from the attendees and a paralegal asked, “should I bother to go to law school?” I answered “yes, because what we do is important” and went on to expound on that answer. E-discovery is about getting the right digital evidence produced in a, as FRCP 1 notes, “…just speedy and inexpensive manner” for use during litigation. So, our first task in handling eDiscovery for a client is to do an efficient job in a prompt manner. Our clients have an ethical duty to provide that to their clients and they expect us to assist them in making that happen.
But the attorney’s ethical obligations involve more than just handling documents in the proper manner. Yes, their duties to their clients involve loyalty and confidentiality but they also have duties to the court to properly oversee discovery and to be technically competent.
All of these duties involve insuring that the process works effectively in a manner which directly effects public confidence in our judicial system. That confidence has been dropping for years, as illustrated by the graphic below as well as by reports from various public entities. See for example http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/migrated/marketresearch/PublicDocuments/perceptions_of_justice_system_1999_1st_half.authcheckdam.pdf or http://scholarship.law.duke.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3277&context=lcp .
Couple that with high prices for eDiscovery, litigation becoming bogged down in technology gamesmanship, law schools ignoring technology training and document handling gaffes like the recent Wells Fargo case and the already low public image of lawyers worsens even more
That is why is has become even more important that we “Get It Right” and thus, why educational conferences such as ILTACON17 are so important. Lawyers traditionally don’t embrace technology but, in the words of Craig Ball in an interview in EDiscovery Daily blog in March of 2012:
“Understanding information technology is a necessity for litigators. Why? Because that’s where the evidence lives. “
That’s why we need to know all this technical information. Knowing how to handle ESI will enable you to create an effective document retention plan, defend that plan, properly collect data, process that data and mount it in a review platform that an attorney can confidently use to review documents and argue his or her case.
If you know how to handle these issues you won’t find yourself stumbling in front of a judge or special master trying to explain where the documents went. And that is a very good position to be in.
As the Hon. Lee Rosenthal of the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division and Former Chair of the Standing Committee on Rules of the Judicial Conference once said:
“Litigation habits and customs learned in the days of paper must be revisited and revised. The culture of bench and bar must adjust.”
Helping your client make that adjustment gives confidence to not ol them but the public at large that our judicial system is working.
And that’s important.