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My, My How You Have Grown
POSTED ON April 12

Shepherd Data Services celebrates its 15 year anniversary this month.  My, my, how things have changed in 15 years! But let’s go back even further. Let’s explore how the skills and tools necessary to practice law have changed over a few generations.

When I prepare blogs, I often work in my home office and my gaze tends to rest upon a photo on my desk of my father’s graduating law school class.  My father, Obert Chalstrom, graduated in 1952 from the University of South Dakota Law School.  His class consisted of 12 clean-shaven young men.  Well, not quite clean-shaven.  The picture must have been taken in the late afternoon because my father definitely had the beginnings of a 5 o’clock shadow. (In the photo, my father is standing front row, third from the right.)

My father was the spitting image of Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason. I don’t know if the Perry Mason novels of Erle Stanley Gardner or the 1930s films by Warner Brothers influenced my father to go to law school, or whether the opportunity simply presented itself.  He often told the story of when he was being transported back from his service in WWII.  The trip by boat took several days and my father had plenty of time to think and plan his future.  The marines had just been informed about the GI bill, and my father was entitled to the maximum benefits.  He was determined to put them to good use.  The most expensive degree at that time was a law degree, and my father set his sights toward that.  He also realized that his educational and socio-economic background could not propel him further than the brickyards where the majority of his family toiled.  He needed skills, and law school was the place to get them.

Back then, the study of law involved extensive study of the case law, and little – if any – of the skills for actually practicing law. Yet, law school trained my father how to write, think and analyze critically, and logically present his ideas in person, skills which allowed him to then develop his career in life insurance.  He retired as Vice President of Security Life in the 70s.  He often attributed his success to those critical thinking and writing skills he developed during law school.  My father often told me, “Christine, go to law school. It’s the best education for whatever you want to do, whether it’s practicing law or going into business.”

After much soul-searching and a 5-year break after college, I realized that my father was right.  Like him, I needed skills. I needed a powerful degree to propel myself forward in the world.

I decided to attend William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline School of Law) because I wanted to graduate with practical skills.  I learned critical thinking, legal research, and oral argument, a foundation very similar to my father’s.

After a clerkship with a Hennepin County judge, in 1993 I started my own law firm.  Within two years of practicing law and working with computers, I realized the practice of law was in for a dramatic shift in the years ahead.  People were using email more and more; and, now instead of starting a document with pen and paper, we started them electronically in a word processing program.  Discovery had to adjust to the modern world.  A tidal wave of change was coming, and I wanted to be part of it.

Today there are established legal careers in data analysis and eDiscovery. Here at Shepherd Data Services we embrace the need to look beyond a law firm or general counsel’s office for a legal career.

Shepherd Data recently added a new colleague to its pack: Mary Harens. Like me, Mary is a technologist’s attorney and a graduate of Mitchell Hamline.  Additionally, she is a former CPA with many years of experience in forensic accounting and financial and data analysis, graphics, demonstrative evidence, and document management, as well as courtroom presentation and technology. Before becoming an attorney, Mary ran her own independent trial presentation and litigation support business, specializing in the preparation of demonstrative evidence and the design and execution of evidence presentation systems in the courtroom. She has worked on a wide variety of complex litigation, primarily with Larson King partners and clients, but also with other law firms in this region and around the country.

Mary felt her law degree gave her a solid foundation to supplement her already-strong technology skills.  Both Mary and I agree that today’s attorney needs to couple the tried and true skills learned in law school with contemporary technology skills.  Mitchell Hamline provides a number of those skills during law school.  Not only do they offer an eDiscovery class, but their hybrid program weaves technology throughout the coursework.

Back in my father’s day, the pace of the law was glacial, and always looking toward the past.  As Mary observes, “Attorneys always seemed to be slow to accept change. I was often told by attorneys that things were done a certain way ‘because we always do it that way.’ I knew this had to change.”  Today, attorneys need to develop skills for understanding and using technology to run their business in addition to being a modern advocate for their clients.

The past fifteen years in particular have seen a veritable explosion of technology tools. I’m proud to say that Shepherd Data Services has helped introduce those tools to our local market.

In 2002, when I started Shepherd Data, eDiscovery barely existed.  As technology progressed, we were thrilled when programs could actually display Microsoft Office files as Microsoft Office files, instead of converting everything to TIFF.  Shepherd’s early contribution to the Minneapolis/St. Paul market was the introduction of kCura’s Relativity, which allowed our clients to migrate from small, under-powered installations of litigation support software to larger, consolidated, more powerful cloud-based solutions – and at a much lower cost than purchasing all the hardware and software on its own.

Shepherd Data also introduced the innovation of email threading and near-duplicates in databases.  This tool allows our clients to quickly group similar documents together and to track an email conversation.

Most recently, our Early Case Assessment (ECA) tool, embedded into Shepherd’s Relativity, allows our clients to quickly weed out irrelevant information and gives them insight into collections at a fraction of the normal hosting costs.

We feel an obligation to our clients to provide them with the best tools, but also we keep in mind those essential foundations.  My father passed away in 1994, three years after I graduated from law school.  I think of him every day.  I remember comparing notes with him about his law school experience and mine – amazingly much of our experiences were similar (we both broke out in a cold sweat when briefing a case in front of the entire class).  Law schools still strive to instill the highly valued skills of critical thinking, legal research, and oral argument; but, now today’s lawyer needs to be adept at contemporary technical tools.  My alma mater, Mitchell Hamline, seeks to arm its graduates with these tools.  But, many attorneys haven’t had the benefit of this kind of law school education.  Thus, the question remains: How much have these contemporary tools been incorporated into the daily practice of law?  Are attorneys expertly using them?  Are you?


About the Author Chris

Author Avatar Christine Chalstrom is the Founder, CEO, and President of Shepherd Data Services, Trustee, Mitchell Hamline Law School and Adviser, Center for Law and Business. She has spoken widely on the Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures, Digital Forensics, and eDiscovery best practices. Her credits include presentations to the American Bar Association, Association of Certified e-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS), Corporate Counsel Institute, MN Association of Corporate Counsel, MN Association of Litigation Support Professionals, MN CLE, Mitchell Hamline School of Law, Upper Midwest Employment Law Institute. She is an attorney, programmer, and forensic examiner.