What Is an E-Discovery Professional?

E-Discovery Is a Rapidly Growing Legal Field

Female lawyer working late at a laptop in an urban office
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Electronic discovery, also known as "e-discovery," was an almost $11 billion industry in 2018, and it's expected to top $17 billion by 2023. E-discovery professionals are at the heart of this trend. They use technology to facilitate legal discovery and to manage electronic data.

Understanding Discovery in the Context of Law

In a legal sense, discovery is exactly what it sounds like. Both parties to a lawsuit are permitted to discover information that's in the possession of the other.

Paul Plaintiff might have records in his possession upon which he's based his complaint against Dan Defendant. Dan doesn't want to take Paul's word for it about what they say. He naturally wants to see them himself, and he's entitled to do so by law. 

Dan can demand the records directly from Paul or, if a third party holds them, he can subpoena that 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 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.

The Way It Used to Be

This used to mean a lot of paperwork moving back and forth between litigants. At one time in the not-too-distant past, lawyers would appear in court hauling carts of boxed evidence in paper form. They would dedicate whole rooms of their offices to holding discovery.

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

And someone must maintain, transmit, and organize all those electronic files. 

E-Discovery Job Duties

The e-discovery professional's role is expanding and evolving. Typical responsibilities include:

  • Assessing a client’s electronically-stored information (ESI) 
  • Helping to create ESI preservation policies
  • Serving on e-discovery teams
  • Ensuring compliance with ever-evolving 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 both 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 both. Those entering the profession with legal backgrounds are traditionally paralegals, but rising salaries 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.

    Most training occurs on the job or through continuing legal education classes and seminars.

    Certification

    Although it's not required, certification can increase job prospects and affect pay. Numerous programs exist at varying costs. The Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS) is among the most expensive, but it's also highly respected by legal employers.

    The exam is reported to be tough, and the qualifying standards are high, but employers will certainly notice this on your resume.

    The Organization of Legal Professionals offers certification as well, as does the Association for Legal Professionals.

    E-Discovery Practice Environments

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

    E-Discovery Salaries

    The e-discovery explosion has created an unprecedented demand for these skills. Glassdoor puts the average salary for an e-discovery professional at $65,427 annually, and some specialists earn as much as $102,000 as of 2019.

    E-Discovery Job Outlook

    The e-discovery industry has grown 300 percent since its inception, and continued growth is forecast as it keeps pace with advances in technology.