What began as an analysis of women in e-disclosure turns into the idea of writing about the daily work of people of all kinds whose work involves e-disclosure. The aim is to make the business of e-disclosure more approachable both to new recruits and to clients.
This is not, as you might think from its title, an article about human-computer interaction, though I have recently met Dr Simon Attfield of UCL, whose discipline this is, and who is working with Freshfields and LexisNexis on the subject. More on his work in due course.
It is more prompted by some of the reactions I have picked up to my pieces on Women in e-Discovery, and by conversations about customer perceptions of litigation support. The linking element is my strong view that part of the reason for the slow take-up of electronic disclosure in the UK is that it is seen as the province of hardcore techies, and male ones at that. In fact it is primarily a business–driven function, and women already have a strong presence on all sides of the business.
Let’s take the ladies first. One reaction to the existence of a group called Women in E-discovery is that it is demeaning and divisive to imply that women should need such a group. What would the reaction be, some ask, to the formation of a closed group named for any other minority? And why do they need Mr Vince Neicho of Allen & Overy to come and address their first UK meeting?
The latter point is the easiest. Vince Neicho is one of the world’s most knowledgeable players in the e-discovery world, and any group which wants to know about that world is lucky to have him speak on the subject.
Why is the all-women group thought necessary? Well, a number of women feel the need for it. The US group has over 1,200 members and the fledgling UK group has 35 members (or did before I wrote about it – there may be more now). There are fewer women than there are men in the industry – not few, but fewer – and they are less visible than the men. Most of the speakers at this year’s e-disclosure conferences are men, so are most of the litigation support managers in firms and so are most of the directors, managers, sales and technical people at suppliers. By no means all of them are men, however, and the solicitors who actually handle the litigation and do the disclosure work are much more balanced in numbers between the sexes.
I started writing a closer analysis of this and backed away, partly because almost anything said on the subject will be misunderstood by somebody, but mainly because only one point actually matters. The litigation support industry in the UK is desperately short of able people of whatever gender. If a women-only peer group is helpful to encourage more women to join us, then let’s have it. It does not matter if we think we are all jolly approachable people anyway. We may not look it from the outside – to people of either sex.
The same applies, I think, to the customers’ view of litigation support. I have argued before that the whole industry can seem unapproachable to those who need its services. Since they are the potential customers, it pays to think this through. Forget for the moment the firms which are on every salesman’s target list, or rather, put on one side the perceived decision-makers in those firms. The lawyers who actually have the disclosure problem to grapple with daily are not on the hit-lists. How do they begin to find their way towards one of the many good and cost-effective solutions which exist?
The suppliers’ web sites inevitably major on the big problems and the giant cases with thousands of documents. Looking at them as if through the eyes of one who is starting from scratch, I can well see why people find it hard to pick up the phone. The providers look rather daunting from the outside. The potential business from such people may not – yet – be the very large jobs, but collectively they represent a sizable market.
I was talking about this to a director of an extremely successful company with a first-rate reputation for its software and services. I am not going to name him because to do so turns this into just a single company promotion and, whilst I am happy to do that usually, it detracts from my wider theme to do so here. He is justifiably confident of his ability to persuade people of the benefits of electronic disclosure in general and, almost incidentally, of his product in particular. His talk could not be further removed from the standard salesman’s obsession with Q3 targets and sales conversion rates. He introduced me to one of his Project Managers – female as it happens, but that is incidental in any context but the first part of this article – and said how good she is at working closely with the clients to plan their disclosure exercises, and how important that is at getting the clients back again for their next case.
I would love to be able to bottle the impression this makes and to release it amongst those who need the services – not just his, but those of other litigation support suppliers. If I am right – and I think I am – in concluding that there is a large latent market of people who do not know where to begin with e-disclosure, then they need to see behind the web sites and the advertisements, to hear this enthusiasm, and to be encouraged to ask for a costs estimate to set against the cost of any other way of solving the problem. But, of course, you have to make the connection first.
The discussion, and this focus on people, prompted me to think of an additional way in which I can work towards putting the customers with the problems in touch with the suppliers who have the solutions. A lot of people get mentioned anyway in this blog, because it humanises what might otherwise be a fairly dry recital of rules, practical problems and technical solutions. It seems to me, though, that an occasional column about the day-to-day work of people engaged in different areas of the business might help the would-be customers to see behind the marketing materials. It might also encourage new recruits into the business, of either gender.
I went last week to hear a famous playwright talk about how he writes. He said that he rewrites page 1 fifty times but that, as he goes on, the options shrink until the last page needs only one version. I started this article with the intention merely of discussing the role of women in e-discovery and external perceptions of the people in the market. It went through various iterations, but the end-result is a more tangible resolution to try and do something about the undoubted understanding gap which exists between the players in this growing, and increasingly diverse, business by describing what people actually do.
I can twist my sponsors’ arms, I am sure, to give me some copy from different areas of expertise – sales, technical, support and so on. There are litigation support managers out there who will do almost anything for a beer. I can think of a judge whose daily work will fill a column with relevant material. A practitioner or two from different types of firm can be induced to give their viewpoint. The model might be a column which one of the newspapers used to run called “Somebody has to do it”.