Two teams of professionals must seriously engage for the good of the enterprise
Back in 2015, as it was becoming increasingly clear that corporate data was much more than just an electronic version of paper, H5 published a blog post discussing the evolving role of the IT department and its relationship with legal. The point of the post was to call out the importance of establishing a clear, informed dialogue between two groups of professionals, considering that the goals of legal may not be understood by IT and that legal’s understanding of IT infrastructure may be even less robust. The post suggested areas of inquiry for legal to pursue with IT, especially those related to efficient eDiscovery.
Now, five years later, the inter-dependency of the two departments has become even more pronounced as concerns about data-related risks and inefficiencies have risen to the level of the C-suite. In most large companies, the role of risk-mitigator is firmly attached to the general counsel and the legal department has grown into “legal operations.” IT now oversees what is widely acknowledged to be the most valuable corporate asset. Risks incurred by the ascendancy of corporate data — cyberbreach, privacy concerns, data retention — involve them both, and the greater the understanding between them, the better the chances of safe and efficient functioning for each department and for the enterprise.
Beyond eDiscovery: data initiatives are growing
The 2015 blog post had eDiscovery at its core, suggesting that legal explore with IT essentials of the data landscape; that is, where and how data is stored, backed up, disposed of, and handled upon employee departure. These are still important questions for legal to ask and understand as eDiscovery becomes ever more complex.
But today, the conversation must necessarily expand to include new tools, technologies and storage methods implemented behind the corporate firewall that are changing not only eDiscovery, but any number of activities handled or overseen by legal operations. Possibilities for data integration, enhanced workflows, and options for managing data in place are becoming more viable as innovative products and services that apply advanced analytics can be deployed to target specific challenges for, and well beyond, the legal department.
These are complex issues that cannot be considered in crisis mode. Regular meetings where strategic goals are discussed and shared — taking proactive steps to be prepared, in other words — is crucial. Outside expertise to help enhance the dialog may be advisable. An investment of time to educate each other about their own imperatives and others within the company will enable those imperatives to be contextualized so that the most inclusive solutions are more likely to be explored.
Expanding roles and comfort zones
There is a lot to know. The proliferation of often overlapping data initiatives and the tools and solutions to address them may seem overwhelming, possibly pushing legal professionals well outside of their comfort zone as they must increasingly engage with a growing list of stakeholders to advise on everything from technology, security, and workflows to defensibility. Nonetheless, in-house counsel need to be able to leverage synergies among corporate stakeholders to ensure alignment across different teams, tie initiatives to cross-functional strategies, reporting and budgets, and make well-informed decisions about the efficacy and defensibility of solutions proposed for data initiatives in the enterprise. This reality calls for legal and IT professionals to fully engage and commit to learning as much as they can about the ways in which their needs and the needs of their constituents intersect.