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Transitioning from Document Review to E-discovery Project Management

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A reader asks:
 
I have worked as a document review attorney for a number of years. I'm interested in developing my career in the ediscovery area, beyond doing document review. I would appreciate some advice regarding this, such as what career options are out there in this area? Also, it would be a great help if you could point me to some resources that provide more information.
Over the years, I've seen a number of document-review attorneys build successful e-discovery law and legal-support careers. Given the theme of this blog, I will focus on careers in e-discovery management, rather than sales, training, technical support, and other positions in the field of e-discovery. 

One common career path is to move from document review, to a team leader role, and then to a project-manager role. These are not well-defined positions in the legal world, especially at legal-staffing companies, where a "project manager" often is simply a reliable document-review attorney with computer skills. But this is changing. Increasingly, contract-attorney agencies, and their clients, are requiring a greater depth and breadth of knowledge from their project managers. 

Other ways to transition from document review into e-discovery project management include moving into litigation-support positions at service bureaus or taking staff attorney or e-discovery counsel jobs at larger law firms.  After gaining significant experience and technological expertise, additional options become available, such as positions in corporate legal or compliance departments; and consulting, expert witness, and special master opportunities.

To work as an e-discovery project manager, you do not necessarily need any special technical training or software certifications, but you should familiarize yourself with the major technologies, concepts, and vendors covering information management, identification, collection, processing, review, and production. You need to be very familiar with the EDRM model and current e-discovery law. To keep up or catch up with e-discovery case law, read Ralph Losey's blog and books. Buying Arkfield's Electronic Discovery & Evidence treatise is a good, but expensive, investment if you really want to delve in. There are also many great blogs and sources of free e-discovery case law on the Web. I maintain a blog roll of some of my favorites on this site. There are also many more sources of job listings these days (compared to when I was in your position), such as the Posse List and Litigation Support Careers. Also,see my prior post, titled "Getting Back in the Game," where I go into more detail on self-study and formal training options.

You might also consider obtaining an e-discovery certification offered by the Organization of Legal Professionals, the Association of Certified Electronic Discovery Specialists, a college, or an e-discovery vendor. Keep in mind that most of these are very new. There is no guarantee that an employer is going to value (or have even heard of) them, but they may be a good way to round out your knowledge of e-discovery or differentiate yourself from other candidates. 

Computer forensics experience and certification, or training and experience for some of the major e-discovery software platforms might, at this time, be more valued by employers than general e-discovery certifications. It is difficult, however, to recommend training for one specific software program over the other. Most litsupport specialists and e-discovery attorneys I know learned these skills on the job. Certifications in some of the more common e-discovery programs, such as Concordance or Summation, are relevant to a majority of litigation-support positions, but are expensive to obtain and will be only apply to one of a number of applications you may need to use or manage. 

Since you have worked as a contract attorney doing document review for several years, you should have gained experience working with a number of e-discovery applications. If some of that was as a team leader or project manager, involving some database administration tasks, that will help. But you will still need to learn about collection, processing, loading, and producing records, which you likely have not had much experience with as a document-review attorney. 

Again I'll emphasize that to manage an e-discovery project you do not need to be an expert in all of the technologies involved, but you at least need a high-level understanding of what tools are commonly used for each stage of e-discovery and the strengths and weaknesses of these tools. You need to know enough to effectively communicate with the technologists on your project. If nothing else, sign up for all the free vendor-sponsored webinars, demonstrations, software trials, and on-line training you can and, if possible, attend legal technology exhibitions, such as Legal Tech (New York and Los Angeles), Virtual Legal Tech (Web based), and the ABA Tech Show (Chicago).

Lastly, if you do not have any project-management training or experience, you should invest time into improving your project-management skills. Start by reading Steven Levy's Introduction to Legal Project Management. You may also want to delve deeper into traditional project management, which applies better to e-discovery than most areas of legal practice. Considering joining the Project Management Institute and subscribing to its Legal Project Management Community of Practice (full disclosure: I am the Community Manager for the PMI LPM CoP). Making the effort to obtain the Certified Associate in Project Management certificate from PMI will help you learn about project management principles and tools and give you a certificate that may help differentiate yourself from other candidates. If you've been practicing law for ten years or more, you may consider LegalBizDev's Certified Legal Project Manager program.

Although I spent quite a bit of space in this article discussing certifications, I cannot overemphasize that most e-discovery and project-management certifications are not going to be required or even known by your potential employers. If your e-discovery experience is limited to document review, however, a certification program can be an efficient and effective way to round out your knowledge--if you can afford the cost. If you cannot afford the cost, there are plenty of free and low-cost sources of the same information most of these certification programs provide. It will take more time build your expertise in this way, but it can be done, and I hope I have provided enough information to get you started. 


[1] Yes, I'm including expert witness as a LPM position. Whether or not an e-discovery project was managed properly is an important topic in discovery on discovery, resolving discovery disputes, and in deciding on whether sanctions are warranted. As for e-discovery special masters, I like to think of them as project managers appointed by the court to ensure its orders are followed by parties who are unable to manage themselves. For more on E-discovery Special Masters, see Hon. Shira A. Scheindlin & Jonathan M. Redgrave, Special Masters and E-Discovery: The Intersection of Two Recent Revisions to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 30 Cardozo Law Rev. 347 (2008), available at http://www.cardozolawreview.com/Joomla1.5/content/30-2/SCHEINDLIN.30.2.pdf&pli=1.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on November 26, 2010 1:19 AM.

LPM Tidbits for Week Ending 11/20/2010 was the previous entry in this blog.

LPM Tidbits for Week Ending 11/27/2010 is the next entry in this blog.

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