After working as a solicitor at a boutique city law firm, Matthew Beilin has now joined a team of eDiscovery specialists at Anexsys London. In this post he shares some of his thoughts after a month in the role:
Following in the footsteps of many a solicitor before me, I have made the leap out of private practice and into the world of legal tech. I joined a firm of eDiscovery specialists just over a month ago. I am no stranger to eDiscovery software and I used it regularly whilst practicing as a litigator. For the uninitiated, eDiscovery can be simply defined as the process by which potentially relevant electronic evidence in legal proceedings is collected, made searchable and reviewed. It requires the handling of huge and ever-increasing volumes of data, and a key motivator in my decision to take on this role, was the opportunity to gain a better understanding of how the legal industry is taming and leveraging “Big Data,” so that it can be used to our advantage.
Funnily enough, a lot of the pre-conceived notions I had about what it would be like to work for a tech company (all heavily informed by film and TV) are more or less accurate: computer screens filled with lines of unintelligible code, widespread use of acronyms and abbreviations and a team of people who seem to find the quirks in the software they work with hilarious.
As expected, the pace is lightning quick: the time you are afforded as a litigator to contemplate your work and reach decisions is something you have no choice but to let go of. Solicitors will usually call upon eDiscovery specialists when their backs are up against wall and there is a constant pressure to deliver. What I had not counted on was the creativity involved in solving tech related problems (often the answer is not written down in a book or manual) and observing that process first-hand and having the opportunity to query the methodology employed, has been a great learning curve. I think that all solicitors would benefit from a similar experience, as a sort of immersion therapy into all things tech.
Having the benefit of the view from the other side of the fence has given me a wider understanding of how solicitors approach technology and how the acceptance of its benefits has not necessarily translated to its widespread use. In litigation, the employment of eDiscovery software is standard practice, but for most senior solicitors, getting to grips with it is still not a priority. That task is instead left to junior associates or dedicated litigation support teams. It is a workable solution and it gives more tech minded solicitors the opportunity to diversify their skill set, but it does pose a slight problem, as clients would probably benefit most if the professionals with the most legal experience working on their case (i.e. the partner or senior solicitor) took the time to truly understand the tools at their disposal.
There are a few things I miss about being a solicitor. There is something very satisfying and very human about considering the facts of your client’s case and using your understanding of the law, experience and intuition to build an argument that will hopefully convince a judge to take your client’s side. All the glory belongs to you and the rest of the legal team. Working in a tech company, the technology takes centre stage, which to some extent creates a degree of separation between you and the client you are working for.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of my role so far has been gaining an appreciation of where eDiscovery fits in an industry doing its best to navigate unknown waters. eDiscovery software has already had its moment in the sun: it is part and parcel of the disclosure phase of litigation and has already overcome the hurdle of integrating itself into standard legal practice (something legal tech relevant to other disciplines of law is still in the process of negotiating). It employs artificial intelligence techniques (supervised / unsupervised machine learning, natural language processing etc) which are evangelised at every corner of the internet and there is huge potential for current practices to be improved and new ones to be invented. Despite this, it does not attract the fanfare currently enjoyed by other areas of legal tech. Nearly all the litigators I know still see disclosure as the millstone around the neck of the litigation process: a costs headache which is time consuming, complex and unpredictable. Perhaps the key to overcoming these issues will be the further development of the technologies surrounding eDiscovery and the more widespread adoption and understanding of their use. With new legislation on the horizon (http://tiny.cc/9ded0y), which aims to do just that, eDiscovery will hopefully be something solicitors appreciate as they did before, and I dare say enjoy, before too long.