We rarely celebrate the 42nd anniversary of anything. Big anniversaries usually come in multiples of 25 — but when your answer to the meaning of life, the universe, and everything is the same as your age, a celebration is in order. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, first published 42 years ago, is a comedic sci-fi series that stands the test of time rife with nuggets of wisdom even the most seasoned legal professional can learn from.
How many times have you come upon an average Thursday lunch break only to have your metaphorical world completely upended? Generally, the chaos comes in the flavor of inconceivably tight deadlines, ESI requests for everything including the kitchen sink, or a very perturbed regulator and planetary demolition for a hyperspace express route… but I digress.
Have you ever wished for a tidy little guide (perhaps inscribed in large friendly letters, with the words DON’T PANIC) on how to navigate the dataverse and handle everything ediscovery throws at you? Look no further!
Ask the right questions
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, species developed a computer programmed to calculate the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” On the day of answer, some seven and a half million years later, the super sentient being boomed “The Answer to the Great Question of Life, the Universe and Everything is...42!” Not unsurprisingly, the crowd of eager onlookers erupted in dismay inquiring as to what the 42 related to and what the relevance of the number was. Without the context and the right question, even AI with the most advanced computational power can only answer the questions posed to it.
“Exactly!" said Deep Thought. "So once you do know what the question actually is, you'll know what the answer means.”
Ediscovery is much the same. Great analytics are incredibly impactful, but the legal practitioner needs to first understand what questions they seek to answer. As storytellers, understanding the who, what, when, where, and why at the outset of a case should guide our investigation. This does not mean we should presuppose any answers, but rather we should have an idea of the types of information we are looking for and how it relates to the issues of the case. This is helpful in refining custodian prioritization, search parameters, and even data sources throughout the process.
Someone else’s problem blindness
The someone else’s problem (SEP) device renders a magical field that completely edits out of sight anything a person deems “someone else’s problem” in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This blindness often can allow even a small issue to blow out of proportion. For legal practitioners dealing with multiple software and service providers, the SEP “not my circus not my monkeys” cloaking may come in the form of a service provider blaming the software provider for low review rates or the software blaming software latency on the law firm’s infrastructure or any number of other blame shifting and finger-pointing maneuvers.
SEP is not limited to humans. A disparate technology cobbled together in an ediscovery Frankenstack may also suffer from this “not my problem” blindness and continually error out while pointing the virtual finger at another component. In both the human and machine version of SEP, the result is the same unnecessary headache for legal practitioners.
Engaging with an integrated end-to-end technology and services provider like DISCO mitigates the blame shifting by giving clients a single point of accountability while cloud-native architecture reduces the number of potential points of failure as your data moves through the EDRM.
Just because you don’t get it doesn’t make it wrong
Dolphins, not humans, are the smartest species on earth according to the book. But this did not prevent humanity from writing off dire warnings from dolphins because they could not understand them. As a legal practitioner with deep subject matter expertise, it is sometimes easy to forget that other members of your case team or your technology provider may possess deeper knowledge relating to the technology aspects of your case. It is important not to write off workflows or technology just because it doesn't make sense to you.
Law is about as cutting-edge as the digital watch
While AI, TAR, and data visualization seem novel and at times scary to legal practitioners, iis important to remember we are not the only industry developing and leveraging technology. In fact, compared to financial services and retail we appear about as behind the times as the digital watch-loving humans in the novel appear to other citizens of the galaxy who are bending space time and beaming around the universe with Matter Transference Beams.
“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.”
Rather than thinking the status quo is pretty neat or fearing novel tech, it would serve legal practitioners well to look to their clients and other industries deployment of advanced technology for inspiration and encouragement.
Two wrong heads aren’t better than the right one
Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy in the Hitchhiker's Guide, has two heads, and still manages to make incredibly stupid and catastrophically bad decisions. More cooks in the kitchen does not necessarily yield better results for ediscovery either. It is important to have the right people, with the right experience, guiding the entire process. This often entails hanig senior members of the case teams solicit and listen to advice offered by SMEs on ediscovery either within their organization or through their trusted partners.
Just when you think life can’t possibly get any worse it suddenly does
While life may not be as dismal as the preternaturally depressed robot, Marvin, laments it is sound advice to prepare for an ediscovery matter going sideways. Planning for the worst ni ediscovery is a key to success because there are so many interdependent moving parts in complex ediscovery matters and many ways for things to go sub optimally. There is no need to shout “woe is me” and head for the hills, simply having a clearly communicated escalation protocol and communication strategy for dealing with issues as they arise dramatically improves outcomes even when a matter suddenly gets worse.
If you have a guide, use it
From navigating and IKEA to traversing the universe, if you have a guide it is prudent to use it. In the legal technology space, there is sadly not a single nicely bound book with the words “DON’T PANIC” emblazoned on it for you to peruse. But, there are people, technology partners, and a myriad of resources to set you on the right path. The universe and ediscovery are rapidly evolving, complex, and at times quite baffling to decipher without someone or something to help you navigate and avoid the pitfalls. There is absolutely no shame in benefiting from mistakes people made before you and/or gaining the insights practitioners and experts have garnered over the years to ensure you have a more seamless experience.
Don’t forget your towel
A towel is the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can carry, from serving as an cuddly blanket to battling the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal) and nearly anything in between. In ediscovery as in the guide, a towel must take many forms. DISCO is my ediscovery towel. It is a superfast and adaptable ediscovery platform that helps you battle the most complex front-page-of-the-Wall-Street-Journal monster investigations as well as more run-of-the-mill litigation with a few GB of data — and everything in between.
And finally, don’t panic
The most important lesson legal practitioners can take from the guide is not to panic, no matter how unexpected and disruptive life gets. Legal practice is at an inflection point and things are starting to fundamentally shift. From the volume and variety of data to remote practice of law and more things, times they are a changin’. Thankfully, practitioners are not facing this brave new world unarmed or alone, rather they can call upon their technology partners, peers, and the wealth of resources created to help navigate the evolving dataverse.