eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Best Practices: Competency Ethics – It’s Not Just About the Law Anymore


A few months ago at LegalTech New York, I conducted a thought leader interview with Tom O’Connor of Gulf Coast Legal Technology Center, who didn’t exactly mince words when talking about the trend for attorneys to “finally tak[e] technology seriously”.  As he noted, “lawyers are finally trying to take some time to try to get up to speed – whining and screaming pitifully all the way about how it’s not fair, and the sanctions are too high and there’s too much data.  Get a life, get a grip.  Use the tools that are out there that have been given to you for years.” 

Strong words, indeed.  The American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct (Model Rules) require that an attorney possess and demonstrate a certain requisite level of knowledge in order to be considered competent to handle a given matter.  Specifically, Model Rule 1.1 states that, "[a] lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation."

Preparation not only means understanding a specific area of the law (for example, antitrust or patent law, both highly specialized.).  It also means having the technical knowledge and skills necessary to serve the client in the area of discovery.

The ethical responsibilities of counsel these days includes competently directing and managing the identification, preservation, collection, processing, analysis, review and production of electronically stored information (ESI) required to be produced pursuant to lawful discovery requests.  If counsel does not have that level of competency in a particular area, he or she is obligated to either acquire the knowledge or skill necessary to support those needs, or include someone else who does have the requisite skills as part of the representation.

Not too long ago, I met with an attorney and discussed how they handled preservation obligations with their clients.  The attorney indicated that he expected his clients to self-manage their own preservation and collection.  When I asked him why he didn’t try to get more involved to make sure it was being handled properly, he said, “I don’t want to alarm them.  They might decide they need a bigger firm.”

Recent case law is full of cases where counsel didn’t fully understand their eDiscovery obligations, and got themselves and their clients “burned” in the process.  If your organization gets involved in litigation, make sure to include eDiscovery competence among the factors you consider when determining counsel qualifications to represent you.

So, what do you think?  Is your counsel eDiscovery savvy?  If not, do they use a provider that is?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.