By Ellen Zacarias
Christine Stansall is a litigation support analyst at Procopio and works actively with Women in Ediscovery of San Diego to provide educational opportunities about legal technology. She has twenty years of paralegal experience, which has provided her with an extensive background in discovery, legal technology, and the issues surrounding them. She is an instructor at UCSD Extension’s E-Discovery and Litigation Technology program, where she teaches students basic project management concepts for Ediscovery processes. In addition, Christine frequently volunteers at local organizations such as the San Diego Clean Slate Clinic and Wills for Heroes.
Christine is well known to the legal community for her expertise, involvement, and fun spirit! She has been a big inspiration to many people in our community. Below is SDPA’s Q&A with Christine Stansall. Many thanks to Christine for participating in our Paralegal Q&A series! To paralegal students and working paralegals, we hope this will be an insightful look into possible career paths for a paralegal, including Ediscovery and litigation support.
You are a litigation support analyst at Procopio. Describe a typical day at work for you, and what you generally do.
I currently help with all technical aspects of Ediscovery for all the litigation groups at Procopio. Procopio is an Am Law 200 firm with multiple litigation groups across different fields of law. Although discovery is governed by the same laws across all practice groups, every practice group has different processes and procedures, so I help make sure that those processes and procedures still comply with the law and best practices.
A typical day is helping any of the legal teams navigate their way through the EDRM. I can go from helping the legal teams decide how to collect electronically stored information (ESI) on one matter to creating production sets in another. I can process client documents into Relativity and then assist with creating deposition or trial exhibits for another client. I help people figure out how to search for documents they need to review and what is the best way to review those documents.
What drew you to Ediscovery and litigation support?
I worked as a traditional paralegal for 20 years but I was always interested in using technology to streamline my work. I was able to see that there were certain tasks a paralegal repeatedly does and I found ways to use technology to automate those tasks to save time and minimize costs for clients. Ediscovery and litigation support are all about using technology to efficiently and effectively deliver legal services.
How did your paralegal experience prepare you for your transition into Ediscovery and litigation support?
Anyone working in Ediscovery and litigation support needs to understand the litigation process and how discovery works. For example, when I’m creating production sets, I’m able to pinpoint and spot documents that may need another review because they could possibly be privileged in some way. Also, as a paralegal, I had a high level of client interaction and communications. I rely on those skills when doing custodian interviews. Finally, a paralegal has to handle multiple cases with different deadlines. In Ediscovery, I use project management skills to ensure that all cases are managed efficiently.
What was your first paralegal job like? What did you learn there that would help you for the rest of your career?
The first attorney that I interned with and worked for, Jim Eischen, taught me one very valuable skill: Whatever tasks you do, do them in a way so that your tasks build upon one another towards your final end goal. For example, if you are drafting a demand letter, draft it in a way that it helps you draft the inevitable complaint. If you are summarizing a deposition, ensure that you are also issue-spotting for a possible motion for summary judgment. That one valuable piece of advice helped me avoid reinventing the wheel throughout my career.
You have passed NALA’s Certified and Advanced Certified Paralegal Exams. What was your experience like studying for the exams? Would you recommend the CP exams, and why?
I believe that certifications and credentials are a good stepping stone to show that you have a certain level of competency. But those certifications and credentials only give you credibility if you use what you learn while doing your job. I gave myself a deadline to take NALA’s CP exam and took the CP Prep course at UCSD Extension to study for the course because that was the way I could keep myself accountable to my self-imposed deadlines.
What do you enjoy about working in Ediscovery? What are some of the challenges of working in Ediscovery/litigation support?
I love working in the Ediscovery field because ESI is always different from matter to matter. It is fascinating to me to see how clients differ in using technology in their businesses. Technology is always evolving and it is hard to keep with those changes. For example, during the heyday of paper discovery, email was considered problematic in productions. Once email became a common form of ESI to produce, text messages became the challenge. Then social media presented problems. Now, social collaboration tools such as Slack are the current challenges. The standards of how ESI is preserved, collected, reviewed, and produced haven’t changed, but there are challenges in how new technology is handled.
From your perspective, what are the most significant changes in legal technology over the past twenty years?
Legal technology is evolving at a faster rate than I have ever seen. I remember when law firms were debating over whether to stay with WordPerfect or move to Microsoft Word and whether email was an appropriate method of communication with clients. Many attorneys were loath to change but the most successful attorneys were the ones that realized that technology shouldn’t be feared but be utilized in their jobs. They demonstrated the mentality of “Work smarter, not harder.” Technology has also evened out the playing field and helped increase access to justice for the general population. For example, there are many websites that people can go to draft documents to form businesses, get a divorce, or prepare will on their own.
What advice do you have for someone who’s considering transitioning into Ediscovery?
Start learning as much as you can about the Ediscovery field. There are many websites, blogs, and YouTube channels on Ediscovery. Many of the vendors in Ediscovery publish whitepapers and eBooks on Ediscovery topics. Don’t be afraid to seek out those that work in the field and ask questions and network with them.
What resources (programs, certificates, educational seminars, etc.) would you recommend for learning more about Ediscovery?
The Association of Certified Ediscovery Specialists is considered the industry-recognized association. It has a program for people that need to learn the rudimentaries about Ediscovery and then a certification for those that are immersed in Ediscovery. Many companies that offer document review platforms such as Relativity have certifications for people to show that they are proficient in that tool but also offer webinars and educational resources. Finally, many of the local colleges are starting to offer litigation support and Ediscovery classes. There is a local chapter of Women in Ediscovery in San Diego and the San Diego ESI Forum offers a monthly MCLE on Ediscovery topics.
From your experience and perspective, what does it take to excel professionally in the legal field?
Never be afraid to ask “Why” and don’t be afraid to seek answers yourself and then run those answers by your attorneys and colleagues. Build your connections in the legal community. Look at how you are going about your tasks and find ways to streamline your work so that you can take on more responsibilities. Ask your attorney if you can take a crack at new tasks so you can get experience in new tasks. Finally, find what you enjoy doing in the legal field so that you don’t feel like you’re doing just a job, but you have a vocation.