Since the dawn of the digital age, most of the world has become incredibly reliant on technology. As a result, it has become commonplace for people and businesses to interact online instead of in person. Though incredibly convenient, these interactions leave electronic footprints. When this electronically-stored information becomes relevant to a civil or criminal lawsuit, an e-discovery professional helps identify, manage, and preserve it. Keep reading to learn more about e-discovery professionals.
What does an e-Discovery Professional Do?
In the legal field, discovery refers to a pre-trial procedure in which the plaintiff and defendant share evidence with each other, so each party can adequately prepare for trial. Discovery can also be obtained from sources not involved in the case. The parties can request any materials relevant to the case, but some types are protected by law. This includes, but is not limited to: juvenile criminal records, conversations between spouses, and attorney-client communications.
While a large part of discovery material still comes from testimony, physical evidence, and recorded interrogations, the ever-increasing use of electronic communication has led to digital records becoming a common part of the process. The average person produces thousands of digital records each day through emails, social media, digital audio, cell phone data, and other electronic formats and when that person becomes party to a lawsuit, some of those records may be vital to one of the parties involved.
E-discovery is not as simple as printing an email or a text message conversation, since the metadata or electronically stored format must be collected. For example, if John hits another vehicle and a bystander claims that John caused the accident because they saw him typing on his phone when the accident occurred, accessing the metadata can show the exact time John opened the texting app on his device. This metadata then becomes an essential part of the legal proceedings, as it backs up the witness’s claim that John is at fault for the accident.
Accessing and collecting metadata so that it can be used in litigation requires both technical skills, as well as experience in the legal field, and this is where e-discovery professionals come in. E-discovery professionals do not have to be licensed attorneys, and most of these positions are filled by paralegals and legal assistants. The duties and responsibilities of an e-discovery professional varies depending on their practice environment, but they typically include:
- Collecting and analyzing a client’s electronically stored information
- Using data to discover facts relevant to the lawsuit
- Processing the data and identify potential witnesses
- Educating clients and attorneys on e-discovery processes and policies
- Helping clients develop e-discovery practice guidelines as case law evolves
- Assisting clients in minimizing the risks and expenses associated with e-discovery
- Helping clients develop a plan for preserving relevant data
Since the data handled by e-discovery professionals can play a key role in the outcome of lawsuits, it makes them an invaluable part of litigation.
Professional Requirements to Become an e-Discovery Professional
A law degree is not required for a job as an e-discovery professional, though most have a background of some sort in law and/or technology. Once dominated by paralegals, the profession is attracting more attorneys due to the rising salaries. Generally, e-discovery professionals have an undergraduate degree in technology, and some even have advanced degrees. Because it is a fairly new occupation, most training is done on the job or through continuing education courses.
Aspiring attorneys wanting to fill the role of an e-discovery professional must obtain a law degree and study technology in some aspect. The first step is receiving a bachelor’s degree and then successfully taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). LSAT scores are used by law schools as part of the admissions process.
The next step obtaining a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) degree, which is a 3-year program. After receiving a J.D. degree, individuals must take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE). This exam ensures an individual’s conduct and professionalism meets the standards set by the American Bar Association (this does not apply to residents of Maryland, Wisconsin, and Puerto Rico).
The last step in the process is taking the bar exam in the state where they will practice law. The individual can take technology courses in undergraduate school, or begin studying the subject after obtaining their law license.
Becoming a Non-Attorney e-Discovery Professional
Since a career as an e-discovery professional does not require a license to practice law, it is common for legal secretaries and paralegals to fill these positions. Traditionally, both secretaries and paralegals were responsible for administrative tasks, but with the continued reliance on technology, these job descriptions are changing. It is not uncommon today for paralegals to manage the e-discovery process, or for legal secretaries to work alongside technology personnel to assist with e-discovery.
In many states, a paralegal must have at least an associates degree, and a legal secretary can opt for a degree, certification, or on-the-job training. However, as employees in these positions are expected to continue becoming more involved with e-discovery, many must learn the legalities and technological aspects of the e-discovery process. This can involve continued education or certification.
Additional Education and Experience
There are courses available to further an e-discovery professional’s knowledge in the field. These highly technical training courses are especially helpful for those who need to sharpen one or more skills.
Additional Certification Requirements
To enhance their skills and broaden job prospects, e-discovery professionals can enroll in certification programs. One example is the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS). The CEDS certification is very in-demand from legal employers, as it incorporates all e-discovery issues. The certification program has strict qualifications and recertification requirements. It also requires members to pay a pretty steep annual fee.
Where Can You Work as a e-Discovery Professional
e-Discovery professionals have several options when it comes to employment. In general, they can work for law firms, legal departments in large corporations, or for government agencies. As the demand for e-discovery increases, more law firms and corporations are keeping these professionals as full-time staff. An e-discovery professional can also work directly for clients, but this is more common for e-discovery.
If licensed to practice law, an e-discovery specialist can work as a solo practitioner, for a private practice, as in-house counsel, or for a law firm.
How do e-Discovery Professionals Get Paid
Generally, e-Discovery professionals without a law degree earn an hourly wage or salary, since they are paid by employers. Some in this field work solo, however, and are paid directly by clients. In this case, they can charge hourly, or a flat-rate fee. The e-discovery professional and client should discuss the fees involved, and come to an agreement before work begins.
An e-discovery attorney may also charge by the hour or a flat-rate fee. The lawyer may ask for a retainer fee, which is a deposit of sorts, put into a special account and used as he or she works on the case.
e-Discovery Professional Salary
The median wage for e-discovery professionals, paralegals, and legal assistants is $50,410 per year ($24.24/hour) as of 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) Occupational Outlook Handbook. The BLS does not distinguish between different positions in this area of the law, however so the salaries may vary. Other statistics show that a higher-level e-discovery professional may earn upwards of $200,000 per year. With a law degree, and an adequate amount of technological skills, an e-discovery attorney falls much higher on the salary spectrum.
Employment Outlook for e-Discovery Professionals
Since e-discovery began playing a major role in court proceedings, the industry has seen an astounding growth rate of around 300%. It is predicted that growth in this field will continue, as it continuously changes and expands to keep up with advances in technology.
Hiring an e-Discovery Professional
If you believe you have a basis to file a lawsuit and your case involves information stored on a computer, phone, GPS, or other device, you can hire an e-discovery attorney. With a background in technology, this type of lawyer can assist in collecting and analyzing the stored data.
If you have trouble finding an e-discovery lawyer in your area, you should contact a lawyer that specializes in the area of law that pertains to your lawsuit. If the attorney believes the electronically stored information will be useful to the case, he or she will utilize an e-discovery professional, though you may be responsible for the cost.
Though it is possible for a layperson to hire an e-discovery specialist, it may prove difficult to locate one that contracts with individual clients, especially in smaller cities or rural areas.
How to Find the Right e-Discovery Professional
One you have decided that you need a lawyer also trained in e-discovery, it is time to start searching for the right one. The best way to start is to ask family and friends if they know of an attorney with this skill. If you know a lawyer in another field, you can also ask for a recommendation.
Another option includes searching online attorney databases. Most let you search by location and specialty, and some even let you search by keywords. These databases typically include information about the lawyer such as experience and disciplinary records. You can also check out the bar association website in your state for a list of licensed attorneys.
When you find a lawyer that you believe is right for your case, set up a consultation. Most attorneys offer free consultations and these initial meetings give you the opportunity to present your case and expectations. You should also discuss the fees involved before signing any contract or agreement.
|Degree Level||No degree required, but associate or bachelor’s degree preferred by some employers|
|Degree Field(s)||Law (optional)|
|Key Skills||Knowledge and experience in technology, analyzing data, attention to detail, multitasking, documenting important information|
|Number of Jobs (2016)||285,600|
|As much as 300% growth rate (faster than average growth rate)|
|Median Salary (2017)||$50,410*|
|On the Job Training||On-the-job training|
|Top Earners||Top earners in the e-discovery professional field are generally employed by large law firms|
(*Source: the BLS)