Kangaroo Court: Thinking on 2021

Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)
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Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

Now we are at the end of 2020, what does your 2021 look like? Putting aside the emotions of 2020, what are the priorities that you want to set? How will this impact the people around you?

This year I’ve been fortunate to regularly participate in a series of industry networking events organized by David Cowen called Cowen Cafe. These weekly meetings quickly turned into a digital think-tank of sorts, serving two key functions during a highly disruptive period for the American worker. The first was to establish a forum for where industry leaders could report from the field, share notes, and consider ideas for managing themselves and their colleagues. The second was the recognition of a collective responsibility to keep the industry progressing in a positive direction, and that we could only achieve so much in isolation.

During our most recent call, some of the participants highlighted the importance of maintaining a sense of gratitude, even in the face of overwhelming pressure. They spoke of the importance of becoming an active participant in 2021; using it as an opportunity to refocus and reset. They discussed the importance of empathy in leadership, understanding the demands on our colleague’s personal lives and supporting through both group and 1-on-1 interaction. They discussed setting goals that looked for ways to collaborate with clients differently through people, process, and technology. They discussed assisting the career growth of their team members by figuring out where they want to go next, what they need, and how they can get there. Most importantly, however, they discussed the importance of being grateful for the good things that are happening in life. So today I want to take some of the challenges from 2020 and reframe them as opportunities for 2021.

COVID-19 moved a significant percentage of the global workforce to remote working arrangements over a very short period of time. Suddenly, the mass adoption of team management and communication apps became standard. This forced every worker, regardless of technical ability, to learn and adapt so they could continue to function within their organization. Generally speaking, the adoption of these new tools has been overwhelmingly positive. Beyond achieving the immediate goal of keeping the wheels turning, we’ve accelerated our capacity for learning new skills without significant planning.

Naturally, we do not want to rush the introduction of any technology. 2020 presented unique circumstances that in any ordinary year would struggle as a use case for how the apps should be rolled out across the enterprise. What the experienced achieved was the simple recognition that learning is a continuous process of which we are more than capable. The beauty is the in myriad of ways we can grow our technical IQ. There are three immediate avenues which we can explore; understanding Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its applications; understanding data and information; develop internal working groups.

Understanding both what AI is and how it can be applied within the legal industry is critical to the success of every market participant. The market for AI is estimated to reach $US15.7 trillion by 2030. Some companies are already capturing value from AI at the enterprise level, and many are generating revenue and cost reductions at least at the function level. Companies seeing the highest bottom-line impact from AI exhibit overall organizational strength and engage in a clear set of core best practices. None of which happens in a vacuum. The ability to understand AI and communicate the concepts effectively requires a proactive shift toward improving AIQ. Just like it’s important to achieve enterprise level education on data security, organizations should set minimal standards of general familiarity with machine learning, data extraction, and natural language processing.

This process need not be intimidating. The key is to align the growth of the individual and the organization. Setting up internal “labs” can be an effective vehicle for improving technical skills whilst solving existing problems. Made up of existing team members, these working groups contain the industry specific knowledge that will be enhanced through the introduction of AI. Creating these labs delivers positive momentum for both the organization and the employee. The improvement of technical intelligence produces a more capable worker whilst increasing employee engagement. This is an opportunity to involve employees in the architecture of their own growth.

In addition, organizations will be better placed to set goals and plan initiatives. A common language can be updated as a group through achieving milestones and minimal standards. No different to the EDRM model, the introduction of more advanced ways for processes and understanding data requires the introduction of new terms, no different to learning the streets of a new neighbourhood. Improving technical intelligence does not accord to introducing math and engineering. It is about understanding what artificial intelligence is, and how it is being used to achieve the ultimate end result. Critically, this base AIQ minimizes the risk of alienation by setting minimal standards for understanding commonly used terms, definitions, and best practices.

Teaching about AI? Creating working groups? Minimum standards for understanding AI? This is all starting to add-up. Many corporate legal departments were in the unfortunate position of downsizing this year. Many more are managing the roles of twenty people with a staff of five. With this in mind, corporations and law firms should look to their service providers to take the lead on matters of industry education. A core theme among industry participants is the need to do more with less. The tightening of budgets calls for efficiency at every opportunity. Therefore, the need for AIQ is more important than ever before. In assessing the relationships with your current service providers, consider whether they are providing a value-add through bespoke solutions.

Growing industry participation in regular forums should continue beyond the pandemic. The nature of how we communicate and why, has evolved rapidly throughout the year. Some pre-COVID practices will return, such as attending conferences and various events. However, we would be wise to complement the old with the new. Continuing with the new channels we’ve grown to solve collective problems, understand industry participants, and continue to develop ourselves is a first step in that direction.

Planning for 2021 also provides the opportunity to continue assessing our leadership styles and experimenting with new methods for achieving employee growth and engagement. Making sure your team is robust and capable means understanding the individual, how to effectively motivate and communicate with them, and ensuring they feel a sense of purpose through understanding the impact they have on the team as a whole. There is plenty of positive to take forward into the new year. As we enjoy time with loved ones over the Thanksgiving weekend, it’s important to maintain a sense of gratitude. This year has been rough for everyone. Let’s keep the communication flowing and move into 2021 with the right mindset and some positive momentum.

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