Let’s face it, we all have bigger things to worry about than capital B-D “Big Data.” Climate change for one. It was just announced on May 23rd, that for the six-month hurricane season, which begins June 1, NOAA’s Atlantic Hurricane Season Outlook says there is a 70 percent likelihood of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5; winds of 111 mph or higher). Apparently—and I am no scientist—atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by a staggering 43 percent since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Those who are scientists say that the cause is the burning of fossil fuels necessary to support our industrialized society, and the effect is climate change. Will this change all we have contributed to become manageable or catastrophic? Given the hurricane forecast, I’d say we have our work cut out for us.
But while climate change and the earth that my children—and someday my grand-children—will inherit, keep me up at night, Big Data occupies my days. It’s almost absurd how in a relatively very short period of time we went from being OK to talk about eDiscovery as a separate, isolated discipline to not being able to reasonably and defensibly talk only about eDiscovery. “Yesterday” a case came in, a few gigs of data was collected and an army was assembled (one of few or many) to review documents. EDRM plain and simple. But now for those of us eDiscovery veterans and newbies, it’s so much more than that. In truth, it was way more than just eDiscovery back then. At the time, however, it was difficult when attempting to get lawyers to adapt to practicing law electronically for anyone to see the forest for the electronic trees. So we focused on eDiscovery, but now data is so much bigger. Let’s take a petabyte, for example. One petabyte is approximately 1,000 terabytes or one million gigabytes. It’s hard to visualize what a petabyte’s worth of storage could hold. One estimation of the sheer volume of data is approximately 20 million 4-door filing cabinets full of text or 500 billion pages of standard printed text. I did the following very scientific research. If the average bankers box of documents fits approximately 3000 pages then one petabyte equals 166,666,666 of these boxes. If one box weighs 41 pounds (and yes, I had someone weigh it), then one petabyte equals 666,666,640 pounds or 3,333,333 tons (at 2000 pounds per ton). If the largest elephant weighs 7.5 tons, when you print out one petabyte of data it weighs the equivalent of 444,444 elephants. That’s an awful lot of elephants in our virtual room.
That many elephants has created a whole host of additional issues that we can no longer ignore—what data are we obliged to hold onto, where to keep all that data if we do need it, how do we get access to that data when we need it in discovery, who owns the data (and is that different than the person who possesses or controls the data), what happens when the data falls into the wrong hands? Will the cloud ever fill to overflowing such that it begins to rain gigabytes? Talk about climate change. So now, 250 years after the Industrial Revolution is said to have begun in England, and almost 100 since we picked up on the idea here in the United States, it’s time for the global business community to usher in a new era of “Organization Evolution.” By evolution I in no way mean we attempt to recreate the dystopian 2081 world of Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron where, because of Amendments to the Constitution, every American is fully equal, meaning that no one is smarter, better-looking, stronger, or faster than anyone else. What I do mean is that we all try to get on the same page—legal, IT and outsource consultants—working together to create a holistic approach to the creation, use, retention, storage, privacy and security of digital information. This approach must come from top-down in an organization in a way that best fits the needs and legal requirements of a particular organization so no one department, division or subsidiary is “more equal” than another.
Organizational Evolution begins with each of us—the eDiscovery professionals. Indeed, who better to lead the charge than the eDiscovery professionals who have been in the trenches with digital information for all these many years (and who remember what a megabyte is). If we are to advocate for making smart, legally sound choices we must use our collective voice for the betterment of our organizations and clients. In order to create Organizational Evolution we need to demonstrate the value of being proactive rather than reactive where electronic data is concerned. This notion will take a concerted effort of education and constant vigilance, but will be worth the time and effort. There are more than enough petabytes of information to go around for all of us to have a voice in this new era. We have more tools and opportunities at our disposal than ever before—technological advances in eDiscovery, better systems for legal project management and availability of lower cost options for storage. We also have the alphabet soup of incentives such as the SEC, FTC, FRCP to name but a few. With Big Data, we have the opportunity of being part of something huge. OK, it might not be as big as an international pact to reduce global warming (a girl can dream can’t she?), but by embracing Organizational Evolution we have the power to be a part of the change. Who’s with me?
Alitia Faccone is the Director of Marketing at McCarter & English, LLP and works to develop and implement the firm’s marketing and business development initiatives. She also serves as Co-Chair of the firm’s e-Discovery Group, whose legal practice focuses in the area of eDiscovery, including all legal and technical issues attendant to digital information in the law. Ms. Faccone sees tremendous synergies between being a lawyer who understands the complexities of digital information and its effect on the civil discovery process, and being a marketing professional who capitalizes on the use of digital information in all its myriad forms to create strategies for generating new business and strengthening pre-existing relationships. Ms. Faccone is a member of The Sedona Conference WGI and a Senior Editor of its Primer on Social Media. She is the Chair of the firm’s Women’s Initiative Steering Committee and Co-editor-in-Chief of its newsletter, Women in the Know. She also serves as an Advisory Board Member to the Women in Law Empowerment Forum.