Doug Austin of “eDiscovery Today” Interviewed by Frank Ready of Legaltech News

Doug Austin Thinks E-Discovery Won’t Look the Same Following COVID-19

Doug Austin, formerly of CloudNine’s blog E-Discovery Daily, believes that a COVID-19 battered e-discovery industry will continue to see job losses. But he’s optimistic that a recovery won’t take too long.


Time waits for no blogger. Doug Austin’s nearly decadelong stint writing CloudNine’s E-Discovery Daily blog came to end just two weeks ago, the casualty of a head count reduction the company took in the midst of COVID-19′s shutdown of the economy. But onDoug Austin (Legaltech News) Monday, Austin will launch a new daily blog titled E-Discovery Today, where he’ll tackle issues ranging from not only e-discovery, but cybersecurity, privacy and best practices.

And there’s also the not so insignificant matter of the pandemic and its impact on e-discovery as a whole. The industry that Austin was blogging about before COVID-19 likely won’t look quite the same as the one he’ll be writing about now as organizations look to wrap their minds around a potential boom in video evidence and, yes, more layoffs.

Below, Austin discusses why remote working is likely here to stay in e-discovery, how long he thinks the industry will need to recover and why COVID-19 may drive improvements in tools used to collect video and audio for discovery. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Legaltech News: What topics are you most excited to dig into from a cybersecurity or data security perspective?

Doug Austin: Well, when I started the blog years ago, cybersecurity and data privacy certainly weren’t the focus that they are today. Clearly, with everything going on from a data privacy standpoint—GDPR having been enacted close to two years ago now, CCPA going into effect in January and several other states with privacy regulations as well—you can’t get away from data privacy. And with all of the security breaches out there, you can’t get away from cybersecurity either. They just so integral to e-discovery today, you can’t help but address [it].

Are platforms like Zoom or other audio/video platforms something that e-discovery has typically struggled with in the past?

It’s one of the things you try to avoid dealing with in discovery. … What’s happening today is that, with so many more people using these platforms, certainly some of those meetings are going to be recorded. And they may be recorded for one specific purpose, but then when litigation hits those video recordings may ultimately be discoverable. So that’s going to force companies to better figure out how to get a better sense of what they have.

Do you expect to see more COVID-19 related layoffs hitting the e-discovery industry?

Unfortunately, probably so. It’s just a tough time in the industry. … You’ve got some situations where you might be in great shape from a provider standpoint, but all it takes is one partner in the chain to struggle and it’s going to impact you.

What segments of the e-discovery industry do you foresee being hit the hardest and are there those that you think will be fastest to recover?

Honestly I think it’s going to be distributed pretty much throughout. We’ve already seen both software and service provider layoffs. So again, they are participants in the chain somewhere. Maybe they’ve already experienced challenges or have seen challenges coming and have had to address it. Unfortunately, that then means that people have had to move on like I did from CloudNine. One of the things I know is that this won’t last forever. You don’t know how long it will last, but eventually there will be a recovery.

People have been speculating that remote working could remain prevalent even after the pandemic has receded. Is that realistic inside the e-discovery industry, where the ability to transmit and secure data is paramount?

I absolutely think that it’s realistic, and I think it will be very much more of a new norm within our industry and in many companies, because we all have internet access usually, and more and more people in their homes have high-speed internet access. You can certainly secure things in [those] environments just as you can in companies. And to the extent people are not doing that as much, I envision that’s going to be something that’s going to become more of a consideration.

Do you think for e-discovery it will be a really quick turnaround once the economy opens back up, or do you think it will be more of a gradual uptick?

There was a bit of a slowdown probably 10 or 12 years ago when the economy went through its last slowdown with the mortgage crisis and so forth. There was probably a year or two where things slowed, and then it picked back up in a big way, especially as e-discovery was such a big item for companies to address back then.

Now, as you well know, e-discovery is always evolving. So I wouldn’t say that it’s going to be a quick or immediate turnaround, but I don’t think that it’s going to be several years. I think that within a year or two we could be much closer to normal than not.


Mary Mack

Mary Mack is the CEO and Chief Legal Technologist for EDRM. Mary was the co-editor of the Thomson Reuters West Treatise, eDiscovery for Corporate Counsel for 10 years and the co-author of A Process of Illumination: the Practical Guide to Electronic Discovery. She holds the CISSP among her certifications.

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