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Legal to IT: Can we talk?

“Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth…” Genesis 11:4–9

Sound like your company?  Whether it’s about how to ensure privacy, increase business efficiency, share information, consolidate systems or reduce data volume, good communication between departments is the grass roots of information governance. But sometimes barriers we’re not even aware of stand in the way of successful results.

For example, one critical pathway of corporate communication is between IT and legal. Here are two departments with strong similarities: they each possess expertise used in support of the main business function and they can each boast a robust professional lexicon. When they meet, though, it’s often Babel with a twist: folks think they’re speaking the same language because they hear familiar words, but they’re really not deriving the same meanings. That kind of miscommunication can be very costly.

It’s tricky, right? How do you know if people really understand what you mean to say? When it comes to conversations where technology is involved, it can be especially challenging.

For one thing, the pervasive use of technology in our daily lives often leads us to mistakenly assume a certain level of savvy in others where it may not exist. (Most would agree that lawyers aren’t exact early adopters, to put it bluntly. And who in the room wants to admit they don’t know exactly what “metadata” is?)  It’s also an area where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Many serious miscommunications occur when people assume there are singular definitions of words like software, application, system, archive, backup, metadata, server, etc.

And from IT’s perspective, is everyone sure what a “document production” actually is, or “collection” or the exact meaning of “custodian” or “privilege”? When you’re a lawyer accustomed to speaking mostly with those who share your own expertise, it may be quite easy to forget that non-lawyers may have picked up the extent of their litigation vocabulary from Legally Blonde.

The only way to overcome a barrier like this is to expose others to the goals and challenges of your world so that they can contextualize it in theirs. An emergency meeting between legal and IT when a litigation arises is not the place where that happens.  Regular meetings where strategic goals are discussed and shared—taking proactive steps to be prepared, in other words—is the best shot. If you invest just a little bit of time every few weeks educating each other—about the data landscape for example, or the requisite demands of preservation for a legal hold—you’ll both be way ahead of the game when a litigation arises, nipping those eDiscovery expenses in the bud and reducing the risk of possible sanctions by the court. Discuss data sources. Discuss social media. Discuss preservation alternatives. Discuss collection imperatives. Discuss what would happen if…

And while you’re discussing, notice that you’re now developing a relationship with others who can help you be more successful at your job while you help them be more successful at theirs. An ongoing dialogue will familiarize each of you with the real meaning of the other’s vocabulary, making concepts easier to share—and reducing the likelihood of having to share them in court.

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