Hiring In-house Records Management or E-discovery Staff?

Many companies are creating or expanding their in-house records management and e-discovery staffs. One question I often get from clients is what type of skills should they be looking for in candidates. This is an important question as these roles have changed significantly during the past five years.

First, as inferred in this article's title, many companies are combining their records management and e-discovery functions into one group. Records management is fundamentally about keeping and deleting records, and e-discovery is about knowing and producing all the documents you have. A strong records management program will beneficially impact e-discovery, and many e-discovery tools and processes can drive good records management.

What skills should you be looking for in your candidates? There are four main areas to assess:

Records Management - Potential candidates need to understand records management concepts, including understanding the roles of policies and retention schedules, regulatory issues, classification strategies and auditing. ARMA International offers excellent records management certification programs.

E-discovery Skills - In-house e-discovery staff need to understand all phases of the e-discovery model (EDRM.net is the accepted industry standard), with a strong emphasis on early stages including identification, preservation and collection. Other than a J.D., today there are no nationally recognized certification programs for e-discovery, although there may be some announced later this year.

IT Skills - As more than 96 percent of all documents an organization creates or receives are in electronic format, it is essential that records managers and e-discovery specialists understand and are comfortable working with technology. This should include e-mail archiving systems, e-discovery programs, records management systems and storage and backup technologies. AIIM, a records-oriented IT industry group, offers training programs in these areas.

Project Management - An often overlooked area is project management. In-house staff need to orchestrate and manage complex tasks involving teams, processes and technologies. This is particularly important if the current legal department staff does not have strong project management expertise. I tend to be less concerned about whether someone is a certified project manager (offered through the Project Management Institute). Instead, it is important for candidates to have demonstrated experience in managing large, complex projects.

It is unlikely that a company will find candidates with all four or even three of these skills. That's OK. Focus on candidates who have some of these skills and have the ability and attitude to learn the others. (We have a template job description we share with clients. E-mail me for a copy.) Compliance, legal and technology are evolving quickly. In-house staff in these positions will always have to be learning on the job.

Do not always think you have to go outside your company to fill these positions. In our experience, many companies have been successful in finding the right people from internal candidates - a paralegal, for example, who wants a new challenge, or savvy IT professionals who are interested in e-discovery and retention.

The final consideration is probably most important. Do you want the employee to build or run a program? Builders like the challenge of putting something together, but get bored with ongoing program management. Runners enjoy monitoring and managing program compliance and training, but have less interest in initially creating the processes. These are different mindsets, and be sure you get the right one for your program. Once a program is in place - often with outside help - most of the work is managing the program. All else being equal, I tend to lean more towards runners than builders.

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