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Posts on Legal Tech, Litigation, & E-Discovery

How I Started In Legal Technology

October 14, 2015
Posted by Jeff Kerr

 As we kick off our blog, I wanted to do a post introducing myself and providing an overview of the kinds of topics we’ll cover on the blog. Two things led to my decision to start CaseFleet and start writing about the law and legal technology: my passion for building tools to increase efficiency and my love of e-discovery. Many years ago, in the late 1990s, I had a knack for computers and writing programs. In my senior year of high school, I knew enough math and enough computer science to spend a semester writing a rudimentary 3D graphics engine. I started college with the goal of triple-majoring in physics, math, and computer science, but, like many college students, I changed course after falling for the humanities - particularly history and literature. I stopped writing code--completely. It wasn’t until 2014 that I came back around to it.

I started a law firm with a colleague from law school in 2011, and we immediately began using cloud-based tools and legal software to run our practice: Dropbox and Google Apps took the place having our own server and purchasing desktop software for every computer in our office, and we were very happy with these tools. Eventually, our firm got bigger, and we started accruing data that truly belonged in a database but which we weren’t able to fit into our existing legal software. Over the Christmas holiday in 2012, I searched for customizable cloud-based database software, and after finding nothing meeting our needs in the legal software offerings available, I started experimenting with a cloud-based database platform.

I found that I could create a Time Entry record, and a Case record, and I could link time entries to cases and show a calculation like “total hours” on each case. I had so much fun tinkering with time entries and cases that I decided to model the whole set of data we had in our firm using custom objects. The result was far from being well-designed, but it worked, and it gave us a place to put all of the data related to our firm. We cancelled the legal software solutions we were working with and began our custom solution to run our practice. This tool worked very well, and my firm used it for nearly 3 years!

At about the same time that I was making a legal software app for my firm, I was hearing more and more about e-discovery. I heard so much about it that I wanted to get in on the action and see what all the fuss was about. I also had the nagging sense that I wasn’t getting all of the information I requested from my opponents in discovery - not that other lawyers were hiding evidence from me, but that perhaps they didn’t know how to get all the evidence from their own clients, particularly things like emails and text messages.

At about this time, I found Craig Ball’s wonderful blog, Ball in Your Court, and I began reading it religiously, including the archives and all of the papers on Craig’s website. In the meantime, my law partner made the brilliant decision to get involved with the committee that planned the National Employment Lawyer’s Annual Summit. His hard work on the planning committee paid off in a major way when NELA asked us both to moderate panels on topics we found interesting. We even got to help choose speakers. I knew exactly what I wanted: a panel on e-discovery featuring Craig Ball of course! I got in touch with Craig, and he kindly agreed to speak on our panel. I also told Craig about my love for his blog and my budding interest in e-discovery, and he strongly recommended that I attend the Georgetown E-Discovery Academy. This was in early 2014, and it was shaping up to be an extraordinary year!

Fortunately I got to attend the E-Discovery Academy before the Summit because I wouldn’t have been very good as a moderator on my panel without the knowledge I gained there. Indeed, the Academy was both a marathon and a feast of learning. There is no comparable CLE event. Students spend essentially every waking hour of 6 days learning e-discovery through practical exercises, wonderful lectures by figures like Craig and Judge John Facciola, plus team activities, including a mock 26(f) conference graded by visiting judges. I learned a lot of law, and I learned even more about the technology underlying e-discovery - deduplication, hashes, types of digital storage media, relational databases, forensic imaging, file headers, text encodings, search engine configuration, metadata, and much more (and I’ll be writing about them here in the coming weeks and months).

After the Academy I was on fire to learn more about technology as it related to law, which, for me, included both e-discovery and legal software tools to run a better practice. The natural next step was learning the language of computers and starting to write software. I read enough of Head First Java to write my first real program - an invoicing feature for my firm. In order to deploy my invoicing feature to my firm’s live site, I was required to write unit tests to confirm that my code worked as intended - this proved to be an extremely valuable discipline, and I’m grateful to our service provider for introducing me to it.

Next I began experimenting with Python and attending online MOOCs such as Stanford’s online course on the design and analysis of algorithms. Suddenly I found myself working two jobs: a 9-to-5 job practicing law, and a 5-to-midnight job learning to develop software, hoping to improve the legal technology we utilized in-house. In November of 2014 I started working in earnest on a web application that would enable me to create hyperlinked timelines for each of my cases. I worked relentlessly on with this project, and there were weekends where I would code continuously for 15+ hours, sometimes on the verge of giving up as I tried to resolve cryptic error messages and failures. But I slogged through it and finally managed to deploy a rudimentary web application for making timelines. My app was essentially a “toy” project, and none of it was suitable for enterprise use, but I proved to myself that I had the potential to make software that could be useful for other lawyers, and I decided it was time to focus all of my hours on development legal software, rather than dividing my time between two equally-demanding jobs. I founded CaseFleet on the belief that my experience as a practicing lawyer, small-firm partner, and e-discovery maven would give me the insight to develop uniquely useful tools to my colleagues in the field.

I am looking forward to sharing my passion and knowledge of e-discovery, legal software and technology, and the law as it relates to technology (plus many other topics) on the CaseFleet blog.