Guest Cheryl Garner, CEDS, walks through not only becoming a better paralegal, but pursuing higher career goals, earning credentials, and specializing in eDiscovery and litigation support. She’s a litigation manager overseeing her firm’s eDiscovery program, educating attorneys and colleagues on best practices, and staying abreast of the latest trends. Litigation paralegal professionals play a key role in law firm operations.
Successful paralegals are comfortable with technology and embrace every opportunity to learn. Today’s top litigation paralegals are eDiscovery pros.
Negotiating with vendors, establishing rates, managing operations, and freeing up attorneys to focus on legal strategy with the assurance that the foundations are strong are all part of a paralegal’s role in litigated cases.
The skills and demands are always changing and evolving. Preservation, data collecting, and presenting evidence at trial have changed as the legal world shifts from boxes of paper records to electronic documents, emails, and eDiscovery. Tech skills and expertise with digital review platforms are table stakes in this new environment. Learn to uncover opportunities to advance your skills and career.
Tony Sipp: Welcome back to The Paralegal Voice. My name is Tony Sipp and I’m here with the special guest, Cheryl Garner ACP, who is going to be our guest and talk about some of the experiences becoming a paralegal and then elevating yourself. Cheryl is a certified eDiscovery specialist. She’s a litigation manager at Ellis George Cipollone O’Brien LLP, where she manages the firm wide eDiscovery program. In this role, she advises, consults with, and educates attorneys, paralegals, and clients on e-discovery best practices. Cheryl, welcome to the podcast.
Cheryl Garner: Thank you, Tony. I appreciate you having me here.
Tony Sipp: Happy that you’re here. Cheryl and I talked beforehand about some of the things in the profession as a litigation paralegal. And one of the things I wanted to ask you, Cheryl, is what role and I’m sure we both get asked this question a lot, but what role do litigation paralegals play in the legal profession and why are they considered valuable assets to a law firm?
Cheryl Garner: Yes, we do get asset often, as both of us are hiring managers. We do need to understand the role that paralegals play. Essentially, paralegals perform substantive legal work under the supervision of attorneys and the specific tasks can look different depending on the size law firm, whether it’s an in-house corporate/litigation paralegal or a government employee. So the role can be different in different firms. I’ve met paralegals who, in addition to being a litigation paralegal, they oversee the eDiscovery process for their firms. So they’re communicating with vendors, negotiating rates, and different things like that. The valuable asset part of that question is we would start with they perform billable work so that’s value in and of itself. But also, litigation paralegals free up the attorneys so that they can focus on whatever case is ahead, and they’re gathering the essential evidence in the case and summarizing it and becoming familiar with it so that they can give the attorneys condensed summaries of what’s going on in the case at certain stages.
Tony Sipp: That is very insightful. How have the responsibilities, even from you transitioning, how have the responsibilities of litigation paralegals evolved over the years, and what skills are they expected to develop?
Cheryl Garner: I’ve been in legal for quite some time, and not always as a paralegal, but when I first started working in legal, paralegals were tasked more with drafting, pleadings and discovery requests, discovery responses. But then, if you’ll recall, paper became voluminous at a certain stage while I was in legal, and this was before the massive amounts of email that we started to accumulate and have to collect. So paralegals were used to review paper documents and to oversee that process. I can recall a time when paralegals would be placed in a large conference room with boxes and boxes of paper and they would oversee the document reviewers, whether they were paralegals, JDs, or associates. But oftentimes paralegals were overseeing that process. Nowadays, the evidence is digital. And so paralegals play an important role in helping to collect that data and maintain it within the firm and hand it off to litigation support. But again, how that happens depends on the size firm, whether or not they have an eDiscovery team, whether or not that data is being handed off to a service provider.
Tony Sipp: That’s a good point. eDiscovery has changed the world and the legal world, as well as medical fields and other fields as well. You saying that it sounds to me like paralegals need to step up their skill set. So what specific eDiscovery skills and tools should paralegals focus on to meet the demands of modern law firms?
Cheryl Garner: Well, I recall when I was a paralegal, my process and my journey, I started learning the procedural rules back in 2006 when the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were updated.
That’s when all of the excitement and frenzy was like, “oh, all these new rules are coming” and eDiscovery became a thing back then. And so I started my journey, first off, learning what are the procedural rules? So you have your federal rules and your state rules that I think paralegals should become familiar with. Then you have the electronic discovery reference model, which is that chart that goes from left to right, starting from preservation, collecting data, and you end up at trial. And so I think that’s an important part of the learning process and the EDRM website has very detailed information on each of those phases that I highly recommend paralegals become familiar with. As far as tools, it’s important that paralegals who are involved in eDiscovery become familiar with a review platform. Most of the time, relativity is the first tool that comes to mind. But there are other tools on the market and they’re competing in this arena. And again, depending on the firm that you’re working at, it could be a large firm using relativity, but they may supplement it with CSDisco or Reveal or logical Everlaw. Those are some of the contenders in the space right now but paralegals should try to get their hands on some hands on experience reviewing documents, tagging documents, running searches.
Tony Sipp: It’s funny that EDRM, which is led by Mary Mack and Kaylee Walstad, I’ve been on their podcast, highly informed people, and I encourage everybody to join, link, connect with them, LinkedIn, Facebook, wherever. They’re a great educational site that you can increase your skills. So Cheryl, you were mentioning something about your transition. You were a paralegal. Now you’re in litigation support. So for the paralegals that are out there, how would you advise them to transition from a traditional paralegal role to specializing in legal support?
Cheryl Garner: Transitioning from a traditional paralegal to litigation support that can look different, again, depending on the environment. And what I love about our profession is that litigation paralegals come in varying skill sets. You can work in house for a client or a corporation. You can work in a large law firm, a solo practitioner or a small practice, a mid sized boutique firm. And again, the role looks different in all of those environments. And so transitioning to litigation support from traditional paralegal, I can tell you my experience. I worked with my eDiscovery service providers, and I should correct myself and say, I didn’t so much work with them, I bugged the heck out of them. I did. If they came to the firm to pick up documents to be scanned, I would ask a million questions, not only about the work that I was handing off to them, but I would ask them, “what exactly will you do with my documents?” And they’d say, “oh, we’re going to scan it and create a load file” and I’d say, “well, load, file.” For a couple of years, I kept hearing, “load file, we need a load file” and I was like, “What exactly is a load file? How do I get to see a load file? What does it look like? What does it do?” I had a vendor invite me to their processing center, and he literally showed me the process of how they scanned the data, the software they were using, how the load file was generated. And then he opened it and I got to see it, and I was like, so then it’s like, okay, the clouds open and I was like, “oh, so we’re talking database and delimiters and all of that” but that was my journey. I learned as much as I could, again, looking at the procedural rules. During that time, eDiscovery was sort of new as far as to the masses. And so everyone became an eDiscovery expert. There were webinars and seminars, like in person seminars all over the place.
And so I would get into those rooms as much as I could. Again, I spoke to my project managers and the guys picking up the data who were handling it, and I just asked questions. And then I found mentors and I would just ask them to teach me what I needed to know. It was a few years before I actually got to apply some of what I was learning, but I was hearing the same thing over and over, so I was learning the language and I would recommend that to any paralegal. Now you can find information everywhere because the Internet is more robust and like LAPA last summer or two summers ago during the pandemic, I think you had a weekly eDiscovery webinar. And so there’s webinars flooding your inboxes constantly. So there’s a lot of content out there. I would say just get into it and start familiarizing yourself with the best practices. But again, I would start with that EDRM, learn the different phases, and there’s a lot of training opportunities out there as well.
Tony Sipp: Absolutely. I learned load a load file. At a firm, I took over for another paralegal and I didn’t even know the case existed until I got an email that said, “here’s your load file.” I’m like, “how do I load a load file?” Yeah. I figured it was for relativity, so I’m glad I had that experience. It was dropped in my lap, but I figured it out. I’m excited about that.
Cheryl Garner: And that’s perfect too, Tony, because I wanted to also mention opportunity is a great way to learn. Look for opportunities to immerse yourself in a case or just a task. It could be a small part. Like you said, we have this load file and we need someone to load the data. It could be two documents and you learned it, but now you know what that entails, whether it’s large or small scale.
Tony Sipp: Very true. Glad for the lesson. We’ve been talking about traditional paralegals and their transition into litigation support. What are the key differences between a paralegal’s role in litigation support and a litigation support specialist role within a law firm or other legal field?
Cheryl Garner: Yes, I think the difference primarily, and I won’t preface it, saying depending on what the role is, but it really does. What I’m calling now, eDiscovery paralegals. eDiscovery paralegals are those litigation paralegals who are the case manager for the case. They’re involved from the very beginning. And so they could either serve as a liaison between the legal team and the litigation support or project managers, or if they’re fully knowledgeable about the eDiscovery process and best practices, they could be an active participant in the process. So as opposed to them getting information from the attorneys who are saying, well, we have our client’s data and we want to get it into review, and that paralegal then coming to litigation support saying we have this data and we need to get it into litigation, into a review platform. They can actually ask some follow up questions to the attorneys and ask, well, will we need to run search terms on the data? Will we need to batch it out for review, or are there any tags that we need to apply? So an eDiscovery paralegal is working as a part of that case team, but they’re not in the functional role of actually processing the data, loading it into the database, and running advanced searches for the team once the data has been loaded. That’s more of what the litigation support specialist would do.
Tony Sipp: I fell into a crash course on that, which we’ll talk about right after these messages from our sponsors.
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Tony Sipp: Welcome back to the Paralegal Voice. My name is Tony Sipp, here with Cheryl Garner ACP. We were just discussing transitioning from traditional paralegal into a legal support paralegal. When I became the paralegal manager here, one of the key assets I told you the story about the relativity and the load files is to be able to take that skill set and move it throughout the rest of my career and start applying those skills and educating myself and reading books and getting on websites and podcasts to learn more. But I’m glad I did because it gave me an opportunity to be informed just enough to be dangerous. I was able to help our team, our firm, pick the right tools so that they can get the job done in a cost effective manner. I’m sure you’ve run into that yourself and my guess is that you probably have worked with a lot of different platforms, vendor platforms for eDiscovery. So for paralegal to get to that level, are there certain certificates or qualifications available for paralegals looking to enhance their skills in eDiscovery and litigation support?
Cheryl Garner: Well, we talked earlier about how paralegals there’s a lot of training opportunities available just in general in the eDiscovery world. As a matter of fact, we’re in this last quarter of the year. So don’t forget, December 1st is eDiscovery day. There will be a lot of podcasts, webinars free education on eDiscovery for that entire day. So look out for that. But in addition to that, throughout the year, different service, eDiscovery service bureaus have white papers on their website. They have weekly and monthly webinars, keeping all practitioners abreast of the changes in the landscape. What’s the latest and greatest in the eDiscovery realm but as far as certifications specifically designed for paralegals and eDiscovery, I would mention first NALA, the NALA ACP certification, because they do have the eDiscovery certification. Now, when I became certified at the advanced level with NALA, I elected Discovery. I think eDiscovery was in the works at that time, but I was an ACP for my first certification period, but I did not renew it. So I can no longer actually hold myself out as an ACP. But I do have the ACEDS certification, and so I use my CEDS designation. And that’s important because we need to make sure we’re not holding ourselves out as certified in something that we’re no longer holding current. But they have the eDiscovery option. They also have the-discovery option for paralegals at the advanced certification level. Other than that, ACEDS has a couple of training sessions on there, or tracks I should call them, where you can go in and learn about eDiscovery. I think they have that advanced certification or certificate. It’s not a certification, it’s an advanced eDiscovery certificate executive and what’s the other one is eDiscovery technology. So those are alternatives to actually sitting for the certified eDiscovery specialist exam, which is the big one, but it’s doable. Many of us have done it. So that is an option. But one that really, really love as far as for learning is the Electronic Discovery Institute, the EDI Distance Learning Initiative. I’ll send you the link to that, but what I love about this is there’s over 40 modules that cover everything from technology record keeping, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, preparing for the 26(f) meet and confer and it only cost one dollar per year and there’s over 40 modules as I mentioned. It’s self-paced. You can go through it at your own —
When it’s convenient for you, learn what you need, come back to it anytime you want or if you want to go through all 40 of them, there’s a certificate in discovery practice available, and for that you need to complete all 40 modules. I think you write an 800-word essay that may be published and there may be a couple of other requirements like testing and then you recertify every couple of years. I have not pursued the 40 modules but I’ve been going back, getting what I need from that information and when I was teaching paralegal students, I referred them to this and it’s an excellent resource for anyone interested in eDiscovery.
Tony Sipp: That’s a great deal.
Cheryl Garner: I would be remiss if I did not mention the EDRM with Kaylee and Mary Mack, you know, the information is not a certification program but their website is very robust and it has everything that you would want to know about the EDRM and the phases of eDiscovery.
Tony Sipp: So, quick question for the modules doing the 40 modules is beneficial to you and NALA clearly was beneficial to you, can you use Chat GPT to write the 800-word essay?
Cheryl Garner: You know what? And that is an interesting point that you bring up because as we’re learning more and more and eDiscovery has evolved those coming into eDiscovery learning it now it’s important to learn this foundational information that’s available through NALA, through the EDI Distance Learning Initiative. You need that foundational information because now that analytics, AI, Chat GPT, all of that has come now to the forefront and it is in eDiscovery and we’re going to have to learn how to navigate it. It’s important to know what — for lack of a better term what the foundational or original procedures for eDiscovery were prior to all of this. AI and Chat GPT and whatever else is to come, we really need to know the foundational and some attorneys as well as paralegals are a little bit behind but again, there are so many learning opportunities available that will get you up to speed that I would highly recommend any litigation paralegal get involved, learn, educate yourself, even if you have to invest in yourself but again, for one dollars per year, you have access to almost everything that you need to start building a foundation.
Tony Sipp: Basically, walk before you can run. So it’s good having a solid foundation sounds very important.
Cheryl Garner: Yes, and this is legal so don’t forget, walk before you run does not always apply in litigation. Sometimes you’re thrown in and you learn trial by fire, you’re just thrown in but it’s always great to have resources because I don’t profess to know everything there is about eDiscovery but I pretty much know where to go to fact check and then I also use my legal practice, Rutter Guides and Matthew Bender. Both of those have great information on eDiscovery. So you can go look at your state requirements or procedural information on eDiscovery from both of those practice guides as well.
Tony Sipp: We’re going to take a quick break and support our sponsors that are supporting us and we’ll be right back.
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Tony Sipp: Welcome back to the Paralegal Voice. My name is Tony Sipp and I’m here with Cheryl Garner. Cheryl, can you share any examples of success stories where paralegals have successfully transitioned into prominent litigation support roles within a firm? Or you can share your story.
Cheryl Garner: My story is very interesting because before becoming a paralegal, I worked in technology and so I was a technology trainer and help desk technician for many years.
I also kind of came up through word processing. So when I decided to become a paralegal, I went to paralegal school. I earned my certificate and this was around ’02. I worked for a little bit as an estate planning paralegal but I really wanted to get into litigation and the recruiters had a hard time placing me back then because they were concerned. They would say, “well, if I send you out for a paralegal role, I’m concerned that if you get an opportunity for a really great technology role, you’re going to leave that role and go over back to technology” and then when I applied for technology roles, I was getting the reverse of that. “Well, I see you have a paralegal certificate.” So I was kind of in limbo for about four, five years and then when 2008 hit when there was a downturn in the economy, all of those same recruiters started calling me saying, “Hey, I’ve got like five jobs and if you’ve got like, 10 of your friends who we could also interview and present because we need paralegals with technology skills” and so it’s just a matter of timing and again, opportunity, because I was then able to select the roles that I wanted to work in and again, even to this day, I still work very closely with my eDiscovery service providers to stay current on what the trends are, what’s happening with the technology, pricing new technology, different things that are coming into the industry.
So that was how I got into litigation support. Other paralegals if you’ve been with your firm a long time, you probably will have opportunities that someone who has moved around from firm to firm may not have because you would be the obvious choice if you have the knowledge and the know-how and the opportunity presents itself but those of us like myself who moved around some with each new opportunity, I got to touch different software, different types of cases, different sizes of cases and so I’ve really been able to get into the trenches with my firms and using my educational, my training background to now teach and advise on the technology and the best practices. So it depends on the individual’s background and as you know, paralegals come from diverse backgrounds, so we’re not all right out of high school and this is most likely not the first career for most paralegals, especially litigation paralegals. So I would just say, really maximize your existing skill set and learn the new skills, the technology and the procedural aspects and I think that’s going to create new opportunities for you.
Tony Sipp: I’m a big advocate of the word lucky and the definition being when preparation meets opportunity, make sure that you’re ready for the role because it will come. Just be prepared. Don’t get ready, be ready. So Cheryl, can you give us some advice that you would share for current paralegals or other paralegals or people trying to become paralegals and any other legal profession that you know, a positive message for them to take away from this conversation?
Cheryl Garner: Well, I think anyone entering the paralegal’s field for the first time, something that I told my students because I taught at Cal State LA for 10 years and I would always make them aware of what the competition looks like because there are still paralegals in the industry who are terrified of technology and so coming into the profession to get a leg up, so to speak, is really increase your knowledge of eDiscovery, get comfortable with the technology, and then also make sure that you have strong substantive skill set so that you understand the litigation process and having that understanding of how litigation works and the technology, that’s the perfect combination to enter as a paralegal but also as an eDiscovery paralegal and that’s the phrase that I like to use now because litigation paralegals are really becoming eDiscovery paralegals.
If you look at the job up postings, you will see more and more firms across the country are hiring eDiscovery paralegals and they want you to have had your hands more times than none. They want relativity but any other platform that you’ve worked in, the skill is transferable. So whether you were in Ipro or Reveal or logical or Everlaw, the skills are transferable. So firms are hiring eDiscovery paralegals and I think that’s going to be the new wave for paralegals outside some of the other amazing opportunities that are coming up for paralegals these days.
Tony Sipp: Cheryl, it’s been great talking with you for this podcast. If people want to reach you after listening to our podcast on the Paralegal Voice, where can they reach you?
Cheryl Garner: I am on LinkedIn you know, my last name Garner is G-A-R-N-E-R and find me on LinkedIn. You can follow or connect if you want to send me a message. If you have questions about any of the resources that we spoke about, let me know, reach out and I’d be happy to speak with you or share those resources and I’ll send those links to you as well Tony.
Tony Sipp: Well, thank you so much and we will see you next time on the Paralegal Voice.
Cheryl Garner: Thank you. It’s been great.