By: Jeff Dreiling, Co-Founder

Organizer, executer, counselor, friend, foe, reality checker, encourager. What do these roles have in common? If you have worked in support of attorneys, especially litigators, you have probably played all of these roles in the course of your job. The demands placed on those in your position are as varied as they are immediate.

One word not listed above? Manager. Because of the hierarchy of a law firm, we don’t often talk about a paralegal’s role in managing their attorney(s) but rest assured, the best paralegals I’ve observed often run parts of the show. Now, I can’t produce an org chart to prove this, but I can share my observations so it’s a process you can repeat. The secret is this: don’t manage the people, create and manage the process.

Plan Ahead for Stressors

When we’re working with a client, we will try to take note of the milestones along the lifecycle of a case that are the most likely to cause our client stress. We then work to create processes to help prepare ourselves and our clients for those high stress moments. When these events occur, we are all prepared instead of surprised, and we can immediately start implementing the solution. In our world of eDiscovery, this usually means budgets and timelines. You can also use the same process for non-eDiscovery stressors.

Even if just thinking through a plan helps you have a process in the moment of stress, these exercises can be worth your time.

Real World Example: Disaster Recovery Preparedness

A good example of this came from one of our clients, a paralegal at a local law firm. He has a strong background in computer science and spends most of his time working with the technical parts of cases.

A couple of years ago, he was feeling uncomfortable about his firm’s disaster recovery preparedness from an IT point of view. Specifically, because their office building had recently experienced several pipe bursts and their firm is located on the 2nd floor of a multi-floor building.

He felt it was simply a matter of time before a pipe burst caused damage to their servers, or worse yet, damaged the servers, the desktop computers, and flooded everyone out of the office for an extended period of time.

He had tried to address the potential for this problem with the IT Director several times without much interest. Instead of waiting to be told what to do, he took it upon himself to act. The only reason he needed the IT Director’s approval was if he needed budget. Brainstorming and creating a plan was free, so he set out to write a plan for a flood eventuality.

  • He meticulously documented the local stores that carried large quantities of laptops because only the attorneys had been issued laptops and in case of emergency, they would need new ones for the staff.
  • He convinced his firm to take periodic backups of each employee’s computer and to upload images of those backups to the Cloud for safe keeping.
  • He convinced the IT manager to set up a hypothetical schedule for the first 72 hours after an event amongst the IT staff so they could get everything back up and running, while still allowing the team some rest.

The Disaster Recovery Plan Saves the Day

Well, the building hasn’t flooded. But about a year ago, they were happy to have that disaster recovery plan in place. Luckily, there was not damage done to their servers and their offices were still physically unchanged. Of course, Covid happened.

Instead of having to start from square one and frantically try to maintain the business of the firm, they were quickly able to get the “building flood disaster recovery plan” out and immediately start moving towards the solution. The first benefit was it allowed them to quickly buy all of the laptops they needed well before the stores ran out of inventory or were forced to close.

They followed his plan to the letter and were operational 3 days after the initial alarm sounded and well in advance of the mandatory lockdown day. Our client was able to manage up by preparing for an event that wasn’t his direct responsibility. By doing the work and having a plan ready to go, he alleviated much of the stress from his coworker’s shoulders and saved his firm countless days of downtime, lost productivity, and stress.

Create a Process for the Eventuality of eDiscovery

Not to compare an event as substantial as that to eDiscovery in a lawsuit, but there are lessons to be learned. If you are constantly surprised by events that are possible or even probable to occur, you are not going to make the best decisions in a timely manner when they happen. eDiscovery is a potential source of discovery in almost every single case filed today, so we shouldn’t allow the difficult milestones in that process to surprise or panic us either.

It is true that each case may have vastly different eDiscovery needs, but the process in evaluating those needs doesn’t have to be customized each time. The number one key to controlling eDiscovery spend is how quickly you get your resources involved. Simple and inexpensive options that exist early in a case only get more complicated and more costly as the case moves along. Simple oversights, and not advising your client to pause their automatic deletion protocols, can quickly turn into spoliation claims and negative inferences.

A little further down the discovery timeline are the ESI/production protocol, RFPs and responses. If you reach this point without a cohesive eDiscovery plan in place for the case, the damage is much harder to repair. These milestones are where negotiations about ESI sources, custodians and general parameters for how discovery will occur are decided. It’s hard to win a case this early but its easy to lose one.

Each law firm and practice group have different needs for their eDiscovery plan. If you’d like some assistance developing a process for your firm, we’re happy to help. I’m not sure a perfect plan exists, but I do know having a plan for how to handle the eventuality of eDiscovery will make the process much less stressful and your spend more valuable. Your firm and your clients will benefit. Your stress levels will too.

Plan Ahead for eDiscovery

eDiscovery is a potential source of discovery in almost every single case filed today. We can help you create a plan for how to handle it.