Mind the Gap: How to Bring Legal and IT Together

It’s no surprise that legal and IT departments have different goals for their organization. Legal is focused on mitigating risks predominantly related to their company’s regulatory environment, while IT is concerned with architecture, hardware, software, and networking, so that the company’s employees can do their jobs successfully. Despite their different purposes, they must work hand-in-hand—specifically when it comes to data management. That’s where problems arise.

Legal and IT often disagree on what to retain, when to save backup data, who is responsible for what, and more. When litigation occurs, the two teams must work together seamlessly to identify relevant documents for eDiscovery, the electronic exchange of documents during litigation or investigations.

If the two departments are unable to bridge the gap, they risk running over on budgets because of too much data and dealing with costly sanctions due to spoliation of evidence. If they learn to work with one another, legal teams can have better insight to potential litigation while IT teams will be spared the headache before and during litigation.

Here are some tips to help both departments work together for a better litigation outcome.

Agree On a Document Retention Policy

A document retention policy requires a company to maintain records produced by employees for a specified window of time. Work with a legal expert in your field to create an air-tight retention policy, mandating what data should be maintained or destroyed within the organization. All done creating the policy?  Great, but you’re not finished yet. Treat it as a living document. Be sure to continuously enforce and test it.

Determine Responsibilities and Budgets

Identify key stakeholders from IT, records management, legal, HR, and finance to ensure all are in agreement with who is responsible for budget and action. Make sure to generate a charter of the group, as well as a guideline for each department represented. Meet on a regular basis to provide updates on upcoming changes that could affect the policy. Additionally, implementing data management software can put rigor behind a company’s retention policy. Once you’ve identified your data management software, come to terms with who will carry the budget.

Drop the Jargon. Use Plain English.

Opening lines of communication is a great way to start solidifying a partnership, yet the practice is often overlooked. Legal finds itself regularly educating IT on the legal implications of simply moving data, updating infrastructure, or distributing company-issued technology. At the same time, IT tends to find itself explaining the importance of saving backups for disaster recovery or updating or implementing new software.

In that same vein, jargon can get each party confused and frustrated, with terms like legal hold, data migration, collection, and metadata. How can IT and legal understand each other when they’re speaking two different languages? Cut down on jargon and use layman’s terms.

Embrace Data Maps

Before you have an eDiscovery project, collaborate with legal and IT and records management to develop a data map, accounting for all the data repositories within the organization. Be sure to designate a point person responsible for creating and maintaining this information. Mapped data will help legal teams quickly identify the location of records. Once you’ve created the organization’s data map, test it periodically.

At the rate and volume data is created today, it’s critical that your maps check out—i.e. new data is added and old data is removed; nothing should slip through the cracks.

Learn From the Past

Hold a retrospective meeting after an eDiscovery project to identify how you could’ve done things better. Iterations are expected as data landscapes and new technologies/devices emerge. Tweak the document retention policy and data maps. The process will always evolve, and it’s important both departments regularly communicate to work toward a better end result.

With an intention to focus on better collaboration and commitment to each other’s success, both departments will work better together.

Remember, at the end of the day, you’re all playing for the same team.

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