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United Airlines’ Paul Noonan on the Shift to Modern Ediscovery for In-house Counsel

Charting the Course to an Ediscovery Transformation

by Colleen Haikes


United Airlines was born for the cloud – and not just when it comes to aeronautics. One of the largest airlines in the world, United has been leading the way in aviation for nearly a century. Their mission: To do good in the air and on the ground, working to make the world a happier, greener, more inclusive, more fascinating place. 

For an organization of this prominence and scale, being able to chart a straighter path to the truth when disputes arise is paramount. 

Finding the facts that can make or break a litigation is a responsibility that often falls to Paul Noonan, in-house ediscovery counsel for United Airlines. Paul manages legal matters around intellectual property, antitrust, class action, product liability, employment and real estate cases.

An ediscovery expert with years of experience in the space, having worked at Robert Half, General Motors and Sears before United, Paul recently sat down with Everlaw to share how the ediscovery profession has evolved during his career, from the early, “wild west” days of ediscovery to the increasingly sophisticated in-house operations proliferating in major corporations today.

Here, Paul shares his insights on today’s ediscovery trends, the keys to moving ediscovery projects in-house, and lessons learned on the process, such buddying up with IT

Thanks for speaking with us today. Could you tell us what you’ve seen in the ediscovery field over time and how it has evolved for in-house counsel?

For years, in-house counsel outsourced much of our ediscovery work for litigation and investigations. The process was manual and required collaboration with engineering teams to handle ingestion and running productions. This process stagnated for more than a decade. 

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve seen a new landscape emerge – a fast moving process where AI is prevalent. 

The great stagnation has come to an end, and the move to modern ediscovery is here.

Today, ediscovery software has made it easier than ever to access corporate data, automating the bulk of collections with cloud connectors – especially from Microsoft365. That’s critical because something like 85% of the data we need to cull comes from Microsoft Teams and Outlook. That means nearly any in-house team can quickly access the bulk of the data they need for discovery and investigations, and built-in culling tools mean that we have to process less than ever before. Processing used to be a major project itself, that is now almost completely automated.

So now, efficient collections are nearly painless. You’ll be surprised at the speed. 

Even with that efficiency, why do you think some in-house counsel teams hesitate to move to cloud-based ediscovery?  

There is fear of the unknown, of course, and the old way of outsourcing the work allows legal teams to outsource risk by allocating it to outside firms. 

Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve seen a new landscape emerge – a fast moving process where AI is prevalent.

But now, with automation, there’s a lot of time saved for in-house teams that offsets that benefit. For in-house counsel, I recommend dipping a toe into a modern platform at least. You can benefit a great deal from taking more control of this process.

 How do you “dip a toe” into a platform? What can in-house teams do to get started? 

While every case is important, some pose lower risks than others. Some have smaller data footprints. These are a great place to start. 

Partnering closely with HR on employment cases or investigations is a low risk way to start moving ediscovery in-house on Everlaw.

It’s not difficult to prove the value of a platform. Set up some matters, move some data over, set up the process on the cloud. 

I recommend looking for such cases with your employment team. Partnering closely with HR teams on their employment cases, or investigations, is a low risk way to start and get your bearings on moving ediscovery in-house on Everlaw, for example. 

How do you evaluate if the ediscovery platform has been a success?

In much of my career in-house, I’ve found half of my job is being a bean counter. Cost containment and cost cutting are critical measures of success for the legal department. 

GCs want to know their team is doing its best to drive efficiencies as well as successful outcomes.  

What I recommend is creating a set of cases one year that you can compare to an equivalent set from the year prior. That way you are showing your value to the department. This is especially effective with a platform like Everlaw that doesn’t charge for analytics or other features. All in one is a simple way to evaluate the costs. And of course, there’s the time you save too. 

What are your top tips on how to gain efficiencies in ediscovery? 

The best way in-house counsel can reduce costs is to cull their data as early as possible. 

I recommend requiring certain cuts at every level. If you can run searches in M365, do so, but at a minimum you should perform a date cull. If you need more robust search tools, using an ECA database for more complex searches can be effective. Analytics over human review is a must at this point. It’s really cost effective. 

Cost containment and cost cutting are critical measures of success for the legal department.

Previously we didn’t run analytics on fewer than 50k docs and now I  run analytics on everything – it’s a game-changer. Some form of concept searching will almost always be better than old school search terms, even in privilege identification.

What career advice would you give to those just starting out in ediscovery today? 

Ediscovery has become a much more technical professional track within the legal field so shoring up on the concepts of big data and AI is beneficial. 

Also, you’ll likely be working closely with your IT teams on information governance policies such as document retention and compliance. Partnering with IT is mutually beneficial. Legal policy and IT policy have a lot of overlap and often similar goals such as how to reduce email retention. The IT department is one of your closest partners in-house. 

They’ll be helpful in your transition to cloud-based ediscovery. 

Any other closing thoughts?

The great stagnation has come to an end, and the move to modern ediscovery is here. 

My only regret is not signing up for more storage from the get-go.