K. L. McKinney
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Breaking Barriers for a Position in a Different Type of Organization -From Service Company to Law Firm to Corporate Legal

An interview with Brett Eckert, eDiscovery - Litigation and Investigations, Global Oil & Gas Services Company

By Khrys McKinney

Consider the way hiring decisions are made. People like hiring candidates who they are certain will fit into their corporate culture. Law firms like hiring people from law firms. Corporations like people with similar corporate organization experience. Companies and Firms following this practice may miss a chance for game changing talent. One example of someone who broke the barriers between organization types is Brett Eckert.

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What was the last job that you had before you entered legal information technology, and how did it prepare you?

I worked in a computer company that developed systems to process data. I was in the Quality Assurance department. My primary responsibility was to check the quality of processing. I also confirmed the accurate and complete restoration of data. I performed Quality Control reviews on restorations of hundreds of backup tapes that were frequently several years old. This was before eDiscovery was mainstream.

My next job led into database indexing and searching using a proprietary enterprise database. I would build materialized views of data and prepared structured data searches. I managed the data, internal clients, and external clients in the course of developing practices for eDiscovery activity. There were few guidelines at that time. Because of the newness of the eDiscovery practices, I interacted heavily with all parties involved to ensure that all legal expectations were met.


Describe the path of positions you have held and how each led to the next.

Most of my position changes have been gained due to a readiness acquired by my pursuit of professional development opportunities. Quality Assurance work led to search methodology and engineering opportunities. In each position, I tried to learn as much as I could. I tried to understand what happened before and after an activity to explore the process. Most organizations will provide a limited opportunity for upward mobility. However, paying attention to as much of the process as possible can create opportunities and prepare you to pursue them. Paying attention to the full life cycle of a process positioned me for movement early in my career from a service organization, where I went into an eDiscovery Manager role to eventually an Operations Manager, then to a law firm and finally to my current position in a top tier corporation.

Each of these organizations handles eDiscovery differently. Vendors were great for learning state of the art technologies and investing in education. Hours were harder with the vendors, but you were always cutting edge.  Law firms were typically several years behind emerging trends. My favorite positions were with companies that embraced technology advancements.  Law firms tend to protect their clients from risks and therefore are slower to dive into emerging technology to avoid risks for their clients.

Pay was less at the vendor than at the law firm, but you learned more. Law firms have better pay, but the hours can be more challenging. The vendor environment provided more flexibility with what you could do career wise, but the law firm provided a higher level of team collaboration than the vendor. The old adage regarding everything flowing downhill applies in the law firm and vendor relationship. By nature, law firms work through legal issues thoroughly employing every resource possible, including time. The firms’ commitment to a positive result for their client frequently leads them to continue their activity until the end of the day on Friday to hand-off to their vendor to complete over the weekend.  This could make challenging vendor hours, sometimes involving all-nighters and busy weekends. 

In the corporate environment, more time is available for activity. Work items may wait in queue for extended periods of time based on priority, and the size of the organization coupled with the lean staff can contribute to things taking a surprisingly long time to be completed. In the corporation, eDiscovery professionals are more actively involved in the litigation process than in the law firms or vendors. Corporate hours are overall better and more consistent than in the vendor environment. Many times in the vendor world, long nights were common. But in corporate, it only happens once every 2-3 years. Even when corporate business units are experiencing a downturn, the environment tends toward a receptiveness to technology. To drive changes, they leverage the technology to the benefit of the company through a a well-tuned IT department.

Vendors promoted continued education. Law firms have been reluctant to provide those same educational opportunities. In a corporation, continued education is an easier sell, if it benefits the company’s objectives at the time.

What has been your proudest accomplishment or project related to your work?

I don’t focus on the big wins. I focus on the little wins. It is great when you settle a $500 million lawsuit or get a judgement in your favor, but for me it is more about your contributions on a daily basis. I love helping people who ask how to conduct a search or handle a collection. I enjoy having a mutually beneficial exchange between two people to solve problems. I have these types of exchanges about 3 times a week, and that is better for me than the big project wins. This is the most enjoyable aspect of my job and what makes me happy.

There was a multi-million-dollar law suit that went through arbitration with us landing on the favorable side of a $22 Million judgement. However, when an attorney asks for help with a challenge, I love when I can close that request. I am a department of one, right now, so I really enjoy those collaboration opportunities.

Khrys McKinney