The explosive growth of electronic discovery may be leading to a new position: large firm lawyers who are discovery specialists. 

Law Technology News reports in the April 2005 issue that Sullivan & Cromwell has recently hired an experienced lawyer, Thomas Barnett, as special counsel focusing exclusively on electronic data discovery: Barnett

“advises the firm’s attorneys on EDD issues, working in tandem with the firm’s litigation support staff. The firm will also offer his services to clients, both as a consultant and as an expert witness, he explains. He expects to bill at a partner rate, and reports to the executive committee. “

I know one other AmLaw 100 firm has a partner who serves as the in-house EDD expert, though that is not his only role. That Barnett reports directly to the executive committee rather than the head of litigation suggests the position is “staff,” though he is listed as special counsel on the firm’s web site.

It will be interesting to see how this and similar positions evolve and whether other large firms will create functionally similar roles. In my view, this is a good trend. Firms would be well-served if the lawyers in these roles had not only EDD expertise, but also project management expertise. It’s not enough to know the rules of discovery and the technology – succeeding in large EDD matters also requires project management discipline.

As for reporting lines, that is a tough call. Litigation support can fall under IT, its own group, or occasionally the litigation practice. In-house lawyer-EDD experts will similarly have to cut across staff and lawyer lines, so it will take time to determine the optimal reporting relationship. But reporting to the executive committee certainly sends a strong positive signal that a firm is taking EDD and this role seriously.