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Do Lawyers Need eDiscovery Certification?

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Do Lawyers Need eDiscovery Certification?


It was reported by those in attendance at the Advanced E-Discovery Institute 2009 held at Georgetown University on November 13, 2009 that a panel of federal judges discussed whether eDiscovery certification should be required for lawyers. Reports from the meeting indicate that, with perhaps a lone exception, the judges collectively agreed that such certification was unnecessary. I have to agree. No eDiscovery certification is necessary…for the lawyers.

The law involving eDiscovery, though emerging, is not very complex. The responsibilities of lawyers in the eDiscovery process is but a subset of overall ethical standards for lawyers, including Competence (Rule 1.1), Diligence (Rule 1.3), Candor to the Tribunal (Rule 3.3) and others. It is also a subset of other discovery obligations that arise from court rules, case law, statutes and other regulatory obligations. Handling eDiscovery should cause litigators and corporate counsel great pause and concentrated attention, but knowing and following the rules of the game are all that is necessary. Lawyers can get up to speed by attending CLEs, reading case law and learning from each other the proper ways to handle a case.

What is really needed is certification for the technology vendors. How does a lawyer, corporation or government know whether they can trust a particular vendor? It is not the lawyer but the technology vendor or client's IT department that must ensure that the ESI collection and preservation is ultimately done correctly. The lawyer must ensure that ESI is preserved, that a vendor is selected that will do the job correctly, that the process is legally defensible, and that the ESI can be admitted as evidence and meets the discovery requests. However, the lawyer is not the one doing the preservation, collection, analysis or processing of the ESI. Lawyers are not expected to do computer forensics on a hard drive! All of this work is done by IT personnel that are hopefully highly trained and competent in what they do. At least that is why we pay them to do this work. It would be great to know that if a vendor has certain qualifications or certification that they will be qualified to do the job.

Lastly, not only is eDiscovery certification not necessary for lawyers it'll never take hold. Lawyers get their "certification" by going to law school, passing the bar, and gaining experience. In no other legal field (with the exception of patent attorneys) is any other "certification" required or demanded. Then why would it be necessary for eDiscovery? In such complex fields as tax, securities, business transactions and litigation no special certification is necessary. eDiscovery is a subset of GRC and discovery obligations and not legal specialty unto itself.

Let’s push for certification for the techies!

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