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6 Tech Lessons Every General Counsel Should Learn

Stan Pierson

It’s no surprise that the general counsel’s role is evolving beyond knowing the legal circumstances facing his or her corporation. As new technologies emerge—from billing tools to streamlined e-discovery and compliance applications—to automate processes, the onus is on the GC to understand and manage old and new risks. To do so, it’s critical to have a firm grasp of the automation technology doing the job.

GCs today are better equipped to make informed technology decisions. However, with many still learning about what technology exists in their organizations and how it affects their role, it’s a struggle for some to identify what to prioritize learning—or how much they need to know.

So what lessons should be checked off the GC’s educational to-do list first? Here are our six starter tips.

1.    Understand how a document makes its way through e-discovery and ensure each step is well documented.

Remember that catchy “I’m Just a Bill” song in Schoolhouse Rock? After hearing it a couple times, you were a true fourth-grade expert in knowing how a bill becomes a law. Similarly, understanding what happens to a custodian’s data throughout the e-discovery process is great for high-level awareness. Dig into specific stages and work on properly documenting each of them. Although each case is different, you should be able to explain the what and why behind what was preserved, collected, and produced.

2.    Find an IT ally in your organization—a trusted advisor who can help you stay up to date on new tech

Effective communication with your technical staff is essential for success. Knowing how to ask your IT team for searches, for example, requires a common IT / legal language that GCs may find themselves lacking. Take some time with a buddy on the IT side to understand how data backup is different from disaster recovery, and whatever else they’re ready to teach you. Similarly, educating your IT team about how litigation works and the potential for data to be produced is a great idea. At the end of the day, everyone is playing for the same team—so when IT and legal collaborate well, everyone wins.

3.    Learn about data remediation and establish a document retention policy in conjunction with your company’s IT team.

Data in your organization is growing exponentially, and storage isn’t the only problem. You’ll want to help build the data retention policy, but truly understand its impacts from a legal perspective. Without a doubt, the first consideration for data retention is regulatory compliance. What are you required to hold onto and for how long? Collaborate with IT to create an air-tight retention policy. More importantly, enforce the policy to ensure employees are sticking to the rules. You will be much better equipped to react should a lawsuit arise.

4.    Understand options for creating hold notices and correspondence.

When litigation occurs, failure to preserve relevant ESI can lead to spoliation of evidence, which can result in severe sanctions and other risks. Many corporations track their obligations using simple methods, such as an Excel spreadsheet. While this may be appropriate for companies with a small litigation footprint, it’s not scalable for corporations that deal with litigation more frequently. Many GCs don’t realize their solution is inadequate until it’s too late. Gain an understanding of solutions that can help with legal hold. Just knowing when to hold ‘em is not enough to keep a company protected.

5.    Read up on cloud technology and hosted solutions and how they can help your corporation.

Chances are your organization will shift a majority of data and resources to the cloud or a hosted environment soon, if you haven’t already. A recent State of the Cloud report cites that 93 percent of organizations surveyed are running or experimenting with infrastructure-as-a-service applications. If the cloud is right for your data, think about preparations you’ll need to take now. Know the legal implications of moving data to the cloud and how to mitigate risk associated with a move. Talk to IT about your vendor relationships, including product requirements and what goes into selecting the right vendor and deployment option.

6.    Obtain CLE credits that are specific to technology to keep your edge.

You have to get CLE anyway, right? Keep an eye on bar association newsletters or announcements to see what sorts of learning opportunities exist. Many local organizations offer CLE designed for GCs and their technology challenges. The goal should be to gain an awareness of what the basic tech-savvy standards are and how other organizations are meeting them, if this is your first foray into technology. The fear of the unknown can be intimidating, but why attend CLE where you won’t learn anything new?

Although the learning curve might seem steep, it’s likely there are resources and IT allies in your organization that can help. Put them to good use, and better yet, bring them with you to Relativity Fest, an annual user conference designed to educate and connect the e-discovery community.