Big data is a ubiquitous topic in the legal blogosphere. We’re told data proliferation is an inevitable force – and to a large extent, it is. We’re told letting it remain untethered is a recipe for disaster. True: data overload is real and can have worrying legal implications. However, the emphasis in these conversations always seems to be on finding ways to slay the data beast, to stop it in its inexorable track.
This is the wrong way to approach it. The beast cannot be slayed. It can only be tamed — if that.
To be sure, it’s a massive beast. And while we can’t outright kill it and reverse the trend of data proliferation, there are a few steps legal departments can take to try to tame it and, while they’re at it, to make this odyssey a productive one. What are a few long and short-term things we can do as in-house lawyers?
Rather than trying to tame the beast on our own, the most effective approach comes down to fostering and developing a close working relationship between IT and Legal. Nothing else will work.
Getting on the same page
As smart and effective as they are, IT folks aren’t mind readers. They’re also not just sitting around, waiting for the next issue to troubleshoot. They’re busy working with key stakeholders in the business to design and maintain an IT infrastructure that is able to meet business demands and requirements. Their mandate is massive: consider all the communication, data storage, network security and hardware and software requirements for a large, multinational organization. Their budget is also not a blank slate, waiting for people to write in ad-hoc investments and requirements; like any other department, IT faces serious cost and resource constraints.
Legal IT requirements are therefore only one piece of the puzzle, albeit an essential one. As inside counsel, we are confronted with a complicated web of data preservation obligations, technology requirements, and monitoring needs. IT needs to fully understand your legal needs — data preservation obligations and others — as early on in the process as possible. That requires us to be a bit more thoughtful and forward-planning about our needs. Putting people on and off legal hold, for example, can be a mammoth undertaking. The only way to do it efficiently is to be thoughtful about data preservation readiness. You need to do your homework and figure out who should be subject to legal hold prior to preservation. Only then does a conversation with IT make sense.
Tinkering with or modifying IT infrastructures on an ad-hoc basis is messy patchwork at best — building a process and infrastructure that is collaborative in nature and intuitive in design and maintenance is the best way to build something lasting and efficient.
It bears repeating: IT can’t serve the business and legal needs of the organization without being made fully aware of what’s going on. Do an inventory of your legal needs and figure out what kinds of checklists and materials you need to send to IT. Do your homework and play your part in defining the scope and substance of the dialogue you need to have.
Engaging in two-way conversations
But it’s more than just about opening up a channel of communication and relaying your specific legal needs. It’s about becoming a partner. Legal needs to be seen as a partner with IT when it comes to information governance.
When was the last time you sat down with members of your IT team? If the answer is within the last month, good — you’re doing it right. If you’re struggling to recall when that last meeting was held, you need to pick up the phone now, or walk down the hall. At BP, the answer was to set up a monthly meeting between IT and Legal to discuss challenges, opportunities, and to connect over common areas of interest. These monthly meetings serve as essential building blocks for crafting a holistic, company-wide strategy that is focused on developing a robust, technology-driven legal infrastructure.
As these meetings have progressed and generated positive results, they have also branched out into quick, weekly calls — just 20 minutes — to tick through open items and to share status updates. This isn’t rocket science, but many companies rarely do it. Obvious synergies aside, these conversations foster camaraderie between teams. There’s little reason not to have them.
Legal has been the naysayer for too long. To move forward together with IT, this needs to change. Legal needs to start saying ”Yes,” or at least not to say “No” without first listening to and understanding what our IT colleagues have to say. We are one team together, so let us, as Legal, take the first step into this new world of cooperation and collaboration — taming the data beast together.