Q&A: Conor Gavin On How Chat and Apps Are Making E-Discovery More Complex
Conor Gavin, Senior Director, FTI Consulting, explains how an evolution in both remote working and the apps that people use in their professional lives is creating a whole new set of e-discovery challenges.
Conor, you’ve been with FTI Technology in Ireland for almost three years now. The team has grown significantly since then, hasn’t it?
It certainly has. When I joined, the Technology segment in Ireland was just ramping up. I was one of the first consultants hired here. Since then, our presence has grown rapidly, and FTI Consulting now has multiple robust practices based in Dublin, including core areas of Technology, Construction, Digital Science and Strategic Communications. We’ve also added a meaningful number of local clients and projects, as well as supported our teams and colleagues across EMEIA and the U.S. By expanding our efforts in Dublin while working with our international colleagues, we’ve been able to service our clients at a global level but with a local focus, as well as bring broad expertise to our teams.
What types of projects have you been involved in, and has that changed over time?
I typically work across three main practice areas — discovery, digital forensics and data privacy. We have seen a significant increase in the need for breach response support due a steady rise in the incidence and severity of data breaches in recent years.
We have also seen changes in the complexity of data our clients are handling, and which has become a critical area of solution development for our clients.
One example is the increased relevance of information from emerging data sources such as Microsoft Teams and Slack, and the rise in the use of dynamic, linked content, as in when documents are shared in messages as cloud-based links rather than as traditional static attachments. Ensuring that these are handled correctly is a new and constantly evolving challenge in discovery.
Overall, we are very much in the space of helping clients respond to data-related issues as well as regulatory and court requests, often under tight timelines. We also work with clients to get in front of their digital risks by proactively establishing information governance and data privacy programmes and conducting data remediation exercises.
Can you speak more about what is driving the shift in data complexity?
The recent and ongoing shift in working patterns and the types of tools people use to communicate for business carry significant implications for data. For example, chat data and messages from collaboration applications were on the fringe in e-discovery and investigations just a couple of years ago, whereas now, these formats are in scope for virtually all of the data-related requests we handle.
An interesting change related to this is that there’s now a more open and accepting approach to remote collections, offering more flexibility in how investigations are conducted, rather than the previous standard of always collecting data physically on site. This has benefits in managing the volume of requests from multiple clients across the globe. The ability to do this work remotely has also meant that as a team we have a broader reach. For example, if we are working on a pan-European project, we can call upon a strong team from any of our regions to get involved as needed.
How else is e-discovery changing?
If you came to me five or six years ago and asked me to conduct an e-discovery case, the scope would be quite straightforward. The data sources and workflows were quite standardized. It’s so much more complex now. Collecting cloud-based data from productivity suites like Microsoft 365 often requires customised workflows, and alongside that, processing and parsing chat data into a format that is reviewable is complicated and requires technical expertise.
People are using mobile device applications much more regularly in a professional context, so we’re increasingly seeing the need to collect WhatsApp, Signal, Telegram and WeChat data, as well as messages and information from lesser-known applications that are popular in specific regions. While in the past, data relevant to a matter could typically be found in three or four places, but now it can be dozens. All of that information must be identified, defensibly collected and then standardised to create one unified, clear picture for the legal and in-house counsel teams to decipher.
Our teams have been at the forefront of addressing these changes, and are continually developing new ways to approach projects and solve unexpected challenges. Our global emerging data sources expertise has made it possible for us to adapt to whatever data a client has and create workflows to support them in identifying, collecting and reviewing complex, disparate data.
Is this changing the role that technology plays?
Absolutely. For example, our work with clients and their increased use of these new data types led to the development our proprietary solution — FTI Connect — which enables us to pull data from many different sources in different ways.
We also recognize that to uphold defensibility, we need to be able to explain the fundamentals of our sophisticated approach. We have learnt that getting it right from the start is more important than ever.
Every step can impact the results and mistakes can lead to problems with downstream analysis, review and production, so, the technology must be totally on point.
So, there must be a risk that something could be missed at some point during the process?
There is always this risk, which is why it is so important for experts to be involved from the outset. We have often been on the other side of this, where disclosed productions are exchanged and certain documents have not been produced or collection has not been fully scoped from the outset, and those problems can have significant negative impacts on cases with a serious knock-on effect for clients, at significant cost. In worst case scenarios, there is the risk of a case being struck out.
These issues typically happen when an organisation has tried to manage the process internally or has not engaged the right external expert support. It is key that the process is always auditable and defensible.
Considering these challenges may only become more intense, is Ireland building a reputation as an e-discovery centre of excellence?
Ireland has had a very well-established centre of excellence for data-related issues for some time now, and we have dealt with some of the evolving challenges that have come our way over the years relating to complex data, large volumes and new best practices. In some facets, Ireland has set precedents that others have then adopted. Therefore, as a country we are very much progressive when it comes to data and adapting to what is needed in our field to respond.
It is also worth mentioning that even though the FTI Technology team is relatively new here in Dublin, our team members have been working in the Irish market collectively for decades, and therefore have tremendous experience and exposure to the data evolution. For that reason we have a very strong network here, which ultimately benefits our clients.
Is there anything you would like to share with us about your non-work life? Somebody commented on a webinar that you’re a “man of mystery,” as you have no LinkedIn profile.
I do keep a low profile on social media. Maybe that’s because I know what can be done with data. As for my personal life, I’m a proud father of two girls, one who just arrived this spring. In my spare time, I enjoy live music and rugby. I was particularly satisfied with Ireland’s performance in the Six Nations this year, and I’m looking forward to getting over to France for the World Cup in September!
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.