Ricky Brooman, CEDS, Litigation Support Project Manager at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP, discusses specialized ediscovery training, low-tech workflow hacks, building an ediscovery A-team, and embracing creativity and soft skills in education.
If you’ve ever wondered how to jump-start a career in ediscovery—or what you can gain by getting into your technology and getting your hands dirty—our profile subject this month has been there and done that. We recently sat down with Ricky Brooman, CEDS, who’s a Litigation Support Project Manager at the law firm of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP. Ricky has shot up the ranks from his start as a litigation paralegal to become a technologically proficient Certified Ediscovery Specialist. Here’s his story and his advice for anyone interested in learning more about ediscovery and legal technology.
How did you get started in ediscovery and, once you were there, what motivated you to earn your Certified Ediscovery Specialist (CEDS) certification?
Well, I started out as a litigation paralegal—my plan was actually to go to law school, so I was looking for a job where I could get an inside look at a law firm while I made some money! I was studying for the LSAT when I started attracting some attention at work, almost by accident. The firm had all this technology, but most people weren’t leveraging it to the full potential. I was curious about how it all worked, and I wasn’t afraid to get in there and mess around with different tools. Pretty quickly, I realized—and so did my bosses—that I could leverage our existing technology to get some great results.
The first major project I did—and what really put me on the radar of the litigation support team—involved using CaseMap to build a detailed timeline of events in a massive 9/11 litigation. I was able not only to create this visual timeline, which was really gripping on its own, but also to incorporate key documents in support of each element. From there, in a separate litigation, someone asked me whether I knew how to use Relativity. I didn’t, but I didn’t let that stop me! I just jumped in and learned by doing. That willingness to get in there and figure out how these tools worked and what they could do, is what catapulted me into the litigation support department. I think litigation support represents a rare convergence between people, processes, and technology, so I’m beyond excited to be in my current role where I get to satisfy my curious nature and continually learn with a fantastic group of colleagues and peers.
After that early success, I was encouraged by the firm, especially my director, David Leone, to continue my formal education. I was already certified for CaseMap, so studying and testing for the Certified Ediscovery Specialist (CEDS) seemed like a natural next step in my career evolution. At that point, I’d only been in litigation support for a couple of years, and I had a lot to learn about ediscovery. It was a great approach, though: I learned a tremendous amount, it’s been good for the firm to have staff with the CEDS certification, and it’s a useful way to gain respect and recognition for your knowledge in the field. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who’s starting out in ediscovery or who’s looking for a way to establish their place in the industry.
So using the education you gained both in the firm and in training, what systems or processes have you put in place at Saul to improve your ediscovery practice?
One of the most helpful improvements we’ve made is something I heard about at ILTACON. Every year, there are numerous ILTA egroup posts and discussion in ILTACON sessions surrounding project management in litigation support. At ILTACON 2017, there was a fantastic session with Michael Quartararo, Daryl Shetterly, and Dera Nevin, and they discussed at length the idea of a case spreadsheet. The particular one I am referencing was pioneered by Daryl Shetterly at Orrick. It’s simple but effective: you build an Excel spreadsheet, or PM spreadsheet in other similar technology, for every case with tabs for each stage of the EDRM, the Electronic Discovery Reference Model, as well as tabs for budgeting, case closure, and any other key area for your litigation matters. It ensures that you hit every necessary step at each stage of the process.
Sounds too easy to make a big difference, right? You’d be amazed! We put everything in that one location for each matter, so we have a place to keep track of matter initiation, outside counsel and billing guidelines, every point of contact on the case, preservation and collection notes, processing and production specifications, trial support and case outcome, etc.—it’s essentially everything that’s happened and that needs to happen along the lifecycle of the matter for a successful resolution. It is extremely detailed. The spreadsheet has been instrumental in helping us monitor the status of our cases, especially as more people are becoming involved in each matter. It also keeps us honest, enabling us to verify that we’re creating a defensible, repeatable workflow in each and every case without missing or skipping steps.
I’m surprised to hear that someone who obviously enjoys working with technology is using such a low-tech solution as a case-management spreadsheet! What other technology do you rely on?
Oh, there’s plenty! I just encourage people not to overlook the simple strategies or the basic tools when putting together their core technological toolbox. We’re always adding to and subtracting from our own toolbox as new technologies come to the forefront that make certain aspects of work more effective and efficient, while other tools might fall to the wayside or be replaced. We certainly rely on Relativity for a lot of our work and, in the past year, have incorporated other predictive coding technologies into our stack. The days when matters only had 10,000 documents are long gone; without these sophisticated technologies, we’d be wasting a ton of time on low-relevance documents in an inefficient linear review. Thankfully, we don’t have to do that, through the power of advanced analytics, machine learning, and predictive coding.
And, I mean, I’m talking to Hanzo, so I can’t pass up the opportunity to sing the praises of your web-archiving technology. We were an early adopter; we’ve been using Hanzo to capture websites, especially social media sites, for years. There are other tools out there for static captures, but for dynamic evidence or multimedia sites, Hanzo does it best. I love how easy it is to authenticate evidence when you have an active page with functional links and fully preserved dynamic evidence, backed by complete metadata.It makes my job easier when I can come to the table with the right tools and the best evidence possible.
Since you’ve had such success working with technology, what do you wish that lawyers would do to better embrace and take advantage of technology?
The legal profession needs to embrace technology. You only have to look to the recent changes in state bar rules to see where this trend is going. For example, an attorney might need to know what location data is stored on a cell phone to win a case, or have someone on their team that has this level of technical competence. The key is to achieve technology proficiency or leverage the talent in your organization to meet your technology needs.
A big part of running a successful litigation matter is building a team of subject matter experts that supports the attorneys so the lawyers can focus on practicing law. Lawyers do need to know the right questions to ask and how to incorporate technology in their practice to meet their client needs, and this is where the support staff really shines. Attorneys that leverage their support staff to collaborate with clients and understand the intricacies of a matter will experience the most success. To that end, the more that firms embrace technology in the practice of law and those that drive technology adoption, the greater their competitive edge will be.
Here’s a simple example of that: in litigation support, we see a huge difference in outcomes based on when lawyers loop us in on their cases. If they wait until something’s gone sideways, or when they need a piece of evidence and realize they can’t authenticate it, that’s often too late to achieve an optimal result. We either have to go back and start over, or we have to rig up some creative solution to work around a problem that could have been avoided. If, instead, we’re brought in at the outset, we can deploy the right technology and workflows from the start, and put our firm and client in a better position throughout the lifecycle of that litigation. We can provide better service to our clients when we assemble that cross-disciplinary ediscovery A-team, where we have litigation support staff, forensic experts, lawyers, paralegals, and IT staff all working together with the client’s in-house team to meet their needs.
Before we wrap up, what big developments do you think are on the horizon for ediscovery?
I’m excited to see that law firms are finally starting to embrace the move to the cloud. It offers the best in scalability, flexibility, and security, supported by a team of experts who are dedicated to data availability and protection. The cloud is here to stay, so it’s good to see firms getting on board and realizing the advantages of cloud computing. With the importance of security and privacy, cloud computing has a lot to offer in preservation, collection, processing, review, and production without duplicating or moving data to great lengths.
I also think voice assistants are going to be big in the legal field, as natural language processing keeps improving. I expect we’re going to see attorneys and support staff using voice assistants more and more, and I think it’ll change the legal industry as we teach machines to listen to what we want and deliver fast results in review platforms, document management systems, etc. Voice assistants are efficient, effective, and repeatable. I love when I can just say what I want and it gets taken care of! That’s a technology that busy lawyers can really get behind, and it’s not hard or intimidating to use.
On the topic of machines, I think there is opportunity for artificial intelligence to really take off in legal in the medium-term (3-5 years). We are at the advent of big data - the increasing volumes used to train and hone the AI algorithms, the better they will perform. Hopefully we will see a collective intelligence approach whereby firms and corporations are willing to share legal data that are otherwise private and confidential to improve artificial intelligence systems to improve the legal process and outcomes.
Finally, from an education perspective, I think we are on the verge of a paradigm shift. I subscribe to the worldview I am reminded of by Jack Ma, co-founder of Alibaba, who commented at the 2018 World Economic Forum that we need to change our education focus. Rather than teaching knowledge-based skills that will be automated, we need to teach soft skills and embrace creative, diverse schools of thought. That’s what I’m striving to build for myself, and I think it’s what we’ll need from people in ediscovery too. Humans have the ability to empathize with clients fears and work with human emotion; we can build a deep understanding of a client’s needs and objectives. The people who will be influential in the future of electronic discovery are those who understand technology and embrace creative thinking, practice mindful communication, develop high-level strategy, and bring soft skills to the forefront in the legal profession.
Feeling inspired and ready to learn some new technology and build soft skills? We are!