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Legal and IT – Working Together?

One of the many things that I enjoy is working with other people in business. While I’ve mostly been employed in the Information Technology team at an organization, working as project manager and business relationship manager, I’ve also been exposed to other business units and their objectives. As an IT professional, sometimes you only see the IT systems and don’t always get a true understanding of what the bigger picture is. This was never more true than when I worked for a biotech company in the Bay Area and was an IT liaison between the IT and Legal departments.

When I started there, the IT and Legal team relationship could be best described as volatile. The two teams seemed to have been going out of their ways to avoid each other and provide only the minimal amount of effort to each other’s initiatives. Meetings were uncomfortable, often with blaming going on and roadblocks being established to slow momentum of the other team’s goals. Looking into the history of the issues, it seemed that a few decisions made by both teams had caused headaches for the other team. As time progressed, the issues were simply ignored and bottled up, later exploding at random times in meetings when they got together.

Legal was blaming IT for the lack of control and constant changes to the end user environment. This, in turn, was causing Legal pain in time and resources with their eDiscovery practices because they didn’t know where all of the user data was, PSTs were rampant in the environment, and employee off-boarding practices were inconsistent. Furthermore, Legal’s eDiscovery software solutions were not fast enough for their processing and were frequently having issues.

From the IT perspective, Legal was burning through storage without a care in the world. At the time, they were taking up several terabytes of data, making multiple copies of it, never deleting anything, and putting almost the entire email environment on legal hold. The IT team was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to support the infrastructure and their requests, and whenever they requested assistance from Legal for funding, they were told it was IT’s responsibility to pay for it. Oh, and they were told that it was IT’s responsibility to put the legal holds on email and desktops in place as well.

Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me. I started with listening.

I listened both teams vent their frustrations and use me as a funnel. Rather than the communication shooting back and forth to different people on both teams, I worked to involve myself in the flow of information so that I could understand every project, every goal, and every concern on both sides. This ultimately led me to understand the larger picture on why it was important to IT to have some sort of control on what Legal was doing as well as understand why Legal eDiscovery was just as important to the business as a whole. We then were able to pick out the low hanging fruit of issues that could probably be resolved in a relatively short with little change.

Over a short period of time, we were able to get a handle on some of the minor issues with some procedural documentation and a better understanding of the full impact on why some Legal decisions have a larger impact on IT than they realized. We documented the process for off-boarding employees, including the process to preserve their data, understand chain of custody, wipe data and escalate any issues to Legal as appropriate. We also pushed for ways to speed up certain portions of the process such as disk drive wiping units and dedicated lab space. Finally, IT desktop technicians were educated on why eDiscovery was important and how their part was helping the business protect itself.

Over time, I worked with the Legal team to understand their eDiscovery requirements and looked for ways to help them be more efficient. We evaluated new technologies together so that each team was represented and included in the decisions. Additionally, the Legal team was educated on why certain IT systems were setup the way they were and why certain configurations were chosen. Lastly, I always tried to keep the Legal team in the loop on IT changes coming that business had requested, thus helping Legal understand that some IT changes were just beyond their control.
By working together and implementing a proper set of technology solutions, this organization was able to save some much needed time, increase the speed and accuracy of their eDiscovery searches and exports, reduce their risk of missing data, and find some middle ground for both teams to work on. The process wasn’t easy, but the relationship improved and the liaison position helped streamline the discussions to foster a better understanding of the other team’s objectives.

IT and Legal teams don’t always see eye to eye, but there is an opportunity for both organizations to be successful and combine efforts to meet the business needs. You just have to listen.

 

Matt Kimler

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