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The evolution of e-discovery (and of an e-discovery lawyer)

E-discovery has great benefits and has become ‘hugely rewarding practice area,’ says Michael Lalande

Michael Lalande

When I began my legal career I had no idea what e-discovery was, let alone the impact it would have on my career. I grew up playing video games and building computers, and I went to school for criminology, so technology and analytics have always been a passion.

In addition to the logistical changes brought by COVID-19, corporations are now generating an unprecedented amount of digital data. What was once a quick walk into a colleague’s office is now an email or chat on one of the various communication tools that organizations are leveraging to keep people connected.

At present the number of bytes in the digital universe is 40 times more than the number of stars in the observable universe; by 2025 the amount of data generated each day is expected to reach 463 exabytes globally. And with the exponential increase of data and the reliance on technology, e-discovery has become vital in the legal world.

After I graduated from law school in 2013 I was greeted with a typewriter with which to create share certificates and warehouses full of paper wills and real estate files. I spent countless hours going through the maze of shelves, searching for a specific folder and counting every single page in that folder to ensure the client would be charged for each page of copy made on the Photostat machine.

I asked the partners to consider using PaperCut, a print management software that could easily be installed on each PC and the photocopier and would track how many pages were printed and accurately billed to each client file. My request was swiftly denied. “This machine has worked so well for so long, we don’t want to mess with the workflow,” was the response. I continued to count pages. 

I then began working in a small criminal law practice, where I introduced the digitization of client files to make files searchable and ensure they were backed up offsite. My principal welcomed any technology that would create efficiencies. Yet the inefficiencies of the old paper-based model that was still used hit home when, engaged in a large inquest, I spent weeks in a photocopy shop printing off 18,000 pages of encrypted PDFs and binding them in 36 volumes. Along with several other junior lawyers and clerks we spent weeks tabbing and highlighting and redacting the exhibits, preparing them for production. 

I sought out a more tech-friendly area of law and found work as a document review contractor. We sat elbow-to-elbow in a warehouse-type building working 12 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week. My fellow reviewers told me that document review was but a stop-gap in their legal careers until they found real jobs, and that there were no permanent full-time jobs in this area. 

Faced with repetitive tasks, I believe there are two types of lawyers: those who dive into the task and simply slog through the repetitive work, or those who will analyze the task, explore tools or methods to complete the task with technology, and create an innovative workflow so they can tackle that same task whenever it arises more efficiently. I soon discovered that many of the lawyers I was encountering in document review were the latter, which was inspiring. 

I began to read every manual for the review platforms that we used; I was hungry to learn and understand the most efficient and effective use of all the tools at my disposal. Through this self-education, I met and worked for leaders in the field, culminating in 2017 with the opportunity to work for Canada’s leading e-discovery firm, MT>3, led by Susan Wortzman, a global leader in the e-discovery community.

At MT>3 I am exposed to cutting-edge technology, people who have worked in e-discovery for many years, and a team that has developed streamlined workflows that are continually adapted to respond to the meteoric changes in technology and e-discovery. 

When COVID -19 required our division to work from home in March 2020, MT>3 was met with various challenges on how to adapt to this new way of life, but because our team had had review lawyers working remotely for several years prior we were quick to pivot, as we already had the technology, procedures, and workflows in place to move to a fully remote work environment.

The individuals and firms who succeed in this new world are those who are quick to adapt and tech-savvy. The tools used are complex machines, utilizing machine learning and various algorithms to collect, analyze, review and produce documents across every area of law. I went from reviewing documents on a linear basis (document by document) to a non-linear basis (by searching and filtering), to training the computer in how to make decisions (continuous active learning).

E-discovery has greatly affected law firms by delivering substantial time and cost reductions. Every large law firm in Canada has been affected by digital data, and many have dedicated individuals and resources to e-discovery.

As lawyers, we have the duty to understand and be proficient in our practices. Those who have not become technologically proficient have either created divisions in their firms to assist with data or have hired third-party vendors. Akin to having an in-house counsel in a corporation, firms are now hiring e-discovery counsel to ensure that they are receiving the best value from vendors or external e-discovery firms. Roles for project managers, analysts, and review lawyers have exploded in the Canadian market, and CPD offerings on e-discovery are on the rise.

Combining a strong understanding of the legal processes across many practice areas with a well-honed tech background is essential for the e-discovery lawyer. What began as a quick stop-gap for some young lawyers has become a hugely rewarding practice area recognized by most firms as complementing the traditional areas of law. The future is bright for those seeking a career in e-discovery!

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