Despite having apparently been misunderstood when speaking about the subject, I remain enthusiastic to encourage more people, and especially women, into electronic disclosure. Recession may be a good time to gain experience in a new and growing area.
You know that sinking feeling. Between you and where you want to go is a small group of people. There is something threatening about them which makes you imagine the baseball bat or knuckle-duster. One of the few tangible signs of New Labour’s commitment to equalities is that these days they are as likely to be girls as boys.
I thought of this as I tried to get to the table where the milk jug stood after speaking at last week’s West LegalWorks e-disclosure conference. Two women stood in my way. Why, one of them asked, had I implied that women were no good at technology? I did nothing of the sort, I said, cowering and raising my arm to ward off the expected blows. My aim was the opposite. I had been hoping to encourage more women into a business which very much needs new blood, and which could do with more women on the supplier and technical side, not least because a high proportion of the lawyers engaged in disclosure were women. The last thing I remember, as I sank to the carpet, was vowing never to raise that subject off the cuff again.
Winding back a little, now that the bruises are fading, I wrote an article here some months ago called What do people do in e-disclosure? Part of it was about how the e-disclosure industry needed more women in it, because those in it already were good at it and because it seems geeky and unapproachable to outsiders thanks to men in love with the technology for its own sake – “boys with toys”, Sanjay Bhandari of Ernst & Young calls them when trying to make people focus on the business problem rather than the technology.
The passage about encouraging women into e-discovery – something I am extremely keen to promote – was quite difficult to write, I recall. Indeed, I said at one point “I started writing a closer analysis of this and backed away, partly because almost anything said on the subject will be misunderstood by somebody”. I got no hate-mail as a result, so my argument was presumably taken in the spirit in which it was meant.
It is, of course, one thing to write on a difficult subject in the stillness of your own room, with a cup of decent coffee, a packet of Bensons, and a dog to walk when the words won’t come. It is quite another to grab the chance to say the same thing as the cues come flying down the line on a panel session in a crowded room. Moderating a panel is a seat-of-the-pants job. There is no script and (in my case) there were three judges throwing out ideas like scrum-halves at Twickenham. The subject of recruitment came up out of the scrum, and I took it and ran with it.
It appears that I mis-spoke, as Hillary Clinton would say. For the avoidance of doubt, and if and to the extent that I was understood by anybody present to say anything different on the platform, my primary point was that the e-disclosure industry needs bright young recruits and that women are under-represented in it. Rather than go back through the equal opportunities minefield, I refer you again to the article I have already written on the subject .
I will now be attacked, no doubt, for suggesting by my reference to “bright young recruits” that I discriminate against thick old ones. Grey hairs are fine, especially if earned in another market with something to teach this one, or on the other side of the lawyer-supplier relationship. Thick is not so good.
Let’s put this a different way. Recession means that many good people will lose their jobs because their skills are not much in demand at present. Although many employers in the law seem to have learned the lessons of last time (when they ditched a lot of people they badly needed a year or two later), there will be some very bright people, of all ages and both sexes, who find themselves without employment. There will also be many clever new graduates whose traditional career choices are closed off just now.
I am not saying that I know of actual jobs in the e-disclosure market. I say no more than that it is an industry which ought to expand over the coming year and that suppliers, law firms and corporations may well employ or redeploy people into it. Many such posts require specialist skills and experience – in the technology, in marketing or whatever. Others require just a good mind and a willingness to immerse oneself in the subject and in the clients’ needs. I do not believe that there is a surplus of experienced talent out there to fill the gap.
The players in the market cannot survive merely by recruiting from rivals as they do, sometimes paying unfeasibly high inducements to attract staff. It will be interesting to see how that plays at a time when costs are under increasing scrutiny as the employers try to recoup their investments. This would be a good time, though, for suppliers to recruit people who might otherwise have looked to more traditional careers, and for law firms to retrain good people, not necessarily as front-line litigators, but as e-disclosure specialists.
We need, perhaps, to ditch the expression “litigation support” which implies a secondary role. The time is coming when it will not be possible to run big litigation without a partnership between the lawyers and someone who either handles the technology or can act as a bridge to those who can. That requires no crystal ball – the effect of the Digicel and Hedrich cases will make firms pay attention to the rules (Digicel) and to the risk management aspects of remaining unaware about the pitfalls of electronic disclosure (Hedrich). There are career opportunities here.
I say again that I am not aware of any specific opportunities, nor is it the case that everyone who has experience in this field will find a niche, so there is no point in asking me to help find you a job or a new recruit. It might be worth thinking about, though, as a career whose mould has yet to be set. That applies as much to women as to men.