17 March 2017

“You’re My New Best Friend, Counselor”

Today’s Blog is sponsored by MER 2017, Cohasset Associates’ 25th annual educational conference on electronic records management, in Chicago, May 8-10.

Few records managers work solo.  Nor should they.

Today’s RIM requires expertise and contributions from a variety of disciplines beyond the scope and/or capabilities of any one person.  Not many RIMmers are technologically super-savvy, and few techies understand RIM.  Similarly, I have never heard of a law school class on RIM (although elements may be included in Discovery).  Nor are there many records manager with “JD” after their names.

The point is: no one can know everything, so our success depends on collaboration with other disciplines.  That’s easier said than done.

 Let’s talk about members of the Bar.  Many obstacles inhibit a natural cooperation between attorneys and records managers.  They have different backgrounds, training, perspectives, priorities, resources, status, budgets, salaries, and pain points that keep them up at night.  

There tend to be personality differences too.  Consider: many lawyers decide on their career relatively early in life.  They are survivors; their rigorous training weeds out the weak.  By the time they receive their Doctor of Jurisprudence degree, they are the elite.  And while stereotypes are always problematic, corporate lawyers tend to be risk-averse, non-committal extroverts (or over-compensating introverts) who are self-aware of their authority as members of the Bar.  They accept that, in corporate law, there are many ambiguities.  Nonetheless many have a need to be right, and the Law backs them up.

Records and Information Managers are in stark contrast.  They tend to enter the discipline in mid-career. Few have degrees in the area.  There are no RIM measures of expertise until one goes for certification.  In the corporate or governmental prestige pecking-order, RIMmers may not even make the top half.  Both their budgets and salaries are low, relative to lawyers.  On the personality scale, RIMmers tend to be introverts and/or perfectionists.

Records people usually know only as much law as they need to, perhaps Civil Procedures 26(b).  They may have heard of UBS v. Zubalake.  When it comes to contract law, intellectual property law, or other corporate law, most of us draw a blank.

General Counsels and their staffs generally know little about records retention schedules and taxonomies.  They have little or no experience in writing records management policies and procedures.  They know about declaring legal holds, but they may not know how to apply them effectively.  

Despite these significant differences, organizational success depends on law/RIM collaboration.  It improves litigation defense, and it guards against charges of spoliation.  Collaboration with a contract attorney protects records stored offsite, as well as information gathered online or by mobile apps.  Conversely, lawyers help validate RIM; the General Counsel’s office may even help fund records initiatives. 

Here are five key steps records leaders can take to improve collaboration between these disparate groups: 

  • ·       Get your basics down – hopefully committed to memory: 

o   If you’re not already, get conversant on the records portions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the derivative case law.
o   Avail yourself to the resources of The Sedona Conference (www.thesedonaconference.org), notably the Sedona Principles.  Sedona is a key intersection between records systems, the law, and the resulting implications
o   Go to MER 2017 (www.merconference.com) [the sponsor of today’s Blog post] and immerse yourself in the creative synergy that happens when some of the most perceptive minds in both records and the law come together.  If you can’t attend in person, sign up for remote access to the MER presentations.
o   Exploit ARMA’s estimable resources, including the Bookstore and Chapter libraries and meetings.

  •           Find an ally.  Ask how a Records/Legal collaboration can best advance your organization’s goals.  Who, within the Legal team, can collaborate to move the organization forward?  Check Legal’s organizational schema, including in-house counsel and outside counsel.  [Note that while employees of your organization are called in-house counsel, attorneys from independent law firms are never called out-house counsel.]  Who can best contribute to success?  Make that person your “new best friend”. 

o   Are Discovery issues most pressing?  Then your ally may be an eDiscovery attorney. 
o   Is the biggest issue unmanaged records outside the firewall?  Then your new partner may be a contract attorney. 
o   Is regulatory compliance difficult to prove?  Then you may want to befriend a regulatory specialist. 
o   If software doesn’t meet policy requirements (such as systems that can’t put holds on data), find the most tech-savvy attorney who can address it.

  • ·       Learn the parameters, frontiers, and basic vocabulary of your ally’s specialty.  A simple Web search will reveal many resources.  Each focus has its own publications.  Read a sampling.  When you see a reference to a salient legal case, find it on the Web and read the abstract.

  • ·       Meet informally.  I prefer a lunch where you can learn a bit about each other (family, interests, political leanings, and more), and also dispel preconceptions.

  • ·       Remember your differences and work to bridge the gulfs.  Seek points of congruence that emphasize shared concerns.  Ask questions that solicit legal opinions and, when possible, refer to seminal legal cases (see above) that relate to his/her opinions.

  • ·       Follow up: 

o   When you see a pertinent article or legal reference in a magazine, send your friend the link. 
o   If some new case or technology effects your work, ask your ally how they relate to your current legal situation. 
o   Have a second luncheon meeting, and a third.  Look for ways your collaboration can improve your organization and show those to the counselor. 
o   Be prepared to involve attorneys with other specialties.

Following these steps, I have found great openness and surprising acceptance.  That’s because records managers solve lawyers’ problems that they can’t solve for themselves.  It relieves stress and contributes to their success.  In appreciation, they might even pick up the tab for lunch.

The same principles extend to other groups, such as IT or Audit groups.  The personality types, pain points, publications, etc. change, but friendship always accelerates essential collaboration. 
Get to know a “new best friend” today.

1 comment:

  1. I've been a records manager for many years and can attest that Legal--along with IT, can indeed be your best friend. I've worked on many, many RM projects and I don't believe that any of them would've been successful without Legal's support. IMHO, the best place for RM to report into, is Legal. Good article Gordy.