As we are all aware the world of eDiscovery is continuously growing and, no doubt will continue to do so, as (i) the technology develops, (ii) the sheer volume of data increases and (iii) the need for clients to adapt to these changes.
The one thing I have noticed is that from a service offering, the role of the Project Manager has been somewhat undervalued. By this I don’t mean that there is a perception that a PM is not required, in fact it seems quite the opposite (!), but there is often a misunderstanding about how crucial the role is for the success of a project/case. Whilst each eDiscovery Service Provider may have a different job title for this role, the bottom line is that there should be a “Project Manager” for every case.
From my experience in the eDiscovery industry and managing Project Management teams, I am going to provide some insight into the different traits of a Project Manager, where their strengths and weaknesses lie and what to be aware of when working with Project Management teams.
Before we go into real detail I have tried to group our PMs into three types. It may be that a PM will fall into more than one of these types so rather than viewing this as distinct groups try to see them as overlapping circles where a PM can fit into more than one type.
The Technical Project Manager (TPM)
The TPM is usually someone with either an IT education or experience that prefers being in a client facing role where they can utilise their skills to assist the end client. You tend to find that a TPM takes a hands-on approach with collection and processing and works very closely with their technical teams or even does a fair amount of this work themselves. They also look to solve a technical query from the client using their IT knowledge and understanding. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
The blessing is that at the client has someone deeply entrenched in their matter from the very start and who has taken control of the project immediately and the client is under no illusion who they have to speak to in order to find out how the project is progressing.
The curses are usually self-inflicted by the PM. By getting bogged down in the detail a TPM can lose sight of the end goal or run out of time due to managing multiple matters. Another downfall can be that there is little chance for outside help as the TPM is not particularly good at sharing information. The words “by the time I tell you what to do I could have done it myself!” can often fall from the lips of this type of PM.
The Legal Project Manager
The LPM is usually either a qualified or trained lawyer (be it in the Bar or Law Society or Legal Exec). The beauty of this PM is that there is almost an immediate rapport built with the legal team and the understanding of the legalities of the matter and timescales.
A LPM will try to understand the case from the client’s perspective and will probably have a better understanding of the matter as a whole – i.e. who the parties are, what the dispute is about etc. This puts them in a good position to understand the client’s goals and establish a strong relationship. This type of PM is particularly strong in understanding the client’s needs and how they can be applied in the review database.
However, the work is very much done by the team behind the scenes. Technical tasks such as data manipulation or investigation of data anomalies are always pushed the to the Technical/ESI team. The LPM is the link between internal teams and a good LPM ensures that everyone is doing their bit on time.
By delegating to the team, the LPM is less likely to get bogged down in the detailed technical work and thus frees up capacity to stay on top of their projects. The LPM is heavily reliant on the team being available and responsive to their needs which can sometime be a challenge due to workloads and priorities. Also, and this is key, if the LPM is the translator of the information from the internal team to the client then it is vital that the details are clearly set out so the correct information is then passed onto the client. This can sometimes be a struggle due to the complexities of some eDiscovery happenstances.
The Software Expert PM
The path into eDiscovery for some PM’s has come about with their exposure to the software tools which they have become intimately involved with. A classic example of this is Relativity and the Relativity Certified Administrator (RCA) qualified PM. This is a fairly recent development which is the result of a maturing eDiscovery software market. The benefits are they often have a very in-depth knowledge of the tool and are aware of the many functions and features the software has to offer. This enables them to exhaust all options when presented with a request and will in the most part, apply the most suitable technical solution and spend the least amount of time performing the task.
However, he or she could have potentially less than a year’s eDiscovery experience whilst the qualification is without doubt important it is by no means all encompassing. Experience is often key to the smooth running of a project, there are so many moving parts in eDiscovery the challenges come thick and fast (never a dull moment) so experience and knowledge really help make the right decisions. Quite simply a good PM would have the RCA or similar but an RCA qualified Project Manager does not guarantee a good PM.
Which is best?
You guessed it! I am sitting on the fence here. Ideally you would have it all.
Let’s start with the software expert. A PM needs to be an expert on the software from a review standpoint at the very least but the more knowledge of the system they have the better for all concerned.
Understanding the legal is key. Being able to put yourself into the role of the legal team will enable you to get a feel for the legal team’s needs and requirements and thus help you better support and service the client.
Technical knowledge is helpful, there are times when it is beneficial to assist a client using the technical skills be it in Excel, basic VB scripting etc. especially for ad-hoc urgent requests. It can be much more efficient having the PM do these tasks rather than sending it down the chain.
Published by Sohael Qayyum, Associate Director and Lead Consultant at Sky Discovery UK