E-discovery salaries have climbed high enough that even lawyers with no relevant experience on their resumes may be tempted to try and cross over. Still, even with the serious demand for talent going on in the market right now, many e-discovery leaders at law firms or vendors may be reluctant to take a chance on untested candidates. 

Joseph Tate, chairman of e-discovery and practice advisory services at Cozen O’Connor, acknowledged that his firm is having “a real struggle” to find both attorney and nonattorney positions for its e-discovery team. Tate also noted that he hasn’t seen the demand for e-discovery talent in the market this high in years. 

Even with all that being said, there’s still a limit to who he’s willing to take a chance on hiring, especially considering the fairly niche nature of the technology and software involved in e-discovery. “I have lawyers who reach out to me [about e-discovery jobs] and say, ‘I really don’t have any experience.’ And what I say to them is, ‘You’ve really got to try and get some experience.’ Because it’s just tough to come in cold,” Tate said.

So where are these people coming from, exactly? Tate noted that he has previously on-boarded attorneys who hail from a litigation background and have a keen interest in technology. But the number of lawyers trying to break out of other law firm practice groups and into e-discovery may be slimmer.

Mary Mack, executive director and chief legal technologist at EDRM, noted that she hasn’t seen many attorneys working in the likes of intellectual property, antitrust or family law, for example, looking to get a salary bump by way of crossing over to e-discovery. Information technology technicians or security people without legal experience are continuing to make the transition, though in smaller numbers than Mack gauged before the pandemic.

But then there’s the next generation of legal talent. “I am seeing younger contract attorneys, and new grads seeking certification to move them up the stack, so they qualify for positions that have openings with much higher salaries than hourly doc review,” she said via email.

To be sure, some e-discovery certification providers saw a sharp uptick in interest during the early days of the pandemic thanks to candidates largely having more time on their hands. Tate at Cozen O’Connor noted that certifications can “go a long way” toward helping candidates without previous e-discovery experience get their foot in the door.

“It absolutely increases somebody’s chances. I don’t necessarily need somebody who has X-number of years of hands-on experience. To me, it’s a willingness and a real passion for technology for this area of law I think is clearly going to make them stand out,” he said.

Still, while certifications may help, they aren’t necessarily a one-way ticket to an e-discovery career, even given the current demand for talent. “Yes, there are people who would like to do [e-discovery]. No, they are not getting jobs. … There’s no time or desire from employers to train and groom talent,” Jared Coseglia, founder and CEO of TRU Staffing Partners, said. 

He noted that a large percentage of e-discovery jobs tend to be rooted with either law firms and vendors, the former of which tends to adhere to a strict billing model that doesn’t favor the time that e-discovery newbies may need to learn the ropes. 

“At a large firm or a vendor you are a billable employee. And if you can’t come on board and start billing immediately, what value are you really going to yield? … It’s not going to immediately alleviate that pain that everyone feels from being short-staffed right now,” Coseglia said. 

Those feelings were echoed by Hal Brooks, CEO at e-discovery company HaystackID who noted that the company is not witnessing a strong move by “more experienced attorneys” toward e-discovery. They are, however, seeing more interest in the space from recent law school graduates who wouldn’t necessarily be on HaystackID’s hiring radar. 

“We definitely want five-plus years of experience, preferably from the service provider standpoint,” Brooks said. 

Lawyers who are willing to invest the time in building the experience that could lead to an e-discovery career might be able to find it in document review. Tate at Cozen O’Connor noted that he would be more predisposed to considering a job candidate who has at least spent some time on a review team. 

“It’s familiarity with the software and being able to navigate the software and understand the software that we use. … [But] it’s sometimes a little tough to break out of that,” he said.