Between infamy and obscurity – How e-discovery professionals can tackle the two greatest challenges to winning new work

If you have ever worked in the e-discovery industry, there is a great chance that, at least once in your life, you were asked what work you do and your response left people scratching their heads, and following up with either of the following two questions:

  1. So you’re a lawyer?
  2. So you’re like James Bond?

I admit when I was asked the latter many, many years ago, I just happily agreed at the time. But the reality is that much about the work we do. from small size vendors to the big 4, remains hidden in obscurity, sometimes even from the other departments in the firm we are working for.

The other side of the coin of course is being known all too well, and not for doing the best job either. Being a part of the crisis industry, we are often engaged by clients and law firms as guardians of the technology world. We are meant to be able to prepare for and prevent the pitfalls that a layman or a common litigator would all too often fall prey to.

Be it assisting with the scoping of the data universe, helping develop the most efficient review methodology, or suggesting the most effective technology assisted review options, we are meant to know and do things that are “specialist” in nature. So when a case emerges where a large chunk of data is missed from processing and review, or privilege documents are made available to the opposing counsel, or hard copy documents are not reviewed owing to missing OCR’d text; we can get the kind of reputation that would make one prefer obscurity to infamy.

But why do these things happen? There are many reasons; overworked staff, lack of training, attrition, non-standardised processes – the list is fairly long. The majority of these are internal reasons that can be addressed through different measures. However in my experience I have found that these are the symptoms and the cause is slightly deeper: mindset.

I think mindset is what connects both sides of the coin. The moment we make a shift from “getting business” to “making an impact by providing value”, we can start to see a real change in addressing both these issues. Switching to this mindset involves proactively seeking out opportunities not to get business, but to provide value. To be excited by the prospect of building new relationships as opposed to the revenue carrot.

When this mindset change occurs, we almost start talking in a different language that helps us connect more with those who we engage with, because it shifts our focus to giving. The idea is simple enough; if one has to call a client, would she be able to connect with the client better coming from a place of wanting to give rather than asking for business? In my experience I have found that the conversation around wanting to contribute, provide value and make a lasting impact through a continuing relationship would go much a longer way than asking for work alone.

Similarly it helps to know that errors and mistakes will occur, even in the presence of the most stringent quality control checks. Reputational damage is almost always worse than damage to revenue, as the former is normally a precursor to the latter,; and if we focus on growth and ensure that each pitfall we come across is dealt with as part of a learning curve, we can implement measures to ensure that the mistakes aren’t repeated. Coupling this with the mindset of providing value, we become inherently more inclined to proactively look for points where errors are likely to occur, before they even do.

This isn’t to say that one cannot be a Randian objectivist and still focus on providing value – they’re not mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, if one is truly rationally self-interested enough, then providing value is a natural  way to ensure repeated business. It’s the epitome of true capitalist win/win. It really is simple – if you want to win new work, you need to make the client, their pain and the impact you can make by tackling that pain, your primary focus, and help them win.

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Conservative libertarian, anti-theist, reader. My posts reflect my own views and not those of my employer.

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