The following is an excerpt from Tomorrow’s Jobs Today, Wisdom & Career Advice from Thought Leaders in AI, Big Data, Blockchain, the Internet of Things, Privacy, and More, available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and wherever fine books are sold.
Discovery or electronic discovery refers to legal proceedings such as litigation, government investigations, or Freedom of Information Act requests, where the information sought is in electronic format (often referred to as electronically stored information or ESI). Electronic discovery is subject to rules of civil procedure and agreed-upon processes, often involving review for privilege and relevance before records are turned over to the requesting party.
What’s it like to work in this field?
We live in a litigious society. As a result, the scope of the eDiscovery discipline and marketplace is enormous, requiring the skills of many diverse and talented professionals, not simply attorneys. In fact, according to Emergen research, the global eDiscovery market reached 10.73 billion recently and, by some estimates, is expected to register a revenue compound annual growth rate or CAGR of 9.6% during the next seven years.
George Socha, Esq. is one professional making the most of those growth prospects. He’s a renowned industry thought leader and Senior Vice President at Reveal-Brainspace. He promotes their brand awareness, helps guide the development of product road maps, and consults with customers on effectively deploying legal technology. George has authored numerous articles on eDiscovery and speaks to global audiences on its rapid evolution and distinct challenges. He earned his bachelor’s in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his JD from Cornell. However, he has played in the legal and technology arenas for most of his adult life. He is both an attorney and a technologist.
He’s also the co-founder of the widely utilized Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), the go-to framework outlining standards for recovering and discovering digital data. That conceptual tool to understand the eDiscovery process has become the foundation for an organization contributing to the community since 2005.
A CAREER THAT CHOOSES YOU
We asked George whether he chose his career in eDiscovery or if it chose him. He says several different things converged. In 1972, as a freshman in high school, he enrolled in a course on computer programming, BASIC. The following year, he took another on Advanced BASIC and Pascal, spending much of his free time writing code for fun. Then after college, he joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer and had nothing to do with computers whatsoever. He didn’t even have electricity! But being overseas opened his eyes and taught him skills he would carry forward throughout his life.
The old marketing slogan for the Peace Corps was that it would be “the toughest job you’ll ever want.” And George thinks that’s the best one-line description of his experience. “I got a level of responsibility at a young age that I could only have received in a limited number of ways,” he says. “It was a lot of responsibility with very little structure or guidance. I was out in the middle of nowhere, a long way from any support systems, working with my local counterparts who were similarly situated. We had to figure out how to get things done ourselves and not count on support from anyone.”
The Peace Corps was often confusing and chaotic for George, where the goals were poorly defined. And that sounds like the world of electronic discovery, especially in its early days. But that chaos was a part of the value. It helped George realize that there was an enormous world out there, that people approach problems in different ways with different solutions, and at the same time, he recognized commonalities.
George had to learn a completely different language, French, and enough of the local languages where he was stationed to do some basic navigation. He says that challenge wasn’t much different from discussing eDiscovery because there wasn’t a common language when he started in the field. George told us that “trying to understand cultural differences and languages is sometimes like figuring out the differences between how lawyers and IT professionals approach eDiscovery. Sometimes they don’t communicate with each other very effectively.” But there is always common ground, and the best approach is to appreciate how big and complex the universe is and consider the possibility of making a difference.
Returning to the US in 1983, George saw the IBM PCs that had just come out and realized that the world had changed a lot while he was gone. “Oh, man, I better catch up,” he thought and bought an Apple Macintosh the first month they were available. He took that machine with him to law school.
But George got frustrated with the ethereal nature of law school and became involved at the first opportunity in the legal aid clinic. In his second year, IBM donated a half dozen PCs to law school. The dean said, “I’m not sure what we can do with these in the classroom, but I think there’s a place for them in the clinic.” So he gave them to the clinic director, who, in turn, looked at George and said, “You’ve got a computer. Go figure out what to do with these things!” George accepted the challenge and wrote a matter management system with them. It allowed the clinic to manage its cases on those computers.
Then he showed up at his first law firm, and they handed him a Dictaphone and said, “See how technologically advanced we are?”
He thought, “What have I done to myself?”
So, he lugged his computer to work, and two things happened. One, a steady stream of senior associates and junior partners came into his office, shut the door, sat down, and delivered the same message. It was “Lose the computer. Real attorneys do not type. You will never be taken seriously as a lawyer with a computer on your desk.” Well, we know that’s not how things played out.
The second thing that occurred was that George got pulled into the largest set of cases the firm had ever handled, partly because he had that weird computer on his desk. “We would have a million documents that would need to be coded,” George told us. “I had a computer, so there you go. I was put in charge!” All of that opportunity eventually steered him toward the world of eDiscovery. He was just a few years in when his IT Director was hired away, and George was the functioning IT guy for a year and a half. After that, there was no escaping electronic discovery. And that’s how it happens for many people in this sticky field—you fall into it.
TAKING THE NEXT BIG STEP
In the next few years, George would take an even bigger step and develop his comprehensive approach to data collection in the litigation process, the EDRM, with his colleague Tom Gelbmann. It all started when they heard a common theme while gathering information for a survey. The electronic discovery services and software providers they worked with told them, “You guys don’t really understand what eDiscovery is. It’s what WE do. All those people out there claim to be doing electronic discovery, but that’s not eDiscovery at all.”
They heard that same line from people whose focus was preserving data. They heard it from people who spent the bulk of their time and effort processing data. They heard it from people who hosted the data. They heard it from the folks who were reviewing it. So George and his partner thought – well, there is no possible way all of them are right because they’re coming up with completely conflicting definitions! So, they asked themselves, “Is there anything out there that already describes this?”
They looked around and found no widely accepted definition of eDiscovery that laid out the major conceptual steps involved. And that’s when they said to themselves, “since we can’t find anything out there, let’s see if we can put something together.” George went through his address book and contacted maybe 35 organizations and people who attended the first EDRM meeting in May of 2005. He thought he was taking on a one-year project at the most. The plan was to develop straightforward, pragmatic definitions or some basic steps for people to consider as they limped through electronic discovery. At that time, George had no idea that, over a decade later, anybody would be paying any attention to his work.
To read the rest of this chapter or learn more about this topic and exciting careers in information technology, pick up a copy of Tomorrow’s Jobs Today!