The UK legal sector is now fully awake to the opportunities of eDiscovery. With the global eDiscovery market expected to be worth more than $27 billion by 2024, its potential can simply no longer be ignored. Candidates are actively looking to break into specialist eDiscovery roles, while law firms find themselves battling to hire people with the necessary skill sets in an increasingly talent-led marketplace.
In this guide, Apt Search – a specialist recruiter in the eDiscovery space – offers practical, actionable recommendations for candidates entering the eDiscovery market, and for law firms struggling to source the talent they need.
Candidates will read about:
- The route into eDiscovery through further education
- The experience and skills needed to thrive in eDiscovery
- The importance of continued professional development
While law firms will learn:
- The value of upskilling existing staff
- How to leverage external providers to manage eDiscovery demand
- Steps to retain eDiscovery talent in-house
Section 1: For Candidates Entering the eDiscovery Market
Candidates are increasingly working toward securing eDiscovery jobs, whereas traditionally, legal professionals often found themselves falling into these roles by mistake. What steps should prospective talent be taking to forge careers in eDiscovery?
Capitalising on the growing need for digital skills in the legal sector, more and more universities are offering qualifications that will stand candidates in good stead when applying for eDiscovery roles. Many candidates study toward degrees and technical qualifications in Computer Forensics and/or Computer Science, while some universities – such as City, University of London – offer certifications in the practicalities of eDisclosure. Others, including the University of Glasgow, offer Master’s degrees in Forensics and eDiscovery, while some run separate eDiscovery modules. In short, the opportunity to study eDiscovery – and eDiscovery-adjacent courses – has never been higher.
While demand for talent is intense, candidates should still expect to face fierce competition for the most attractive eDiscovery positions. Outstanding candidates will be those who have sought the right skills and – as we will go on to discuss under our next point – acquired the right experience. Finding a sandwich degree offering a placement year, or the opportunity to seek an internship, enables candidates to gain the optimal balance of education and experience.
It seems that while law firms are desperate to access eDiscovery skill sets, for the time being they are not prepared to take a shot on unproven talent. Data from a 2019 Apt Search survey reveals that during the study period, not a single in-house eDiscovery role was given to candidates with no experience. Naturally, this puts candidates in a difficult position: on one hand, they need a job to gain experience; on the other, they cannot gain experience without a job.
As detailed under the previous point, sandwich courses offer future candidates the opportunity to acquire real-world eDiscovery experience before they graduate. But the window of opportunity for placements is typically no longer than three months; research and application timing are key to finding the right opportunity.
Looking beyond corporate workplaces provides another route for graduates to gain practical eDiscovery experience. More than half (56%) of UK students are now considering self-employment rather than taking graduate jobs, with 38% claiming that doing so would give them a better chance of long-term success. Of course, this route has its own pitfalls – not least the risk of cash-flow struggles for graduates who lack significant savings.
Regardless of the route that future candidates choose to acquire on-the-job experience, it is vital that they focus on the right areas. Arguably the top priority should be to obtain practical exposure to a real-world information management lifecycle. Candidates with genuine understanding of the way data is created, stored, used, and destroyed within a client environment can expect to stand out from the competition.
Candidates cannot afford to rest on their laurels once they take their first step on the eDevelopment career ladder. In a relatively immature and fast-paced field, ongoing development is crucial. Further training can be undertaken through organisations such as the Association of Certified eDiscovery Specialists (ACEDs), of which our Director, Amit Pandit, is a UK Chapter co-founder and board member.
Apt Search spoke to one ACEDs candidate to find out about their experience while going through the certification process. Part of their reason for choosing ACEDs was because it is one of the few vendor-agnostic options available, coupled with its superb reputation within the industry: “I wanted something that would demonstrate competency and understanding of the key processes across the EDRM, and that was more than just a certification to show that I knew how to use a piece of software. The ACEDS certification ticked these boxes and when reaching out to others in the eDiscovery community it became apparent that it was held in high regard, especially in the US.”
They were highly complimentary of the programme, and were particularly impressed at the wealth of ongoing support available on completion of the certification: “I really enjoyed learning more about the key principles and processes that underpin eDiscovery and I found it useful to apply these in my role. Since joining ACEDs and becoming certified, I also now have access to a wealth of webinars and expert sessions, and a whole network of other certified professionals that have added real value to my day to day role.”
Recent starters within the eDiscovery space should seek out opportunities to broaden their skill sets by cross-training on legal and technical disciplines. Those from technical backgrounds should focus on understanding how legal practicalities are tied to finding the right technological solution; those with more traditional legal experience should strive to learn more about the advantages, limitations and use cases for eDiscovery and the tech that underpins it.
Section 2: For Law Firms Seeking eDiscovery Talent
Law firms understand that talent is in short supply, particularly at the elite end of the candidate market. Meanwhile, salaries are high – at entry level, Associate Project Managers can expect to earn from £30,000-£40,000, according to the Apt Search eDiscovery Market Overview 2019 – and rising. Faced with such challenging market conditions, how can law firms access the talent they need to unlock the myriad benefits of an in-house eDiscovery proposition?
The lack of data talent is not a problem unique to eDiscovery, nor indeed to the wider legal sector; it cuts across all industries. Indeed, 71% of CEOs in the UK and Ireland believe a shortage of data skills and lack of data access have the potential to create major issues in their business. Given that law firms find themselves competing not just with their rivals, but with organisations across a wide and growing range of industries, it is simply not practical to rely exclusively on new talent entering the market to plug existing skills gaps. Law firms can go some way to mitigating the eDiscovery skills shortage by doubling down on the development of existing employees.
Cross-training allows staff from legal backgrounds to acquire the necessary technical skills, and vice-versa. Turn to organisations like the Association of Certified eDiscovery Specialists to provide eDiscovery training and qualifications to professionals across various disciplines.
Clearly, law firms increasingly favour the in-house approach. Another key finding from our eDiscovery Market Overview 2019 is that 56% of eDiscovery placements are now being made in-house, up from 38% in 2018 and, incredibly, 0% in 2015. Building a dedicated eDiscovery team is certainly an attractive proposition, as we discuss in greater depth in Your Complete 7-Point Guide to eDiscovery. But this is not to say that there is no longer a place for external providers. Indeed, as talent shortages persist and eDiscovery workloads grow, contractors and consultancies will almost certainly continue to shoulder a substantial proportion of the workload for the medium term.
Evidence suggests that the legal sector is starting to embrace less traditional working practices, with the number of lawyers working for so-called ‘platform’ firms increasing by 29% over the course of 2018. Law firms can embrace this trend by developing hybrid teams to meet their eDiscovery needs, retaining core talent – such as project managers and other senior team members – in-house, while using contractors to manage peaks in demand.
The importance of law firms retaining key eDiscovery talent cannot be overstated. When eDiscovery professionals know their skill sets are in extremely high demand, there is little incentive for them to remain in positions that do not satisfy them. Yet as an industry, the UK legal sector has an average staff turnover rate of 20%, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics. In other words, for every five employees at a law firm, one will leave over the course of a year.
Some degree of staff turnover is inevitable, and even beneficial – provided the “right” people leave. But law firms can ill afford to lose their best eDiscovery talent at this time, or for the foreseeable future. The key is therefore to understand and address the reasons that legal professionals leave their jobs. Salary will always be a factor, and law firms must offer competitive remuneration packages to retain key team members. But research from the Law Society highlights two additional factors that are crucial to staff retention efforts:
- Engagement with strategic direction: Just 15% of legal professionals who describe themselves as fully engaged in their organisation’s strategic direction are likely to change jobs in the next 12 months. This proportion almost doubles to 28% among those who are not at all engaged.
- Effective performance management: Setting clear development goals and providing constructive feedback are vital to retaining A-players. Yet just 48% of legal professionals express confidence that they are receiving the feedback they need to develop.
Final Thought: Specialist Recruiters Hold the Key for Law Firms and Talent
For candidates, navigating the eDiscovery job market is challenging. Conversely, with so many companies competing for the skills that they provide, it can be hard to find an employer with similar cultural values and goals. For law firms, the situation is even more difficult. The talent market is limited and competition is high; inability to access the necessary skill sets is a major barrier to growth.
Either way, Apt Search can help.
We are a market-leading recruitment firm specialising in eDiscovery, cyber security and privacy.
We are dedicated to offering tailored staffing services to law firms, vendors and corporates, as well as offering career consulting and unique opportunities to candidates.