A conversation about in-house ediscovery, technology, and working in Silicon Valley
What does an ediscovery, forensics, and information governance guru at a major social media company have to say about in-house ediscovery, technology, and what it’s like to work in Silicon Valley?
We sat down recently with Ben Robbins, the Senior Manager for eDiscovery, Forensics, and Information Governance at LinkedIn, to find out. According to its own LinkedIn company profile, LinkedIn has over 14,000 employees and is the “world's largest professional network with more than 575 million users in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide.”
Ben, we’re curious: How did your background in forensics, training in law firm ediscovery, and experience in both government and the private sector prepare you for your current position with LinkedIn?
Before I landed my first professional role, I was building websites and home networks as a hobby and repairing computers for CompUSA. So before I was even introduced to ediscovery during my internship with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), I was already fairly experienced in troubleshooting and problem-solving systems and software, which, even to this day, make up a sizable component of forensic investigations and ediscovery as a whole. Once I went to the SEC, that’s when I got to observe digital investigations. I experienced firsthand the onerous process the government undertook to ingest huge amounts of production data of different quality levels and the necessary hierarchy of staff it took to properly track that data. Their intake is like the emergency room of data—every production came in with a new challenge that had to be triaged and treated, but some productions were just unrevivable.
Building off the drills of data extraction, transformation, and loading, I transitioned to a law firm for about five years. There, I learned how the litigation lifecycle works. I learned about attorney-client relationships, how firms approached data collections from a variety of enterprise systems; how it passes through the EDRM. My role at the firm required me to operate as a case consultant as well as the data processor. You’ll often find that in ediscovery shops: the litigation support case manager is separated from the data processors—and usually for good reason — but at that time, it was helpful to communicate timelines and issues directly to the partners and associates. I got used to being cross-examined and learned when and how to push back on impossible requests. This kind of experience, navigating these types of relationships, really positioned me for my move into client-facing roles.
This was around the time I was finishing up my master’s degree in forensic science/high technology crime investigations. I was fortunate enough to get picked up by PwC, who seconded me to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). I was among the first few ediscovery leaders there, working to educate both Enforcement and their Office of Innovation and Technology on proper discovery management, the MEGA 5 contract, data tracking, and data delivery standards. I also participated in the development of Civil Investigative Demands and the subsequent meet-and-confers. In parallel, I spent time at National Geographic, executing information-mapping exercises to rationalize legacy storage and systems. This proved useful for me later, as data governance and information management became tightly integrated with successful ediscovery programs.
It wasn’t until I’d spent more than two years at PwC that I got an InMail on LinkedIn, from LinkedIn. I was a passive candidate at the time, meaning I wasn’t actively looking for a new role, but I was open to the right opportunity. As it turned out, LinkedIn was sourcing talent for a newly- created role—one that was perfectly suited to my experience. All said, I was glad to relocate from the mid-Atlantic to the Bay Area—it’s much easier to maintain a natural tan year-round.
That’s quite the journey! As someone who has had such a wide variety of positions and experiences, where do you think we’re going with in-house ediscovery and the evolution of ediscovery roles?
In-house discovery roles are on the rise because they’re natural cost saving positions for the enterprise. Your typical ediscovery role tends to be at the center of several intersecting domains—legal, compliance, information management, records, security, IT, and privacy—and has the best lens into the cross-functional policies, tools, and procedures that are most beneficial. The largest enterprise productivity tools have been gradually building on and improving native compliance and ediscovery features, which lend themselves well to in-house management versus outsourcing. On the flip side, there are many products and storage locations across chat, web, wiki, ticketing software, databases, mobile, cloud, and local storage that have no native compliance features. So these require a dedicated individual who’s thinking about the best ways to manage, acquire, and/or preserve that data. That being said, because of the cross-disciplinary nature of the ediscovery role, there are many career trajectories possible in corporations along with the vendors, firms, and government agencies that are a part of this ecosystem.
From a market perspective, there’s been significant aggregation across vendors and tools from large capital infusions. The results are still being written, but I hope that vendors will be more competitive through better pricing models, and in offering more cutting-edge tools, processes, and top tier support. And on the software side, I feel like we’re at the dawn of a new era of tooling—like native enterprise platform features, intuitive cloud review tools, smart endpoint indexers, and actual AI for privilege and responsiveness, to name a few.
I’d imagine that working in Silicon Valley, you’ve got everyone using a profusion of messaging apps and productivity enhancements. How do you keep up with the data generated by these new technologies?
True, but this isn’t exactly unique to Silicon Valley. Modern applications designed to rethink enterprise communications, data storage, task tracking, customer relationships, or content management can pose unique discovery, collection, and processing issues. It’s a ubiquitous issue given how easily accessible these products are, making it a regular discussion topic amongst peers. The issue here is that these products are not traditional disk-based content stores that can be collected from a hard drive or file share. We’re talking about web-based products that require a live browser collection. That often involves engineering a collection agent to automatically log into a platform, click the correct buttons, collect attachments, capture screen content and metadata—all while remaining agile as updates are released over time. To that end, there are only a few quality open source products and companies, Hanzo included, that have been focused on developing products to assist in these types of collections, given the complexity of the problem that web data can pose.
What do you like most about working in ediscovery now?
Ediscovery is a combination of intense personalities, complicated time frames, tedium, and a neverending set of unexpected issues. The challenge of problem-solving, handling technicalities, and operating in the center of the legal and tech Venn is what makes this type of work gratifying. Having many peers who take the same passion in their work, who experience similar issues across an array of functional areas and risk landscapes, and who all relish the opportunity to discuss solutions together—this all contributes to a robust ediscovery community that’s incredibly rewarding to be a part of.
At the beginning of my internship with the SEC, I had the opportunity to sit in on a lunch and learn with the head of the forensics department, who provided an overview of the work they do for the commission. He presented an investigation that had come to a dead-end after email and document review—but after subpoenaing the computer to conduct a forensic analysis, they parsed the spool files and memory. That enabled the forensic team to discover flight and banking details in the Grand Caymans, which helped the case team file disgorgement damages. I’ve always remembered that presentation as the first time I saw the impact of this work and it’s fueled me since.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy, position, or views of LinkedIn.