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How to Handle an Unexpected Crisis in eDiscovery

Jan 8, 2020

In the Harvard Business Review article Three Steps to Handling the Unexpected, the author writes about how his friends coped with an unexpected bad storm in the middle of the ocean. Although they were well-prepared for the trip in many ways, they did not anticipate everything that happened. The important point of the story is that these people were successful in a crisis in part because they had a plan for “how to handle the things they didn’t know how to handle. How to be smart, in the moment, without being cocky.”

Now imagine yourself in a law firm partner’s office. You’re the associate on a major media-focused lawsuit that gets headlines on a weekly basis. You have a production due to opposing counsel in 24 hours. You’re relatively new to eDiscovery, with strong skills but not a lot of experience. You spent several days preparing and making sure your service provider had ample notice of the production specs needed for this work. You updated the partners with progress reports, and everything was going smoothly.

Then, without warning, the service provider told you that images were not being branded properly and your production timeline would not be met. Your deadline is looming, and suddenly, you are in the middle of a “bad storm.”

What do you do? How can you achieve optimal results and keep your Partners (or CEO) happy in the face of unforeseen problems? As the article explains, the best way to handle a crisis is to take these steps:

  1. Stop the boat. Take a break to think first. Then regroup and begin to discuss immediate options with your service provider and any other relevant parties.
  2. Assess your options. Don’t waste time complaining (a review of the situation afterthe deadline is met will allow for all failures to come to light), wishing things were different, or trying to force-fit your old project management plans to this new, unforeseen crisis. Start over. Think about the outcome you want and the information and resources you have at your disposal. Lay out all your options as quickly as you can with your Partners and your service provider. How can you prioritize your production while allowing your service provider to prioritize their other productions? What other platform can be used to service this production, if needed? Are there other resources you could draw on that you have never thought about?
  3. Commit to a new path and move forward without hesitation. Don’t let fear or uncertainty keep you from making a decision. Whatever decision you make, it may not be “perfect,” but it should be “the best under these circumstances.”

Once the crisis has passed, there will be a post-action review and lessons to be learned.  However, no two situations are exactly alike. There will always be circumstances in eDiscovery when you must act on imperfect information. You cannot prepare for every problem or eliminate every risk, but you can learn to be more comfortable making decisions in the face of the unanticipated.  Working with the right people also helps. You want internal and external support teams with the experience to assist in a crisis so that together you can be prepared for the next storm.

If you need assistance with a current or future eDiscovery project, contact CDS for a consultation.

About the Author

Evan Benjamin

Evan Benjamin

Evan Benjamin is a Senior eDiscovery Strategist at CDS and enjoys sharing his wisdom and passion for blockchain technology, GDPR, and many of the more in-depth processes that make eDiscovery work behind the scenes.