Courtney Black is a Senior Project Manager at HAYSTACKID. In the first part of this Project Manager Spotlight, Courtney discussed her career thus far, as well as her experiences with certifications relevant to eDiscovery and digital forensics. Now, we pick up with her thoughts on working in the industry.
Let’s talk a little about how you and your team operate on a typical day. You all are constantly on video conference calls together, correct?
Yes – pretty much all day. I’m actually on one now with three of the other project managers. We’re muted, obviously.
Haha, that is the right idea. So, do you find that this collaboration is critical?
I think it’s extremely important, especially since we’re located all across the country. As the company and team grew and spread out, video conferencing really came in handy.
We could just constantly message each other, but the video chat makes it feel like, even though we’re not all in the same physical workplace, we are all on the same page and working together as a team.
What’s your favorite part about working at HAYSTACKID?
My favorite part would have to be my team. The project management and data analyst teams, and operations in general, are basically a family. Everyone gets along, we communicate constantly, and we work very well together, so that would have to be my favorite part of working here.
We all bring different skills, knowledge, senses of humor, personalities, and more to the table, so being a part of it all has been rewarding for more reasons than I can count.
Do you feel that you are empowered and have the authority to change things when they need to be changed?
Yes, I do, and I’m not the only one. It’s worth pointing out that we would simply not be a successful company in this marketplace if that was not the case. In this job, everything moves at lightspeed. The industry has never stagnated, and probably never will. There are so many factors fueling this constant transformation of sorts. We need to be agile, and we need to be creative, and we need that ownership and empowerment from the top to succeed.
The agile workplace allows us to adapt to workflows as necessary. This is another reason why my team is my favorite part of working here – we all get to collaborate and innovate every step of the way. That ends up being pretty rewarding, especially when our team efforts help us overcome the challenges of the job.
Which types of cases do you enjoy working on the most?
Definitely white collar litigation – absolutely.
Wow, that was a quick answer! Were you expecting that question?
Haha, no, no. I just really enjoy projects involving white collar litigation because they are consistently the most fascinating, challenging, and unique. Don’t get me wrong, there are other types and categories of cases I enjoy, but this one is easily my favorite. In these cases, fact-finding missions are what drive pretty much every aspect of the litigation process, placing a huge emphasis on forensics and backstory investigations.
For comparison, there are times when I will have to search through countless patent numbers in a case that involves proprietary information disputes. So, in those instances, it is the patent number search that kind of drives the case. In white collar litigation, you really have to roll your sleeves up and get down to the bottom of what occurred, how it occurred, who was involved, and other elements of a traditional investigation.
I feel as though I really get to use the full spectrum of my skills when these white collar cases come across my desk, so I really enjoy handling those types of projects.
Excellent. So, what would you say defines a good client?
I’d have to say characteristics like being highly communicative, collaborative, and proactive would define a good client – or really a great client, for that matter. In this industry, everyone always has a million and one things going on at once, so being communicative, collaborative, and proactive is not necessarily a priority, or a given, for all clients at all times.
However, when I do work with clients who fit this description, I find that projects run far more smoothly, outcomes tend to be more preferable for everyone involved, and the finished products are optimal.
What types of challenges do you consistently face?
Well, every single project and matter is different, each client is incredibly unique and will have varied styles, some will prefer one workflow and another will want an entirely unique approach. So, sometimes the biggest challenge is setting up a project exactly how a specific client is going to want it and need it done.
Not so long ago, projects were more transactional – like one-off pieces of a bigger puzzle. Now, though, we are really focused on end-to-end projects that cover the full range of tasks. That means we need to be able to develop these unique workflows for each client and each project.
We need to be able to act as a team, optimizing workflows through strong tracking, customization, and reporting in each instance. That can be challenging, but I do enjoy it.
Can you talk a little more about the different between transactional and end-to-end projects?
Of course. Basically, clients are beginning to understand the process better, and are starting to understand how to give direction, shape specs, and the like. I think there was a certain push toward more comprehensive, centralized management of projects in the past few years, with clients moving away from those service models that essentially placed one task on the vendor’s desk at a time.
Now, they are aware of the dangers of that approach, as well as the benefits of maintaining a sort of end-to-end service relationship with their vendors. They’re also getting more interested in analytics and technology-assisted review, which definitely demands centralization, consistency, and proactive collaboration. I would have to say this end-to-end model is better for all parties involved.
With the understanding that each project is unique, what do you feel is the biggest trend in client projects?
I’m seeing almost every client beginning to provide us with search terms and date filters to run through their data and further cull it down. That is pretty new and definitely helpful. I’m also seeing a lot of requests for analytics, especially for email threading, near-deduplication, and similar tasks. This is really promising because I felt that in the past couple of years, not many people were utilizing analytics to the technology’s full potential and at all possible stages of projects.
It gives us more reasons to engage with these analytics tools – and create some ourselves as an organization – which is definitely good considering how quickly the industry is shifting in this direction.
What is your greatest strength?
I would have to say organization. Organizational skills are vital in this industry, and I believe that mine are what got me to this stage in my career. My ability to juggle a range of projects at all different stages and ensure every client is kept abreast of everything at all times is probably my greatest strength.
In the same way that, as I mentioned before, the company needs to remain agile and adaptable given how quickly everything changes, each of us face that requirement as well. If you started to work in my position, you would find out quickly that being agile and adaptable in an effective fashion really demands stellar organizational skills.
Is there a particular technology that you’re using, interested in, and want to pursue further?
Definitely, I’ve been using Relativity assisted review a lot more of late. We’re now working with Brainspace and I am excited to master that software. As I mentioned, clients are getting more interested in analytics, and realizing that they can use it on any size or set of data, including for baseline analytics.
I’m seeing email threading used the most, and it really should be used in every relevant case, and near-dedupe is also exceedingly popular – especially when emails are coming out of different servers and have varied specs. So, I’m working to stay ahead of the curve with these trends in client demands and preferences. I received Relativity analytics certification, and am working toward Brainspace analytics certification.
How do you think the industry will transform in the coming years?
I believe that these trends we’re discussing will continue to intensify and shape the industry through at least the end of the decade, probably longer. TAR will continue to grow, analytics is going to become more popular at a wider variety of stages in each project, and near-dedupe will likely be standard before long.
I do not think linear document review will ever be completely automated despite how big of a role automation is playing. Of course, there will be a huge, long-term boom of automation, TAR, and analytics, but the human element is going to be just as important five years from now as it was five years ago.
Vendors really have the knowledge, resources, experience, and skills to leverage analytics and these other technologies to their full potential, but corporations and law firms rarely do. So, I believe that continued technological innovation, as well as the streamlining of relationships between vendors and law firms or corporate legal departments, will tell the tale of our industry.
We thank Courtney for her time. Come back soon for more insights from HAYSTACKID’s project management team!
Courtney C. Black is a Senior Project Manager at HAYSTACKID