Job description: “Senior eDiscovery professional, JD preferred.” To a non-attorney, this is an unsettling trend. During my career, I’ve spent many years working with litigation attorneys who had to be dragged kicking and screaming into using, not just automated discovery tools, but basic project management procedures. Based on that experience, this new trend seems to indicate, that the attorney community is doing a complete 180 degree turn and that the hiring community is modifying their standards to favor education over experience.
I asked several colleagues: “When it comes to positions where the employee is not practicing law in a firm or law department, is a JD strongly preferred when compiling a short list of candidates?”
The three senior industry recruiters interviewed agreed that organizations were including a JD as an important job description component. I heard more than once, “They wanted a JD even if they didn’t know why they wanted a JD”. Michael Potters, CEO and Owner of The Glenmont Group said, “In sales, they believe an attorney will make more sales to attorney sales targets.” Vendors often think an attorney will have a “credibility card” and automatic “gravitas”. However, Michael believes that it may be easier to bring a gifted sales person up to speed on eDiscovery practices than to teach an eDiscovery professional, JD or otherwise, to sell. Josh Sacks, a Director at PeterSan Legal Staffing, agrees that more and more employers are requesting JDs. “Some companies prize education over experience”, he noted.
All three of the recruiters commented, “They changed their minds when they started to see the kinds of people they were getting. They started looking at non-attorneys.” The feeling was that the JD requirement narrowed the employer’s choices, significantly.
The Masters Conference Women in eDiscovery Panel: Carving Out Traditional and Non-Traditional Career Paths in e-Discovery by Leveraging Skill Sets, agreed with the majority, “It is unequivocally a trend.” And that a law degree is a “definite asset” in the industry, today.
David Rohde, Esq., Senior Director, Consulting Services at Epiq Systems, observed, “Corporations are increasingly interested in the law firm model because they want to reduce outside spend and they want expertise that goes beyond accomplishing a task in isolation. Also, the corporation may prefer an attorney as a potential 30(b)(6) witness.” Within a law firm, David reflected, “Hiring at the JD level is not intended to replace technology skills or product knowledge of the intrinsic litigation support function. It is intended to bring a strategic approach. The value of the JD in the eDiscovery management role is that the lawyer has the credibility to convey an approach to the partners and the firm’s clients.”
He also noted, “Before 2008, corporations were looking for experienced subject matter experts and didn’t necessarily need a JD. Then came the decimation of lawyers’ jobs and corporations see all these unemployed lawyers with these skills as a ‘better buy’ than if they get a non-lawyer, even if the hire isn’t performing a legal role.”
Virgilio Crespo, Esq., Director, Legal & Compliance at Odin Legal, agreed with the trend. “Yes, they do want that JD, which is surprising because most of the experience in this industry, the ‘grey hairs’ in litigation support, are on the paralegal level because the attorneys never wanted the experience. It’s a strange catch-22 because what you find is that most people in the market place with real experience are not JDs.”
As one of the industry “grey hairs”, I’m always happy to welcome new members of the eDiscovery community, but I am not inspired by arbitrary barriers to career development for anyone. If hiring managers want JDs in eDiscovery positions, the community should demand that law schools add courses in practical approaches to eDiscovery and project management to their curricula. And that may be a subject for a later blog post. In the meantime, I would hope that when a job calls for a JD it is because the responsibilities truly require that distinct form of education and attorney experience. If not, I hope that employers will acknowledge the enormous amount of experience that resides in the eDiscovery community regardless of degree level.