eDiscovery Careers: Achieving Success as a Non-Attorney in a Law Firm: Find/Make the Right Environment, Part 2

By: Jane Gennarelli

Yesterday, I described some characteristics to look for in a law firm – characteristics that probably reflect an environment that fosters growth for non-attorneys. Here’s a continuation of that list:

4. What is the situation today regarding senior non-attorneys?  What senior level positions exist and what are the job titles (is there a CIO, CFO, CEO? Are there Directors?). Are their physical offices consistent in size and quality with attorney offices? Are travel guidelines and bonus policies the same for senior non-attorney staff as they are for partners?

5. What is the reporting structure for Litigation Support / eDiscovery professionals?  Many firms wrestle with whether litigation support should report to IT or to the litigation department.  I’ve seen it work under each structure, and I’ve seen it fail under each.  Here’s what you need to look at to determine whether it’s a situation that fosters growth:

  • Does the person you report to understand what you do and recognize its value to the litigators?
  • Does the person you report to have influence in the firm?  Or have the support of an influential champion?
  • Does the person you report to have a good understanding of your budgetary needs and usually able to get a reasonable budget in place for litigation technology efforts?

As you’ve read through this list, you’ve probably been assessing your situation.  If you feel that your current environment doesn’t score too well, remember these points that I mentioned before:

  1. No firm is perfect:  every firm has room for improvement.
  2. Consider what you need today:  If you are fairly new to litigation support, you’re clearly not going to be the executive director in a few months.  First, you need to get broad exposure to a lot of different cases and gain the knowledge and skills you need to advance.  While the firm you are at may not be one that embraces non-attorneys at senior levels, it may be a great place for what you need today.
  3. Some of the perceived weaknesses that you identify could lead to opportunities.  Let me give you an example.  I know a litigation support manager who left a mid-size firm about ten years ago because the attorneys were reluctant to use technology in their litigation practice.  Another litigation support manager joined the firm – a less experienced and less technically skilled manager – and he saw the situation as an opportunity.  The new manager developed and implemented a plan for marketing litigation support within the firm.  He got attorneys on board.  He developed and continuously increased a demand for his department.  Today, he’s a senior director and most of the non-attorney staff in the firm report to him.

So, as you take a look at your current situation, start by figuring out how to uncover opportunities in your firm.

In the next post, we’ll talk about the importance of “knowing your stuff” and I’ll give you some pointers for staying on top of things. So, what do you think?  Do you have suggestions for advancing in a law firm?  Please let us know or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine Discovery. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine Discovery solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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About the Bloggers

Brad Jenkins

Brad Jenkins, President and CEO of CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years of experience leading customer focused companies in the litigation support arena. Brad has authored many articles on litigation support issues, and has spoken before national audiences on document management practices and solutions.

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Doug Austin

Doug Austin, Professional Services Manager for CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years experience providing legal technology consulting and technical project management services to numerous commercial and government clients. Doug has also authored several articles on eDiscovery best practices.

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Jane Gennarelli

Jane Gennarelli is a principal of Magellan’s Law Corporation and has been assisting litigators in effectively handling discovery materials for over 30 years. She authored the company’s Best Practices in a Box™ content product and assists firms in applying technology to document handling tasks. She is a known expert and often does webinars and presentations for litigation support professionals around the country. Jane can be reached by email at jane@litigationbestpractices.com.

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