What is an E-Discovery Professional?

E-Discovery: Job Duties, Salary Ranges and Training

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Electronic discovery – also known as "e-discovery" – is a $2 billion-plus industry, and e-discovery professionals are at the heart of it. They use technology to facilitate discovery and to manage electronic data.

Understanding "Discovery"

In a legal sense, discovery is exactly what it sounds like. Both parties to a lawsuit are permitted to discover information regarding the case. If Paul Plaintiff is suing Dan Defendant in a civil suit, Paul might have records in his possession upon which he's based his complaint against Dan.

Dan wants to know what those records are. He doesn't want to take Paul's word for it about what they say. He wants to see them himself, and he's entitled to by law. 

Dan can get the records in a number of ways. He can demand them directly from Paul or, if a third party holds them, he can subpoena the third party. Both Paul and the third party are obligated to give them up. 

Discovery is involved in criminal cases as well. The prosecution is obligated by law to turn over the evidence it has against a defendant. Likewise, the defense is obligated to give a heads-up regarding any evidence it plans to use at trial. This includes witness lists.

In the old days, this meant a lot of paperwork moved back and forth between litigants. At one time, lawyers would literally appear in court hauling carts of boxed evidence in paper form. They would dedicate whole rooms of their offices to holding discovery.

Not anymore. Discovery can be transmitted and maintained in electronic form these days. This hasn't completely done away with those carted boxes and rooms because technology can and does occasionally fail, but the transmission of these documents relies more and more on electronics. 

This gives rise to a new issue.

Someone must maintain, transmit and organize these electronic files. Enter the e-discovery professional. 

E-Discovery Job Duties

The e-discovery professional's role is still expanding and evolving, and it will undoubtedly continue to do so. But his responsibilities typically include:

  • Assessing a client’s ESI – his electronically stored information 
  • Helping to create ESI preservation policies
  • Serving on e-discovery teams.
  • Ensuring compliance with the new federal rules regarding ESI
  • Educating clients on e-discovery policies.
  • Drafting and communicating litigation hold procedures
  • Using technology to facilitate discovery
  • Assisting in the collection, processing, review, analysis and production of ESI
  • Serving as a liaison between the legal team, IT personnel, vendors and records management personnel

The e-discovery professional’s knowledge of information technology and legal processes renders him invaluable to tech-challenged attorneys and their clients. E-discovery professionals help identify, preserve, collect, process, review and produce electronically stored information in litigation. E-discovery is often considered a part of litigation support.

Education and Training

Most e-discovery professionals have backgrounds in law, information technology or – ideally – both.

Initially, those entering the profession with legal backgrounds were predominantly paralegals, but rising salaries for this profession are attracting more attorneys to the e-discovery specialty.

E-discovery professionals with IT backgrounds generally possess bachelor’s degrees in information science or a related field. Some e-discovery professionals have advanced technology degrees.

Because e-discovery is a new field, most training occurs on the job or through continuing legal education classes and seminars.

E-Discovery Practice Environments

E-discovery professionals are primarily employed by law firms, corporate legal departments, e-discovery vendors and the government. Some also work in academic settings, teaching best practices and compliance with the new e-discovery rules.

E-Discovery Salaries

The e-discovery explosion has created an unprecedented demand for e-discovery skills, pushing salaries to new levels.

In top markets such as New York, e-discovery managers earn annual salaries ranging up to $250,000. The average salary in Washington, D.C. was $97,843 in 2017. Overall and including rural locations, salaries range from a little over $57,000 for a project coordinator up to more than $131,000 for management positions as of 2017. 

E-Discovery Job Outlook

The e-discovery industry has grown 300 percent since its inception and continued growth is forecast. It does not appear to be a field that is going anywhere and will most likely continue to expand as it keeps pace with advances in technology.