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eDiscovery Leaders: Rich Robinson of Toyota Motor North America

George Socha
George Socha

eDiscovery Leaders: Rich Robinson of Toyota Motor North America

Each week on eDiscovery Leaders Live, I chat with a leader in eDiscovery or related areas. Our guest on October 23 was Rich Robinson. Rich is the Director of Legal Operations & Litigation Support at Toyota Motor North America Inc.

We sat down to talk about what it’s like to be in-house in eDiscovery. Rich shared his thoughts on the biggest issue facing eDiscovery today, ephemeral data and collaborative platforms. He suggested that to be effective, in-house personnel needed to become techno-linguists, that law firms really need to leverage their support personnel and that providers should become extensions of and partners with legal departments. Finally, Rich reminded us of the importance of becoming part of the legal community.

Recorded live on October 23, 2020 | Transcription below

George Socha:
Hello and welcome to eDiscovery Leaders Live, hosted by ACEDS and sponsored by Reveal. I am George Socha, Senior Vice President of Brand Awareness at Reveal. Each Friday morning at 11 Eastern, I host an episode of eDiscoveryLeadersLive, where I get the chance to chat with luminaries in the eDiscovery and related areas.

Past episodes of eDiscovery Leaders Live are available on the Reveal website. Go to revealdata.com, select Resources and then select eDiscovery Leaders Live Cast.

This week I’m pleased to welcome as our guest, Rich Robinson. Rich is the Director of Legal Operations & Litigation Support at Toyota North America. Before I let Rich talk, I’m going to give a little bit of a background about him.

Rich, as I said, is Director of Legal Operations and Litigation Support at Toyota. He has a well-grounded and well-rounded background in eDiscovery. He has spent time at five different law firms as Applications Analyst at Mintz Levin, Litigation Technology Analyst at Adler Pollack and Sheehan, and Director of Litigation Technology at Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody. At Jackson Walker, he was Senior Electronic Discovery Specialist and then Gardere Wynne Sewell, where he was Practice Support Manager. Rich not only has a background with law firms but also has been on the provider side; he was an eDiscovery Consultant at Xact Data Discovery. This is not his first gig in-house either. Rich has been in-house for 12 years, is it?

Rich Robinson:
10 years.

George Socha:
10 years. First at JCPenney, where he was eDiscovery and Information Manager and now at Toyota. Rich is active in other ways in the eDiscovery industry. He is the President of the Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter of ACEDS. He is a founder and board member of the b-Discovery – DFW. And he is a regular on the speaking and the lecture circuit, appearing in a variety of places including as an attendee frequently at the Thursday afternoon Cowen Cafe calls. Rich, welcome.

Rich Robinson:
Thank you so much George, it’s nice to be here. One quick modification; I am the Treasurer of the local chapter of ACEDS. We have a great leadership team on the board of ACEDS here, but I am acting as Treasurer.


eDiscovery In-House: eDiscovery and Much More

George Socha:
Thanks for the correction. So in your time in an in-house role in eDiscovery, you of course have had a range of experience, seen a number of things, seen what works well and what doesn’t. Could you start out by telling me what that in-house role involves?

Rich Robinson:
Yeah, I mean, I think that the role of an in-house eDiscovery manager changes from location to location, corporation to corporation. It really depends on the needs of the law department that you’re a part of. My role at JCPenny for eDiscovery and information management was very different than my role at Toyota for Legal Operations and eDiscovery or lit support. I feel like the role changes from corporation to corporation, depending on the needs of the department. eDiscovery professionals are uniquely situated to work in different aspects of the legal operations wheel, based on the fact that we are natural problem solvers. Probably, it was going on 10 years ago now that I started talking to David Cowen and attending his breakfast series and then his dinner series. We have watched the needle move from eDiscovery to information governance, to legal operations. I think that people in this industry, having often come up through IT or through the paralegal role or as attorneys, we all have one thing in common and that’s that we are uniquely qualified problem solvers, we look for where the needs are and we go and address them.

My role at JCPenney was definitely more focused on the information governance side. Records management was one of the hats that I wore, I also managed the litigation paralegals, so very different than what you might find in other corporations. Whereas at Toyota, my role is primarily two hats. One is the eDiscovery in litigation support side. The other is legal technology – helping define, implement, and roll out legal technology stack for Toyota Motor North America.

George Socha:
In those roles – not saying anything you shouldn’t be saying specifically about Toyota or for that matter JCPenney – but in those roles what have you seen to be for you and for others, as problem solvers, the greatest problems you’ve had to try to solve?

Rich Robinson:
That has shifted through the years, too. Right now there are buzzwords in the industry. Information governance (IG) became a major part of the eDiscovery landscape back in 2012 to 2015-ish, partially because we were looking at spend and seeing that there was so much money being spent on the review portion of EDRM, that my focus was “let’s shift further to the left”. That’s why I became so much more involved in information governance. I wanted to shift my focus further to the left on EDRM and say, let’s start doing a better job of rot removal – redundant and updated and trivial data. I want to get rid of that, so that when it comes time to do eDiscovery, we’re not spending so much into the review process. That was a big focus then.

And that was bolstered by things that were happening in the industry, not necessarily in the eDiscovery space, but outside of it, in cyber and in privacy. We had a big push in cyber threat awareness and a big push from GPR to focus on that IG side, on the left side. We got rid of data that might have put us in hot water if we were to have a cyber breach or if we were to have a DSAR (Data Subject Access Request) from a client or a buyer. That was four or five years ago that that started happening.


Today’s Biggest Issue: Ephemeral Data and Collaborative Platforms

Now we’re seeing the shift, and probably my biggest issue to deal with is ephemeral data and collaborative platforms. Those are the buzzwords right now, pretty much I would say 50 percent of the webinars, panels, virtual meetings that I am being invited to have something to do with collections from Teams, Slack etc.

George Socha:
Are there particular challenges when it comes to that?

Rich Robinson:
Oh my gosh, we could do an hour….

George Socha:
We could talk a long time….

Rich Robinson:
Yeah, we could talk a really long time just on that. I would say that for many years we have been focused on email as the primary source of communication. Most of our litigation focuses on communication. The primary source of communication that we relied on for almost 20 years now has been email. Even though text messaging really started picking up in the early 2000s, that has been largely considered a secondary source for many years. We’ve gotten better about handling it, but 15, 20 years later we’re still not doing a great job on eDiscovery and review of text messaging.

Then suddenly here comes collaborative platforms, like Slack and Teams, that include multiple forms of communication or channels all combined into one platform. We struggled with how to properly thread text messages. Now we’ve got video, gifs and audio and chat messages, but also files and modern attachments all in the same platform that we’re struggling, for not just how to collect it, but then how to present it in a way that makes sense. And then clearly how to produce it, because we have an obligation to produce as documents are kept in the normal course of business. So, how do you meet that requirement when it’s so difficult to present it in a way that it is seen in the normal course of business?

George Socha:
What challenges abound? Have you seen any success in tackling these challenges?

Rich Robinson:
You know, I don’t… I have seen promise. That’s about the best I can say at this point. Knock on wood, I haven’t had to be the guinea pig in figuring this out, in dealing with plaintiffs who are presented documents or presented productions that don’t meet their requirements or that they’re not comfortable with; have I produced everything. I don’t want to be the guinea pig on that one. But I am actively pursuing a number of options, a number of different platforms that are offering ways to collect and review and produce outside of the standard Relativity hosted review platform. So, always looking for new ways to do it, but no, I can’t say that I’ve found something that I prefer or would espouse, but I definitely have seen some promise out there.


To be Effective In-House? Become a Techno-Linguist

George Socha:
You have, as we discussed earlier, spent some time in-house now. You of course have talked with your counterparts in many other organizations about a range of issues. What words of advice do you have for someone in an in-house eDiscovery role on how to be most effective?

Rich Robinson:
That’s a great question, George. I think, in order to be most effective you really have to be tapped into what the needs of your organization are. You have to be aware. As an eDiscovery professional, generally we’re primarily working with the litigators, so having an understanding of what their needs are is a vital part of being effective. You could have the best ESI playbook in the industry, but if you aren’t familiar with your litigators and what their needs are, then you’re not getting anywhere, you’re not being effective.

I’ve always said that my role is primarily as a linguist. For my 20 years in this industry and some years prior to joining the legal technology space, my role has always been a linguist. It’s probably the skill or talent that I bring to the table that’s outside of just the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years. That sort of techno-legal lingualism is an important part of how to be an effective eDiscovery professional. You’ve got to understand the technology, you’ve got to understand a law, and you’ve got to be able to translate it for the people that you’re working with, both on the technology side, maybe it’s on the vendor side, maybe its software development, maybe its attorneys, paralegals etc. There is a wide range of understanding of the language of eDiscovery. Being able to speak confidently to all levels of that understanding, it’s probably the most important skill that I can recommend that eDiscovery professionals learn and practice.


Law Firms: Leverage Your Support Personnel

George Socha:
What about words of advice for folks who are at a law firm and are trying to figure out how to work most effectively with in-house personnel? What should they be trying to do, what should they be avoiding for that matter?

Rich Robinson:
That is a great question. One that I hadn’t really considered it ahead of time. From my time in the law firm…. We’re getting to be about half and half. I had what I consider my brief walk on the dark side, working with a vendor in the eDiscovery space, but that did not last very long, just under a year, At this point I have been about half inside law firms and half in-house. Most of my time in the law firm was spent dealing directly with the litigators, with the attorneys in the law firm. I think that law firms would do well to leverage the skills and expertise that they have in the Support Professionals, in bringing them to the table in discussions with in-house when it comes to discovery. Again, there are different levels of expertise, both in the law firm and in-house. You might be working with in-house counsel that has no formal legal operations or eDiscovery staff. Leveraging your internal expertise is vitally important in those instances. Even when they do, even when you’ve got somebody in-house who is managing eDiscovery with the level of experience that maybe I have, I still find it beneficial when I’m dealing with outside counsel to have knowledgeable eDiscovery professionals on the call from their end. It smooths the conversation considerably when we can talk shop.


Service Providers: Be an Extension and Partner

George Socha:
We have three legs to the stool or three corners to the triangle, if you will, with the in-house eDiscovery personnel, folks from law firms, and of course people like service providers. For them, how should they… same question, how should they deal most effectively with in-house personnel?

Rich Robinson:
My advice to the eDiscovery vendor is to consider yourself a partner. My preferred model of working with a third-party vendor, with an eDiscovery vendor, is that they are an extension of my in-house eDiscovery department. I want to work with people on a regular basis that understand my pain points, that know my data and the issues that I have with my data, that are willing to work with me on innovation. I want my new eDiscovery vendor to innovate with me. Maybe it is as simple as building data transfer workflows. We’re going to build some form of eDiscovery workflow that allows me to create a collection-to-hosting process that flows seamlessly. That’s a fairly common one. But it might be, I need you to help me develop a dashboard so that I can have better insight into KPIs and metrics around my data and how we’re reviewing it. That is probably my best piece of advice for eDiscovery vendors: become an extension of my department, become a partner who builds with me.


Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends

George Socha:
Any final thoughts to share with the audience before we bring this to a close?

Rich Robinson:
I did want to make one comment about the industry and about the state of affairs right now under COVID. I am seeing a lot of friends and peers in the industry looking for work, a lot of people have had the rug pulled out from under them in recent times. I think that it’s important for those who are paying attention and those who are experiencing that to leverage the community. There’s a reason why I’m so involved in ACEDS and eDiscovery and other networking organizations, attending the Cowen Cafe, Ari Kaplan’s lunches, and talking to you, George. It’s important to get out there and create that network so that when the time comes and you need a little help with your friends, we’re out there. I don’t think that I’ve gotten a job in this industry by submitting a resume through the standard process really since I joined. My first law firm job was a friend of mine who worked with me in PC banking. That was how I got in the technology field. Our bank closed. She got a job with a law firm in Boston and said, “You would love working in technology in the legal department. You should come apply for the help desk.” She got me that intro. Ever since then, pretty much every job that I’ve ever applied for has been through a contact that I had, recommending that I submit my resume. That’s what I would like people to know. Encourage them to leverage their relationships that they have created. If they are in the field and are not leveraging those relationships, are not in those networking communities, get out there and join them. They are absolutely integral to furthering your career, whether or not it’s a pandemic.

George Socha:
Rich, I think that is very sage advice well put. I know I have had similar experiences throughout my career as well.

Rich Robinson is the Director of Legal Operations & Litigation Support at Toyota Motor North America. Rich, thank you very much for taking time from your busy day to chat with us.

Rich Robinson:
Thanks George. It’s always a pleasure talking to you.

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