Law Firms May Be Facing an eDiscovery and Tech Personnel Crisis: eDiscovery Trends

If the Barbra Streisand song lyric “people who need people…are the luckiest people…in the world” is true, then personnel managers at law firms must be very lucky indeed.  I’m sure they don’t feel that lucky, given the current eDiscovery and tech personnel crisis that many of them are beginning to face.

Two articles from Legaltech® News illustrate the current personnel challenge.  Frank Ready’s article (Law Firms’ Tech Dilemma: Too Many Users and Not Enough IT Professionals) discusses the 2021 LTN Law Firm Tech Survey conducted over the summer where 31 firms were asked which areas of IT have been adversely affected by budget cuts. While the majority of respondents (about 59%) pointed to new projects that had been cancelled or diminished in scope, “staff salaries” (about 41%) and “staffing levels” (about 38%) were the next runners up.

In addition, 58% of respondents said they outsourced tech support in some fashion.  And while we’ve recently seen a ratio of one technologist per 30 people, “[n]ow that the average user themselves has become more tech-savvy” (really?!?), Gulam Zade, chief legal officer at Frontline Managed Services identified a standard rule of thumb that hovers around one IT person for every 40 to 50 attorneys.

But while some firms have laid off tech staff, for many firms the bigger issue in the current eDiscovery and tech personnel crisis is staff resignations.  For eDiscovery personnel in law firms, an enforced return to the office (at least part time) is causing many of them to resign and look for positions in a strong job market with more remote work flexibility.  Victoria Hudgins’ article (Remote Work Is Still King: E-Discovery Talent Jettisons From Inflexible Firms) notes that law firms’ strict in-person or hybrid work requirements and COVID-19 vaccine mandates are causing them to lose the hiring battle for mid-level eDiscovery talent.

“I’ve seen people quit jobs if they are being told to go back into the office,” said David Netzer, president of Legal Tech Talent Network. “It’s a strong job market, and if the [law firm] is not being flexible at least with a hybrid [arrangement], they’re definitely losing out on people.”  And law firms’ COVID-19 vaccination requirements have also hampered some eDiscovery professionals’ willingness to work in a firm.  “One-in-four are not willing to get a vaccine to go back into the office,” Jared Coseglia, founder and CEO of TRU Staffing Partners said. “That means they are not eligible for other jobs that require it, and they will look for another job specifically for that reason and that will likely mean a job where they can work 100% from home.”

We’ve heard the term the “Great Resignation” being discussed repeatedly in the news, with a record-high 4.3 million workers in the US quitting their jobs in August 2021, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  That’s quite a “jolt”!  😉

According to Anthony Klotz (via the Washington Post here), an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University credited with coining the term the “Great Resignation,” attributed the departures to four main causes: a backlog of workers who wanted to resign before the pandemic but held on a bit longer; burnout, particularly among frontline workers in health care, food service and retail; “pandemic epiphanies” in which people experienced major shifts in identity and purpose that led them to pursue new careers and start their own businesses; and an aversion to returning to offices after a year or more of working remotely.

I expect that all of those reasons have contributed to the current eDiscovery and tech personnel crisis in law firms today.  Tomorrow, I’ll discuss another source that illustrates how significant the trend has become – one which I’ve covered regularly over the years.  Stay tuned!

So, what do you think?  Do you agree that we have an eDiscovery and tech personnel crisis in law firms currently?  Or do you think it’s a lot of hype?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the authors and speakers themselves, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

3 comments

  1. While agreeing with the overall take of the supporting articles and your own perspective, I also wonder if part of the challenge includes a reluctance on the part of attorneys and eDiscovery practitioners to research and implement methodologies for searching, processing, acquiring, and securing relevant data that do not rely on managed platforms? Specifically ones that have been designed for remote methods long before COVID became known? As a side note, I do realize the issues in this post and supporting articles encompass more than just the facets of eDiscovery that I mentioned.

    It also occurs to me that there is connective tissue in this post and your previous post regarding the Grossman and Cormack paper from October 5, 2021 entitled The eDiscovery Medicine Show. Managed platforms are not always the most efficient solution to the problem. Mr. Tom Cotton referenced and quoted Mr. Robert Ambrogi with respect to artificial intelligence, “Mart’s exploration of the differences among research services was spurred in part by an email she received from Mike Dahn, senior vice president for Westlaw product management at Thomson Reuters, in which he noted that “all of our algorithms are created by humans.” Why is that statement significant? Because if search algorithms are built by humans, then those humans made choices about how the algorithm would work. And those choices, Mart says, become the biases and assumptions that get coded into each system and that have implications for the results they deliver.” (Mr. Cotton’s post – IS THE NEW NIST STANDARD FOR AI LOOKING AT THE WRONG END OF THE HORSE?) Amazon and Facebook only think they know what I am thinking but I can assure you they get it wrong as much or more than they get it right when guessing about what I like and don’t like.

  2. The main issue from worker perspective is age and current work.
    I am certified and experienced but since not working directly in ediscovery for 5 years no one is interested. I gained 5 new certs in past year. No interest generated.

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