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Do You Have What it Takes to be an E-discovery Project Manager?

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In this month's issue of ALSP Update, Brett Tar, General Counsel of Emag Solutions discusses what he sees as the new breed of electronic discovery project managers. Brett Tar, Skills, Savvy and More: The New E-Discovery PM, ALSP Update, Sept. 2009, at URL.

Tarr makes the important point that expertise in e-discovery law, budgeting, or firm management do not guarantee success as an e-discovery project manager. He argues that "[i]n today's multimillion-dollar, multimillion-document lawsuits and regulatory inquiries, the ideal PMs are a new, absolutely unique breed."

As General Counsel of a top electronic discovery vendor, Tarr is well positioned to observe the development of the e-discovery industry. In the midst of recession, Tarr sees a high demand for qualified e-discovery project managers, but technical expertise alone no longer makes the cut and he sees a trend towards recruiting project managers with a legal background.  With legal training comes communication skills and having a legal background helps the e-discovery project manager understand and cope with the sense of urgency and accompanying stress of their law firm clients.  As Tarr explains:

They are used to working within the legal community -- which functions very differently from other work environments. The time frames, the turnarounds, the expectations are unique. Scheduled phone calls at 9 a.m. on Saturdays are not uncommon for law firm associates and partners. The lawyers expect the same from their litigation support personnel and, in turn, from their EDD vendors.

While I appreciate Tarr's recognition of the value that a lawyer or paralegal can bring to the e-discovery project management role, and I more or less agree with his observations, I do think that he understates the technical demands of the job. For example, he writes:

As for special technical skills, they can learn what they need to know on the job. They learn by seeing it done over and over again. Vendors have technical experts on staff who deal with different media and details from day to day, so they don't need to look for technologists with computer science degrees when hiring project managers. If new hires have the aptitude to learn and absorb that type of information quickly, they'll step out.
I agree that an e-discovery project manager need not have a computer science degree, but having a technical bent and the intellectual curiosity and aptitude to learn about and understand the technology is, in my experience, crucial.  Keeping on top of technological developments in the rapidly changing realm of e-discovery requires a great deal of time and commitment. Yes, you don't want a techno-savvy troglodyte in charge of client communications. But over-emphasis on communication and management skills can swing you too far in the other direction. You need to find a balance between Dilbert and the Pointy-haired Boss.

That said, I fully agree with Tarr's main point that today's e-discovery project manager must wear many hats.  Like fish (a hat-wearing lung fish), the e-discovery project manager must thrive in two extremely disparate environments, able to breathe the (hot?) air of the legal world and swim the murky waters of litigation-support technology.

So what are some of the characterists of this new, absolutely unique breed of many-hat-wearing lungfish? According to Tarr, today's e-discovery project manager must:

  • have excellent communication skills;
  • be flexible and able to quickly adapt to new developments and instructions;
  • be able to juggle multiple projects and priorities;
  • handle stress well; and
  • possess sales savvy.
I would, as discussed above, add technical aptitude. This list is by no means complete, but Tarr's discussion of each of the above points is recommended reading for anyone considering a career as an e-discovery project manager. 

Personally, I like my hat-wearing lungfish as a symbol for an e-discovery project manager. I should make it the new logo of this site. But I have work to, for now, its back to my mucus-lined cocoon in the mud.

Image of Protopterus aethiopicus aethiopicus, Heckel, 1851. SOURCE: FishBase at; Clipart top hat crudely pasted on by me, not Mr. Heckel or FishBase.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on September 15, 2009 2:13 PM.

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