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Technology That Makes a Difference

How the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office Is Securing Its Data and Empowering Its Attorneys with Software That Transforms

by Gina Jurva

From school districts to statehouses to district attorneys’ offices, legal teams in the public sector face many of the same stressors as those in any other organization: They’re often short-staffed, short on time, and facing a growing volume and complexity of ediscovery data they’ve got to manage while maintaining airtight security. Add to that the urgency of meeting their critical public service missions, and the challenges facing such organizations can seem immense. 

Herman Brown, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the San Francisco District Attorney’s (SFDA) Office is familiar with this dilemma. “When I first started at the DA’s office, we were very much a pen-and-paper organization,” he says. “That has all changed.”

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Merging Technology and Public Service

The responsibilities of a CIO at a prominent prosecutor's office are extensive. According to Brown, "In my capacity as CIO, I oversee all technology services for the San Francisco District Attorney's Office."

He reveals the multifaceted nature of his position, assuming additional responsibilities such as the department's Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), bridging the gap in the absence of a dedicated CISO within the DA's Office. 

Brown underscores the importance of collaboration with the city-wide CISO, stating, "I partner and work with the city-level cybersecurity team from a cybersecurity perspective in making sure that the DA's Office is not only meeting our cybersecurity requirements but making sure that we are in line with the city and county of San Francisco and meeting the overall requirements.” 

Reflecting on the dual hats he wears, Brown notes, "As CIO, my role is no different than any other private sector CIO," emphasizing the commonality in responsibilities ranging from staff management to technological decision-making. 

"The technology that you’re implementing and using in an organization actually makes a difference."

A vital aspect of his role involves visionary leadership. "As CIO, it's more of being the big picture person, the innovative guy, and thinking, 'Okay, how do we continue to help the business move forward?’”

Everlaw Adoption: Impacting Workflow and Efficiency

The SFDA’s Office adopted Everlaw in 2018, and it’s made a profound difference, Brown says, “The use of Everlaw has impacted the team’s workflow and efficiency 100%.”

Brown’s experience highlights how the right ediscovery software can streamline the litigation process, freeing team members and investigators to focus on high-priority tasks. 

For a DA’s office, the tasks can be one of life and death.  Brown cites a case where “our investigators were able to track down an abducted child and return that child safely home. The work that myself and my team did in providing our investigators the tools to be able to do that job – we had a direct impact. The technology that you’re implementing and using in an organization actually makes a difference.”

Herman Brown and Elizabeth Roper Speak at Everlaw Summit '23
Herman Brown, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the San Francisco District Attorney’s, and Elizabeth Roper, a partner at Baker McKenzie, Speak at Everlaw Summit '23

Same Staff, So Much Data 

The discovery process has undergone drastic changes over the past decade. Body cam images, surveillance video, geodata, and multiple types of cell phone data have joined institutional records, email, and paper documents as sources of evidence in a typical investigation. 

Facing the growing demands of the discovery process, with resources that remain flat, legal teams need to find force multipliers, advanced tools that allow them to not only meet the needs of modern ediscovery, but to go far beyond baseline requirements – without requiring additional resources.  

Now, reports Brown, “We can try more cases with the same amount of staff.” Team members can access all the information on one common platform that processes native data, produced documents, and data from cloud-storage solutions. Members can then employ sophisticated search programs, leveraging advanced but intuitive features, whether collaborative case-building tools or artificial intelligence, to illuminate crucial patterns, reveal key pieces of evidence, and organize their data in a cohesive timeline

The SFDA’s Office relies on Everlaw to capture and maintain this data on a secure, cloud-native platform. “Most important for me is security, because of the types of data that we have to deal with. HIPAA, PCI, PII, CJIS, DOJ regulations — everything that we do is based on the foundation of security first.”

Today, the SFDA’s Office can rest secure in the knowledge that its data is protected by trusted infrastructure, rigorous auditing, and best-in-class certifications, including both FedRAMP and StateRAMP authorization.

It’s vital that an investigative team be able to bring on new members with minimal disruption to a case. Everlaw makes the transition seamless.

“We now have centralized data, so when there’s a change to staff, we no longer have to go comb through someone’s history files or their home directory,” Brown explains. “It’s just a matter of us updating permissions to allow those who need it access to that information.”

Building Technology Buy-In at All Levels

Ensuring the effectiveness of criminal prosecutions in a large city like San Francisco hinges on the deployment of cutting-edge technologies like Everlaw into the city's law enforcement strategy.

And that requires buy-in from leadership. Brown employs a holistic approach to technology change management, where transparent communication, quick wins, and collaborative advocacy play pivotal roles in driving successful outcomes amid the agency’s competing priorities.

For example, at leadership meetings, Brown emphasizes transparency by presenting a comprehensive list of projects and outlining their top priorities along with the tangible benefits they offer. 

He states, "Here's our top three, top five projects that we're working on. And this is the benefit of these projects and what they're going to do for us." This clear communication forms the basis for effective decision-making and organizational alignment.

Navigating the intricacies of internal priorities across various departments poses a unique calculus for Brown. Recognizing the pivotal role of crowdsourcing within the organization, he underscores the significance of successful solutions being championed by staff and stakeholders at multiple levels. 

"This isn't an IT project. This is a business project that's being led by IT." 

Brown's philosophy revolves around breaking down complex initiatives into manageable, achievable milestones that resonate with the team and contribute to the overall success of the organization. 

He likens the strategy to enjoying a massive burrito from a favorite taqueria, stating, "What I tell the team, it’s like going to your favorite taqueria and ordering the Azteca Burrito, and it's this huge burrito, and it's like, 'Okay, you can't eat this all in one sitting, so let's cut it up. Let's break it into bite-sized pieces.'" 

Brown places emphasis on securing quick wins to build momentum and garner support from staff members. The goal, he says, is to “get some of those quick successes, get the staff and the team, the stakeholders supporting us, and use word of mouth advertising" to ensure broad approval.

Aligning Business and Technology for Successful Rollouts

When embarking on a technology rollout, Brown advises securing organizational support and ensuring effective communication. "A successful rollout, in my opinion, is really getting the support of the organization." 

The upfront communication is crucial, involving a clear discussion about the project's scope and the expected contributions from each involved department.

Reflecting on past experiences, Brown highlights a common misconception related to certain projects – that they are simply IT-focused. What may be perceived as solely a technology upgrade can actually enhance the business of law and make the attorneys’ and paralegals’ jobs easier.  

"This isn't an IT project,” Brown explains. “This is a business project that's being led by IT." 

Another important facet of this strategy is seeking out the active involvement of attorneys, paralegals, and other stakeholders in decision-making processes. Brown explains, "I like to start off my projects by having that conversation about who's going to be involved with the project." This communicative approach ensures the capture of nuanced departmental needs.

The subsequent build process includes user acceptance testing, where staff actively participates in validating the proposed solution. 

Tailored Training Strategies for Diverse Learning Styles

And, of course, with any new technology there is the need for training, both before the roll-out and after. 

The approach involves tailoring training methods to cater to diverse learning preferences, incorporating documentation, video tutorials, and live training sessions. 

Brown has committed to making training available irrespective of individual learning needs among staff members, ensuring a comprehensive approach to skill development. 

People learn in different ways and the key to success is acknowledging that at the outset. “Everyone learns differently and some people are better off learning it before actually having touched it and seen it,” he says “Others need to touch it and see it first and then can do the training,” he says.

Herman Brown Speaks with Attendees at Everlaw Summit '23
Herman Brown Speaks with Attendees at Everlaw Summit '23

Everlaw's Impact: Evolving Workflows and Enhancing Public Record Requests

In delving into the multifaceted impact of the platform, Brown underscores Everlaw's role in streamlining the review process for navigating complex and voluminous civil cases, citing the platform's redaction and deduplication capabilities.

"The ability to input vast amounts of data into Everlaw, followed by leveraging its invaluable redaction and deduplication features, is crucial."

Initially procured for civil cases and document management, the focus has expanded to include public records request management.

"My goal has always been to change the mindset from being a government agency representing the people to being a law firm representing the government for the people."

Brown describes Everlaw's role in extracting data from Office 365, streamlining the review process, and facilitating discovery. The transition from manual, outdated methods to Everlaw's automated tracking and audit log, as described by Brown, has significantly enhanced processes, allowing for transparency and accountability in responding to public records requests. Utilizing dedicated project folders and detailed naming conventions, the platform facilitates seamless tracking, correlating search parameters with Office 365 data, providing a comprehensive solution for managing and executing public records requests.

“Now, we have an audit log to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is when the request came in and this is when it was actually executed.’”

Brown frowns upon the impracticality of manual document examination, emphasizing Everlaw's efficiency in filtering out duplicate content and enabling keyword searches within extensive documents. 

Brown points to time-saving capabilities such as bulk redactions as, particularly, "being able to quickly go through those documents and do those mass redactions because that saves time." 

The platform's automatic redaction of personally identifiable information supports compliance with privacy regulations in public records requests. 

"It helps streamline the process for us. It helps us to track the request more efficiently, and it also just helps the whole document management piece of it and being able to redact several or remove duplicate emails is great." 

In essence, Everlaw not only enhances efficiency but ensures compliance with privacy regulations, as Brown points out in the context of public records requests: "I'm just verifying that the required reaction has occurred and seeing whether or not there's any other information in there that may be obscure." The platform's capabilities significantly contribute to a more streamlined and effective discovery process.

A Shift Toward Service and Delivery

In the ongoing transformation journey of the SFDA’s office, Brown articulated how Everlaw is instrumental in reshaping the office's public perception, steering it away from conventional governmental stereotypes. 

“Technology definitely can help in getting to the truth of the case.”

Brown sees the office as a dynamic law firm dedicated to efficiently representing the government for the people, transcending traditional notions of government entities as slow and technologically outdated.

"My goal has always been to change the mindset... from being a government agency representing the people to being a law firm representing the government for the people." 

Recognizing the prevalent perception of government as slow and unreliable, he underscores the commitment of trustworthy attorneys and the imperative of technology, noting, "technology plays a very important role." 

“Technology definitely can help in getting to the truth of the case,” says Brown. “It’s all about teamwork. We partner the IT with the business side of the house to ensure that the organization is successful.”

Brown is dedicated to providing tools that enable seamless work across systems, emphasizing, "being able to help give [the attorneys] the tools and ability to work seamlessly." This vision underscores a fundamental shift towards efficient service delivery and enhanced collaboration within the District Attorney's office.

Brown's story celebrates tangible improvements brought about by innovation in the District Attorney's Office's daily operations. This isn't just about keeping pace with the demands of the legal landscape; it's actively shaping a future where the SFDA’s Office stands as a beacon of technological advancement within the realm of public service. As Brown phrased it, the focus is on “continuing to explore ways to make everyone's lives easier and more productive."

To learn how Everlaw users are tackling the challenges of ediscovery today and transforming their organizations in the process, see our library of Everlaw customer success stories here.

This article was originally published on April 19, 2023. It was updated and expanded with additional insights from the San Francisco District Attorney's Office on February 29, 2024.