Friday, April 6, 2018

What I Do

When people ask me what I do, I always reply " I am a lawyer."   I do so with a little hesitation, as people often have a very specific picture in mind of what a lawyer does.  This can be from what they have seen in movies or television or can be from personal experience.  The image of Atticus Finch in the courtroom defending an innocent man and delivering grand closing arguments.  Or perhaps it is the image of a master negotiator pouring over contracts and making sure to get the best deal.  Someone drafting wills, trusts, and deeds all day in their office.

But that is so far removed from what I do every day.  Don't get me wrong, I'm licensed and technically able to do all of those things.  I attended a law school that very much prepared us for actual trial experience.  While I would not recommend myself to anyone for criminal matters, as that was not my best subject, I am authorized to be in court should I ever need to (though my company work really precludes this).  And while I have done the occasional will and deed, my day job makes me a little slow in working through those, as they are done in my "free" time on nights and weekends. 

I do not work in a typical "Law Office", where clients come in and bring potential cases which get assigned out to the attorneys working their, though I do currently work with around 70 attorneys (it has been as high as 110).   For information security, we are very much locked down to outside visitors.

What I do is work in a narrow field of law relating to discovery, and primarily in e-discovery, and my function is project manager.  We do not really have individual clients; our clients are primarily very large corporations.

When anyone files suit, there is a process before the case ever goes to court called discovery.  This is the time where you gather evidence, particularly if it is in the possession of the party you are suing.  So, for example, if you are suing a department store for an incident that happened in one of their branches and you believe they have security tape footage of the incident, you would seek to obtain it during the discovery process.  Whether or not you can depends on a number of factors, including the rules of discovery.  Generally, you can get the evidence that relates to your case that is not protected by some other rule (like attorney-client privilege) even if it belongs to the other side (they have to show it to you in some form). That's greatly simplified, but essentially what we deal with every day.

With our clients and the types of suits that we are involved in, the primary evidence that is being requested are documents, and most frequently, e-mail.  If you imagine the very large corporations with thousands of employees, that is a lot of email.   Now, no company wants to give over all their email to have the person suing them look through it to find what they need.  You can always limit the volume by date ranges or looking for documents that hit on terms, but there generally ends up still being a large pile of documents that have to be sorted through.

That's where we come in.  We sift through all the documents to determine what is useful.  What does not have to be handed over because it is protected.  What needs to be limited because it contains sensitive, personal information.

My particular role is to train the team, to run quality control, to make sure I have enough people on the team and adjust as needed, to manage work flow and make sure everyone has enough to do, to communicate with our client to make sure we're on track, etc.  Essentially, to make sure it all gets done and it gets done well.

There are days where it feels like I'm just a professional e-mail reader or am not working in the law at all.  And there are days where we stumble across the equivalent of the Ford Pinto memo.

I have worked on cases that were gravy trains.  No deadline, no time pressure, work as many hours as you want, it will go on for two years.  And I have also worked on the impossible cases, where we are required to make the miracle happen (Talk to Jamie about October 2017).

It can be monotonous and exciting.  Trying and rewarding.  Flexible and very limiting.

But it's what I do.

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