In this week’s episode, Shree Sharma dives into the topic of e-discovery and how hard it is to build trust when a company is facing legal troubles. Shree and Mike also discuss the challenges of working in a saturated field and how companies must differentiate themselves from the competition to survive.
Shree Sharma’s Biography
Shree Sharma is the Vice President of Business Development at Haystack ID, an e-discovery partner for corporations and law firms. Shree is an attorney who previously practiced in commercial litigation and aviation law. She received her undergraduate from the University of California at Santa Barbara and graduated from the University of Miami School of Law.
In This Episode, You’ll Learn…
- What is e-discovery, and how the process works
- How information is searched within company databases
- How e-discovery consultants help companies through the subpoena process
- The steps of the e-discovery process within litigation or other investigations
- About the trust-building process at the executive and stakeholder level
- How doing business has changed since the pandemic started and what has stayed the same
- How to get noticed as an expert in your role
- Things that businesses can use to get noticed and differentiate themselves within its field
- How to walk the talk
- When to look for an outside perspective
- When to self-audit and what questions to ask yourself
- How being mindful helps you meet your goals
- “Being able to really present organizational expertise and thought leadership and being able to present that there’s content that we have created, written content, webinar content, to help the stakeholders involved in litigation— our client understands that they’re in capable hands is a huge aspect of trust building.” —Shree Sharma
- “I can tell you that I have not found ego to really have the potential to derail these types of engagements.” —Shree Sharma
- “We’re going to have to become more and more creative about ways to engage clients that may for the foreseeable future be really reluctant to have in person meetings.” —Shree Sharma.
- “A lot of the clients I already do business with, or would want to be doing business with, I’m connected with on LinkedIn. And so finding opportunities for engagement with them through the LinkedIn platform has been huge for me.” —Shree Sharma.
- “We have been in the shoes of the people who are the decision makers and many of the issues we deal with— planning, process, and people problems, it really boils down more often than not to be people problems. And we’ve seen all types. And what we are really trying to say is don’t be overwhelmed by those.” —Mike O’Neill.
Links & Resources Mentioned…
- Shree’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/shree-sharma-boston/
- Shree’s Website: https://haystackid.com/
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Mike O'Neill: Welcome back to The Get Unstuck & On Target Podcast. I'm Mike O'Neill with Bench Builders and we're business coaches who love helping owners sleep better and grow their business because they've solved their tough process and people problems. In this podcast we're talking with experts to get their insights on ways to help you or your business get unstuck. Joining me today from Boston is Shree Sharma. Shree is the vice president of business development at Haystack ID. Haystack is an E-discovery partner for corporations and law firms facing complex data intensive investigations and litigation. Welcome Shree.
Shree Sharma: Thank you so much for having me this morning Mike.
Mike O'Neill: Well, I'm looking forward to our time together now for those folks who immediately said, well, wait a second. I'm not a large corporation I'm not a law firm. What in a world could Shree say that will be of interest to me. Well, quite frankly, we're going to spend a little time talking about what she does and what her company does, but probably spend a little more time on how she does what she does and how that might relate to us as leaders to improve our effectiveness as leaders. So may I just jump right into my first question, Shree? You are a E- discovery partner Haystack is. And you have specialization in E-discovery for the folks who are not aware what in a world is E-discovery?
Shree Sharma: Happy to answer that. So discovery is the fact finding phase of litigation and it involves the parties, exchanging non-privileged information. That's relevant to their claims and defense. So the E that we have placed on the front, pays homage to the fact that nowadays people don't keep bankers boxes full of paper records anymore, and the way that they used to in the old days. So when we are discussing the discovery process, where primarily talking about the collection of electronically stored information or ESI for short, which is found in a lot of disparate locations, hard drives, tablets, servers. What have you. So that is a, that's what E-discovery means.
Mike O'Neill: So in my corporate HR days, yes, I did get involved with legal matters. Some of these legal matters were such that we were subpoena for, I forget the right terminology, but something to the effect of any, an all records pertaining to my clients employment. And on the surface, you think that, well, that just means you go and make a copy of their employee file. You're dealing with matters much, much larger than, than that. Meaning that this requests for documentation could it involve thousands, tens of thousands or more pages of information?
Shree Sharma: It very well could. And typically what you were talking about in terms of the discovery request, we'll have a list, a numbered list of different items related to that party's employment and different issues. So one, the next step would typically be in terms of understanding which locations do we search to find the requested date? Assuming we're, we're not objecting to it. Assuming we're going to fully comply with everything listed. We'd identify who are the custodians who are likely to be in possession of this information. Would that be perhaps your direct management chain? Would that be HR, as you mentioned, would that be employees of yours? So. You then identify a series of search terms that are calculated to I to find what you're looking for. So for example, instead of searching Mike O'Neill, which would pull every Mike within those custodians and every O'Neill. I might want to say, Mike within three of O'Neill and the idea is to call down the data set to something that's, that's reasonable, and much more likely to find what we're actually looking for. And I would do the same with the other terms that are on that list.
Mike O'Neill: We're gonna come back to that in a moment then in terms of sharing a little bit about your background with our viewers and listeners. I Understand you were born in California, got your undergraduate degree at University of California, Santa Barbara, and went on to law school, at the University of Miami School of Law. I, it's hard to imagine two more beautiful potential locations, Southern California, University of Miami. And then you're speaking to us from the gorgeous New England area of Boston. You've got a knack for picking where you live on go to school. Do you not?
Shree Sharma: I like to think so. And some friends tease me that the only corner I have yet to hit is going to be, the Pacific Northwest. I really liked being along, the water and along, big, big oceans.
Mike O'Neill: You know, when we started this conversation, I didn't really make it real clear. Your law degree is from Universal of Miami, but the conversation we're having to us far, it strikes me as being very, very focused of all the things you could do as a lawyer. What kind of gravitated you in this direction?
Shree Sharma: You know, I always say that nobody really plans to go into E-discovery, at least lawyers from my generation, you, you sort of just trip and fall down the rabbit hole and there you are. And here I am, some 10 years later. I, started out practicing commercial litigation and aviation law. I then went into an entrepreneurial pursuit. I intended to leave the law completely even though I left my Florida bar license active. And my entrepreneurial pursuit was not going as well as I had hoped and planned. So I fell into E-discovery, and just worked my way up, found that I really, really enjoyed what I was doing. And, I enjoyed the collaborative nature. That being in a consultative role allows me in E-discovery rather than litigation or, that was just fundamentally too adversarial for my tastes.
Mike O'Neill: I'm reflecting on a, a case that I was involved with where, I received the actual subpoena for documentation. And when I read it, my first reaction was a feeling of almost overwhelment. What they were asking for. Could we kind of talk in just general terms? Your company comes alongside of corporations and law firms, whereas this is what they're expected to do, but as an, a seasoned attorney who is kind of moved in this direction, let's talk about this engagement when, when they reach out to your company. Let's just say you were a point of contact. I know that work primarily, and the business development side, but just kind of walk us through. When you're working with a client, they get this demand. If that's the right term, have they already reached out to your company or are they reaching out as a result of getting this type of demand?
Shree Sharma: What you're describing Mike is very common, to feel overwhelmed, especially if one is not positioned. You said that your background was in HR. So, you were not a member of the corporate legal department.
Mike O'Neill: Correct.
Shree Sharma: And so to answer your question, it's really going to depend on the type of relationship that we have with a client. We have some ongoing relationships with corporate legal departments, as well as outside counsel. So large law firms or mid, mid to low, midsize to large law firms in a case like that, they would reach out to us and there may already be an agreement in place, and a relationship. And so we would have a process flow established and we'd pick up from there. If, we hear from a client who's never worked with us before, the first thing we would want to do is to assuage the concern that you described. Explain we are experts in what we do. We have been doing this, we do it for half of the fortune 100 relax. You're in good hands. We have capable experts all across the spectrum. So we're a soup to nuts vendor, which means we would, we have the capacity to start at the beginning of this process. Negotiate. As I talked to you about the search terms that we might want to run. Yes. Identify where the custodians of the requested data are we can be involved as little or, or as elaborately as needed depending on the client's comfort level and budget. So we'd start with the collections process, potentially. You then process the data, which means you extract the metadata. The property is the information about the documents. You, then that data needs to live somewhere. So it gets hosted. Next step along the route is going to be review by teams of document review attorneys. This can be done much more economically typically than if a large law firm were billing you for the same process. Final step is going to be production. And everything that I'm talking to you about is in the context of litigation, but these processes, there's a similar set of steps that would be followed in an internal investigation, for example, or a governmental investigation.
Mike O'Neill: Shree you've kind of just walked us through at a very, very high level. What those major steps are that you kind of help quarterback. We're not gonna go into those from a legal perspective, but I'm particularly interested in how you interact with clients. For example, we've already discussed before we began recording this, the nature of the work you do, oftentimes you're on pretty short timelines and you have shared with me how important it is to kind of quickly build trust. Our listeners are leaders. And oftentimes they have to kind of quickly build trust. What have you found just in your experience, the kinds of things that you do, your colleagues do that can help get that trust established as quickly as possible?
Shree Sharma: I think we touched on that, just a hair, with my prior response, in terms of helping to assuage concerns and assure the client that we're working with, that we do know what we're doing. And a lot of times we are working with folks who are in the midst of litigation or facing anticipated litigation, and it can bring up a lot of concerns about cost, outcome and if I may be so bold, there are some stakeholders who are accustomed to being in control. Who are very high-level performers and who are accustomed to dictating, herbs and parameters. So one aspect that can make folks position like that type A's. And I know we've talked about, personality typing. One thing that can make them feel very uncomfortable is that they're in a position where there's a subject matter expertise required that they don't necessarily have. So being able to really present organizational expertise and thought leadership. And being able to present that there is a, there's content that we have created written content, webinar content to help the stakeholders involved in litigation. Our clients understand that, that they're in capable hands is a huge aspect of trust building. And for me, interacting with corporate legal departments, interacting with outside counsel. Having them know that I have a practice background and a bar license, even if I'm not actively practicing that I can speak their language. Often, does a lot in terms of rapport building, I have found.
Mike O'Neill: You know, you just hit the three things that I was going to ask, but, and you did it so nicely succinctly, and that is your stressing the importance of quickly building trust that you have to kind of engender a sense of confidence that who they've chosen to do business with, we've got this, we know we're doing, we've got your back. We're going to take care of you. And you talked about establishing rapport and I want to follow up a little bit. When you're working with large corporations or, or large law firms. You didn't say this, but what I kind of was reading is you are working with some folks who are accustomed to having all the answers. And sometimes ego is a factor. When you're having to wrestle, if that's the right term information out of, or this entire process, does this take some I'll use the word schmoozing for lack of better words, do you and your teams kind of have to schmooze to build, to kind of keep everything running smoothly? And are these the kinds of issues that can be potential derailers?
Shree Sharma: You know, I am interested because particularly with how you are positioned, in your career and expertise with how you would answer that question, I can tell you that I have not found ego to really have the potential to derail these types of engagements. Primarily because as you mentioned earlier, there are often very tight timelines. So egos don't tend to make an appearance.
Mike O'Neill: What you said there, Shree is that is in, in your line of work, what you're finding is this is a relatively straightforward issue and therefore you guys are the experts. You come in you say, we're going to help you produce what needs to be done. We're going to advise you on how we produce this documentation, present it, that type of thing. Don't worry about that. And if what they're used to is kind of being in control, maybe those ego factors don't come into, into play here necessarily. Shree, we also have talked a little bit before we started recording in our prior conversation. A little bit about you and your background. You mentioned a little bit earlier about, kind of growing up in an entrepreneurial family. And we've talked about you living in California, in Miami, you're now in, in Boston. What are you finding, as a leader, as a person who is representing a company representing a profession, what are you finding the climate is right now. We're recording this in late August. We are 18 plus months into a pandemic in United States. Has that changed the complexion of interactions with clients or potential clients?
Shree Sharma: You know, I think Mike, the stop and start aspect that we have encountered in this most recent month has been tremendously frustrating for folks because there was a lot of energy it's like we were all accelerating lanes. You know, we're ready to take off. We were thinking we've, we've finally conquered this. And then the Delta variant made its appearance again. And I can tell you, there was a conference, there's a legal tech conference. It's called ILTA. I LTA that everybody in my industry typically sets their calendar by. Their annual calendar and, took place in Vegas with fairly small number of physical attendees. And, this was their first year trying to do a hybrid conference. And I think in many levels on many levels, it was a huge success. But some of the feedback I have heard, from attendees is that may be my last year of going to ILTA, maybe, maybe legal tech conferences or are on their way out. And if that's the case, even if they're not fully on their way out, but if they will draw fewer and fewer attendees going forward, that does fundamentally shift the way people in my industry are going to interact with their clients. And we're going to have to be, as everybody has had to become resourceful over the past year and a half. We're going to have to become more and more creative about ways to engage clients that may for the foreseeable future be really reluctant to have in-person meetings.
Mike O'Neill: Is the reluctance. Does that hamper your ability and your company's ability, is much of what you do already virtual or the nature of your work, are you onsite with clients historically?
Shree Sharma: So I found myself Mike in a business development role for the first time. Meaning in a full business development role, Over the course of the pandemic. So I don't have a frame of reference in terms of how deals were closed prior to the pandemic. I can tell you that from a service delivery perspective, our work is primarily performed remotely, and that has historically been the case in our industry. From a business development and relationship building and nurturing perspective I am just a and you and I have talked about this before. I I'm an extrovert and, I am old school and of the mind coming from a business family where my dad's business associates were always at our house for dinner. I'm of the mind that you close deals with a handshake, with a firm handshake. And that is always going to be my preference.
Mike O'Neill: You know, it's interesting. You've transitioned from a, from a practitioner to I business development role. And you've mentioned that you are by nature an extrovert. That what, you know, goes back to literally your upbringing and that is, parents, your father in particular, having businesses and part of that business relationship entailed having clients to the house for dinner. And now that's, that is much, much, much harder. Transitioning to a business development role. As I have talked to clients, I've talked to consultants. What I hear time and time again is I know my stuff. I know I can help a client fill in the blank, doing whatever it might be, but this idea of going out and selling my services, it scares me. It's hard. Transitioning to business development. Is it a tough transition?
Shree Sharma: I think I jumped in with both feet and that I started my own consultancy in a discovery just prior to the pandemic. And that's a, an eat what you kill type of role. So to speak. So one of the ways in which I did that and can certainly relate to the concern you just expressed. In terms of, you know, how do I go out there and establish the credibility? One of the ways that I tried to do that was by generating content, whether that was written or otherwise, I did not join the podcasting game, so I applaud that you have done that. But establishing thought leadership and. Doing my darnedest to broadcast whatever content I was generating to as wide an audience as possible was one way in which I tried to thread that needle.
Mike O'Neill: What'd you just describe as that brought us in contact? Yes, I do host a podcast, but another way that you get known, is serve as a podcast guest, which I know you've done. I've listened to your appearance on several different podcasts, and having high quality content. I mean, in many respects, you're representing yourself, you're representing your company. And in today's environment it sounds as if you're using as as much creativity as you possibly can. You know, it's, I, I go back to the, the notion and this may be very dated. There was a time that lawyers didn't advertise. And business development, the thought of business development for legal services would have kind of looked upon it very, very differently. Over the last, I don't know what time period, 25, 50 years, it, that seems to have changed dramatically. Marketing services, marketing legal services. I see too many billboards, usually, injury attorney billboards but see a lot of that going on right now. Is it getting hard to be noticed in a profession and the specialized role that your in, is it getting harder and harder to stand out and differentiate?
Shree Sharma: So the legal tech industry is, and has historically been tremendously competitive. Because there are some aspects, for example, data hosting, where it's harder to establish your differentiators. And I think that's where it becomes key to conduct as an organization, an appraisal of what do we bring to the market? How are we different from the others who are in this space and how can we effectively message that. And then broadcast that message, to our, to our existing and perspective clients as effectively as possible. And I actually, speaking of listening to podcasts, I listened to one of yours in which you were talking I think it was your most recent podcast about the power of LinkedIn and being able to leverage that. Because I don't know if this is true for you, Mike, but for me, a lot of the clients I already do business with or would want to be doing business with I'm connected with on LinkedIn. And so finding opportunities for engagement with them through the LinkedIn platform has been huge for me. I don't know. Have you found that to be true?
Mike O'Neill: Very much. And that's in part why I asked the question and that is LinkedIn, as I understood originally, it was more of a, a job search tool. And it has evolved to be far, far more than that. And so the answer is yes. I have connections with people from LinkedIn that I would not have otherwise, and it gives me an opportunity to engage with those connections in ways that I would not otherwise. So I view LinkedIn as a powerful tool. I learned a great deal from the postings that are read. My hope is that the postings that I do in my does like you and haystack are informative. It, it, it informs the reader, about something they may or may not know about. Such that at the time that they might need what it is that Bench Builders does they've already were familiar, who we are familiar with me, what we can do, and therefore they are when they reach out we're much more of a known quantity. So that being said, I have found LinkedIn to be a very, very powerful tool to stay engaged, to inform and be informed. And, for example, we actually will post this podcast on LinkedIn as a resource for folks to learn from Shree and her experiences.
Shree Sharma: Well, I look forward to seeing it. Mike, I would love to know when we're talking about differentiators. We spoke about that a little bit. What, what do you see as your differentiators for Bench Builders?
Mike O'Neill: Well, I appreciate it. This is going to be a new little twist here. I guess the short answer is it's who you're working with. We have been in the shoes of the people who are the decision-makers. And many of the issues we deal with planning, process, and people problems. It really boils down more often not to be people problems. And we've seen all types. And what we're really trying to say is don't be overwhelmed by those. Embrace what needs to be done? Build processes into your business. If you want to grow your business, stop fretting over it. Let's put things in place that will enable you. If you're a business owner to not go to bed so stressed start sleeping at night, begin dreaming about how you're going to grow your business. So I guess I would say the biggest differentiator is we in fact have walked the talk. If we're talking to a business owner, if I'm in a conversation with business owner, I'm a fellow business owner. So I understand the challenges of getting service delivered of getting payroll taken care of those kinds of things. I get it. I understand it. And as a result, our starting point is I already have, at least some sense of the kind of challenges they're dealing with. My job is to be real clear that I have seen and heard accurately and build explore. Can we be of some help to them? How did I do on that question? Shree?
Shree Sharma: Well done. Well done. Thank you for allowing me to take over.
Mike O'Neill: Well, I'm going to assert control one more time, because I do want to ask you a question in keeping with the theme of this podcast. And that is, can you share a little more on a personal side, Shree where perhaps you got stuck. And when you conclude I'm stuck, what did you do to get unstuck?
Shree Sharma: Happy, to happy to share? So I found that there has historically in my life been a push pull between the entrepreneurial spirit and the comfort of being affiliated with a larger organization. Which in many respects is probably why a business development role strikes that balance perfectly for me. I was in a service delivery role and discovering that I was looking for an opportunity to flex my entrepreneurial muscles again, but wasn't at all sure how to go about that. And I decided it was time for me to retain an executive coach. I did so with some trepidation because my thought process was. Well, who the heck has anybody to coach me? Does this person have the market cornered on, on life? And I will tell you that it is the single most impactful from the perspective of retaining a professional to help me. This was the single most impactful decision I had made for myself professionally looking back, and also it turned out to have wide ranging impacts for me personally. In other words, I pulled up stakes and I left Florida. I restarted in Boston. I sold my home in Florida. It, enabled me to move forward with a lot of plans and projects that might have just remained nascent without having engaged the external. Having put myself in a position where I was accountable to somebody for my own personal and professional choices.
Mike O'Neill: I appreciate you sharing that needless to say, that's a, bias that we have because we offer coaching services. And it's amazing that just having someone, who can be available to, a trained set of ears. Even someone who is highly trained like you, like myself, we can get kind of myopic and having a fresh perspective can be so, so helpful. You know, Shree I at the outset was thinking we might do a little bit of a dive about legal services. But, we hopefully kind of get into a little more about Shree, what you're finding in terms of what the real world is, the challenges, that you're experiencing, the fact that you chose to engage a coach, as you reflect on our conversations today, what might be some takeaways or closing thoughts you would like to offer?
Shree Sharma: I am a big believer in conducting pretty routine, self audits. And so on the coaching point, one of the, directives I have from the executive coach that I have been working with is to conduct a monthly audit of what are my plans big picture, what do I want to accomplish within the next month? What do I want to accomplish within the next year? So I think, especially in the context of the past year and a half, where many of us have just been wearing pajama bottoms and a suits, suit jackets on the top. It's really, really easy for days to pass into weeks to pass into months. And that's how life passes you by. If there's one thing, that is really top of mind for me right now, it's being tremendously mindful in how we are spending every day, every week, every month. And how each of those smaller increments of time fits into who we want to be in the long-term, in our lives.
Mike O'Neill: That's so beautifully said, I appreciate you sharing that and sharing it from a personal perspective. Shree, if folks have listened to you and say, gosh, I like to get to know Shree, better, learn, learn more about Shree how can our listeners connect with you?
Shree Sharma: Well, for all three of those people who might think so, Mike, I think the easiest thing is if you'd be so kind, perhaps you can link to my LinkedIn profile in your, in your shownotes.
Mike O'Neill: I will be happy to do that. Be assured of, of that. Shree, when we started this conversation, we basically said we're not going to have a scripted layout, and there was a little bit free form to this and you have been so willing to kind of go with that flow. I appreciate that flexibility. I think that is a sign of, of, what you bring to the table. You listen, well, you adapt quickly and you are willing to be open and vulnerable. And I appreciate all of that. Thank you for being with me today.
Shree Sharma: Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure Mike.
Mike O'Neill: I also want to thank our listeners for joining us for this episode of Get Unstuck & On Target. Every Thursday, we upload the latest episode to all the major platforms. So you haven't already please subscribe. You know, life really is too short to let business problems keep you up at night. So if you've been listening to my conversation with Shree and you're realizing that something is keeping your business stuck, let's talk. You can go to our website, bench-builders.com to schedule a quick call. So I want to thank you for joining us, and I hope you have picked up on some tips that will help you Get Unstuck & On Target. Until next time.