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Architects of Top e-Discovery Brands Share Barriers and Blueprints

April Runft

This year’s women’s luncheon at Relativity Fest, “How I Built This,” featured women from the community who have played a role shaping major e-discovery brands.

“Whether it’s building a brand from scratch and proving its value, or forging together two unique organizations, brand work presents a very real opportunity for leadership,” said Lisa Arthur, the session’s moderator and Relativity’s chief marketing officer. “This year’s panelists have been leaders in this kind of work.”

Here we review their stories and hard-won blueprints for success.

Meribeth Banaschik

Meribeth built an in-house e-discovery practice and team in Germany. With her experience as a US attorney and solicitor in England and Wales, she was uniquely positioned to recognize firsthand the growing demand for data discovery work—work the company was outsourcing as an expense.

At the time, the concept of e-discovery wasn’t as prominent in Germany as it currently is in the US—so challenging the status quo required graceful persistence. She needed to educate the organization as to the demands of e-discovery in an easy-to-understand manner. This also included being able to explain technology to the rest of her team simply, to avoid alarm.

Meribeth’s goal was to build an e-discovery team that would not always be considered as a cost center but a profit center. 

As is usually the case, many underestimate the task of e-discovery. It was not possible that one part-time IT employee could handle a multi-jurisdictional, complex piece of litigation.

“We went into this with project with the motto to first crawl, then walk, then run,” said Meribeth.

Meribeth’s Blueprints for Success

  • A bit of advice that Meribeth offered young e-discovery colleagues was that “the meeting happens before the meeting.” Don’t wait to start developing relationships with and gathering buy-in from stakeholders if you have an innovative idea. Planting the seeds for a new idea should start in your day-to-day interactions, rather than waiting to introduce a new idea at an official meeting.
  • “Create an innovative atmosphere. Understand that a spirit of innovation means that sometimes you have to welcome mistakes from your team.” Implementing a new idea will result in aspects that go right and some that go wrong. When a group feels like they can come to you even when something goes wrong, you are able to ask the right questions and drive innovation further.
  • In response to an audience member who was concerned that women are left out of major e-discovery decisions, Meribeth urged her to spend time on rainmaking. “Focus on new ideas that will bring revenue to the business, and you shouldn’t have to worry about whether you have a seat at the table.”  

Taffi Schurz

In the early days of Relativity (known then as kCura), Taffi led training and corporate communications. It was a crucial time when the budding company channeled its primary energy and resources into building, improving, and supporting a solid product.

Documentation was one early gap. She recalled that gathering resources to create those materials in the lean startup environment wasn’t easy, even if leaders agreed it made sense. As new ideas often do, kickstarting the effort required diplomacy and asking for feedback. And a dash of boldness. But the focus always came back to building a great customer experience.

“Be flexible; overcommunicate,” she said about making your case. “Make remarkable moments for your internal and external clients.”

The result was a 95-page training manual and the software’s first “quick start” guides.

Taffi has since shifted into business development roles. Lately her work focuses on uniting two e-discovery brands, LDiscovery and Kroll Ontrack, after their recent merger as KrolLDiscovery, and taking them from a North American company to a global one.

From a new business standpoint, how do you get your arms around two different company cultures, areas of expertise, experience levels, and service offerings, and make strategic recommendations? The challenge is teaching Taffi just how important communication is for an expanding company to thrive.

“We talk about being ‘global companies’—but what does that actually mean in the day to day?” she asked. “We have to take into account regional and global differences in communication.”

Taffi’s Blueprints for Success

  • “If you aren’t asking for forgiveness regularly, you aren’t really living.” Tweet this
  • “With any innovation, you’ll get lots of criticism along the way. Keep in mind: you don’t always need to act on it.” Tweet this
  • “Communicate with expectations. If you need something, set timelines. In a busy world, people appreciate that.” Tweet this

Alison Grounds

Early in her career at Troutman Sanders, Alison was asked to oversee their small internal litigation technology team and manage outside discovery vendors. A practicing intellectual property attorney, Alison found she enjoyed helping troubleshoot data problems on some of the firm’s largest cases. She quickly saw an opportunity to build something bigger—a standalone e-discovery practice with full technology capabilities. But with competing priorities, someone would need to fight for this new idea. Alison figured, “why not me?”

The firm rejected Alison’s early requests for more resources. It forced her to go beyond gut feeling. She researched and compiled a serious business case, tracking the current budget and forecasting ROI for doing more in-house. Next she worked to get buy-in along the way with key partners in the firm, explaining the idea’s potential value for the business. Her advocacy culminated in a presentation to the firm’s management committee.

So how did it end?

Firm management voted “yes” to invest, and eMerge was born. With the support of Alison’s mentor, the chair of the litigation department, partners got on board with Alison’s career decision to focus solely on e-discovery—not a common path at the time. Under Alison’s direction, eMerge has grown to more than 40 lawyers and technologists.

Alison’s Blueprints for Success

  • “Sometimes you step up to lead because no one else is. Someone has to.” In many leadership opportunities, no one will ask you to lead. Don’t let that deter you. If you see a gap, fill it. Tweet this
  • “Tailor your message to bring people towards you rather than pushing them away.” When you build something new, you‘ll find yourself saying the same thing 87 times. But remember, you’re closest to it. People may need to hear something many times before it sinks in. Tweet this 
  • “Accept that supporting a Big Idea might mean you no longer fit into neat career boxes. During an annual review shortly after I switched my focus to e-discovery, my reviewing attorney ticked off the typical milestones to partner status—all things I wasn’t doing. I was busy making strides building something new. In the beginning, it took self-advocacy to make sure my achievements on this new path were recognized on par with those on the traditional “road-to-partner” track.” Tweet this

April Runft is a member of the marketing communications team at Relativity, specializing in content development.