We recently sat down with James Reynolds from Digital ESI Consulting & Investigations. Our discussion centered around what it takes to start your own company, what drives his company culture, and what he sees as a positive progression in the legal services industry from working remotely. Below is a condensed version of our discussion.
What’s your “origin story” of how you got into the discovery space and why you enjoy it.
I originally started in banking and telecom before that. I felt like neither one was quite hitting that fulfillment level in me that I was hoping for, so I moved into the legal industry first with Snell & Wilmer as a paralegal assistant. It was fun. I felt like I got a wide range of exposure while I was there. I did everything from basic subpoena work, to preparing and doing all of the trial exhibits. Eventually, I found myself gravitating towards the electronic side of things. These were the days when a lot of manual coding was involved. Being part of those early days of technology allowed me to learn, and I became the person people came to ask questions about how things should be and could be used. I’ve always been kind of a computer hobbyist, so I let that knowledge grow.
After three years with Snell & Wilmer, I ended up moving to a boutique law firm where I was the only paralegal there at the time. Eventually, after a few years, I was able to build an in-house ediscovery platform. The computer hobbyist in me turned into part network engineer part ediscovery guru. This was also in the days when spoliation had massive sanctions. The risk was very high, so I didn’t want to make any missteps and learned as much as I could about how to present data in a defensible manner and how the process is. All this led to me feeling confident in starting my own business, which is what I’ m doing now.
Starting your own business is one of the hardest decisions to make. What drove you to make that leap?
It was the knowledge that I had. I presented in trial multiple times and assisted in some very high-risk cases. And, we had good settlements and awards in our clients’ favor. These experiences gave me the confidence to know I was ready to provide that knowledge.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve learned in starting your business?
You have to build your reputation again. It’s tied into customer service when you’re the customer relationship manager, essentially taking care of everyone. I see it as plus because it makes me focus. I think that focusing on professionalism, focusing on making sound judgments, and providing customers with a good product – it enhances me professionally.
What are you enjoying the most, and is there a specific aspect of company culture you want to provide customers?
I think there are a few things to recognize about the legal field and the legal industry in general. One is that it’s not an industry at risk. There’s always work in law and the legal sector. But I think that there’s a certain level of prestige that’s attributed to the law industry as well. It’s because you’re acting on behalf of people in need. It draws me into wanting to offer a quality product, a valuable product.
I want to offer sound professional advice. As a subject matter expert whose been in the industry for a long time, I know how to cut through the noise for what’s vital on behalf of the client. I know how to target, what’s important to that client and how to build up their theory of the case, and hone in on what they feel is most important to present in the courtroom and what the evidence states. It’s something fundamental to a client that we’ll build the story rather than waiting for something to happen. I take their theory and then build out from there.
You seem to take a proactive role for your customers.
Yes. This is an important aspect of customer service. You’re employing your knowledge; you’re using your experience to build out a theory of a case on your client’s behalf. That’s kind of what lawyers do, building up and supporting their client’s story and then letting the judge or jury determine what happened from there. I try to be an active member in helping lawyers cut through the noise.
Looking at the complaints is where I work at the initial story that’s provided by the attorney. And then, I see what evidence is available in the device or documents that we get. I look for key terms or key conversations among parties that are presented in the complaint or in a subpoena response and then build out from there.
I do find that the attorneys that I work with tend to offer less feedback after the fact. So much as they try to give clear instructions, they emphasize that initial effort and the initial communications and what they say to you, but also the subtext of what they mean. They expect you to be listening to the full picture of what they’re trying to do.
You’re looking to your experience to inform what they may need, even though they may not be able to express it, especially with ediscovery. Some attorneys, when they have a ton of data coming their way, they don’t necessarily know one should plan the protocol and propose that in writing during a meet and confer and the attorney might think that they want to have a gentleman’s handshake, but not really dig into the nuts and bolts of what can make ESI expensive. In contrast, somebody in my position, I already have an ediscovery protocol written up and used thousands of cases now.
Is quarantine going to have any permanent changes with what you do?
While I was working at Snell & Wilmer, an officer manager once said to me that she saw paralegals going the route of freelance work. That was probably 13 years ago, and now here I am running my own small business offering freelance paralegal work.
The other nice thing is that I can, because of the focus on ediscovery, do remote collections. My entire platform is on an internet-based document review tool, which attorneys can do from anywhere. I wouldn’t have seen it coming 13 years ago, but I think we’re in a space where we can handle these social distances. I think that also means that attorneys can truly pick the best person to do this because location doesn’t matter as much. For example, one of my clients recently came to me in Austin to get these documents from Massachusetts. I think that’s really exciting.
I think quarantine, or having to work remotely, also forces people to move away from things like traditional paper. With document review tools, you can go through so much more and quickly. Paper really does slow things down. This is an opportunity for us to reinvent our industry and the way we do things, streamline our efforts, focus on the essential things, get rid of things that don’t necessarily work anymore like lugging around binders and old highlighters.
It seems like think the industry is at a point where they can really ditch the paper, do you think the courts are ready?
I’ve had judges say they had no interest in getting a set of paper exhibits because there was an overwhelming of volume material. And so ediscovery, is a way of just cutting down on all that excess. My ideal way of handling it is by using TrialDirector. Do an electronic display highlighting the key phrases, paragraphs of documents and to go back and forth electronically. Blow the evidence up to a size to where the jury could view it at once versus with binders and not being sure of where their attention was at all.
I also think this all really does give an edge of credibility and an advantage for a case. I was ina judge chambers recently waiting for an injunction hearing to set up. We set up the display side, the laptop for the arguments, and then on the other side, a team that was using paper. We were able to cut through the distractions of leafing through binders. I’m searching through hundreds of pages by typing in a key phrase where the other side is trying to remember which page that one paragraph was on. So yeah, the electronic display of evidence just performs so much better and you’re able to search through and so much more quickly. It does come off as more professional.
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