What is Litigation Support?

Modern day litigation support is focused on managing electronically stored information (ESI, or also known as e-discovery) and supporting legal teams through the e-discovery process. Successful litigation support integrates people, process and technology through all phases of discovery, from identifying, locating, preserving, collecting, preparing, reviewing, and producing facts, information, and materials for the purpose of producing/obtaining evidence for use in a case. E-discovery litigation support specialists combine legal knowledge and skills of paralegals and attorneys with the technical knowledge and skills of information technology professionals, serving as bridge between these two worlds.


Twenty years ago, a litigation support specialist was focused on courtroom presentation and managing scanned paper. Now since most information starts digitally and often never appears on paper, a litigation support specialist's principal focus is on managing ESI, making it easier to search, review and manage e-discovery while maintaining the integrity and authenticity of the information.


The rules that govern federal civil and criminal discovery are different. Accordingly, the e-discovery process and how litigation support is provided in federal criminal defense cases also differs from civil litigation. Federal Defender Offices (FDOs)[1]typically use a combination of paralegals, investigators and computer systems administrators to provide litigation support services as part of their job duties. Working with assistant federal defenders to determine the priorities of e-discovery management and review for the case, offices design work flow processes that incorporate litigation support technology and databases to assist the defense team's review, analysis and presentation of information relevant to the case. For CJA panel attorneys,[2] since a majority are solo practitioners they need to have some comfort in managing e-discovery that is a part of their typical case on their own. For more complex cases, CJA panel attorneys are increasingly rely on private paralegals who have experience working with ESI to collaborate with them. For the multi-defendant complex cases, national Coordinating Discovery Attorneys (CDAs) and members of the National Litigation Support Team assist defense teams in managing in the ESI produced by the government, or the CJA panel attorneys may rely on outside service providers who specialize in e-discovery management to assist them.


Though many CJA panel attorneys and assistant federal defenders think "technology" first when they hear the term "litigation support," sound project management practices are integral to successful litigation support. Though districts may have different e-discovery practices and each case can have unique attributes, developing consistent workflow processes for the defense team will enable attorneys to be more effective in representing their client.


[1] There are two kinds of defender offices within the CJA system: Federal Public Defender Offices (FPDO) and Community Defender Organizations (CDOs). From the perspective of a client, FPDOs and CDOs operate identically. They are referred to collectively as "federal defender offices" or FDOs.

[2] Private attorneys, depending on the district, either apply to be included on the local "CJA panel" or are placed on the panel through some other process. Panel attorneys are often solo practitioners or from small firms and also take paying clients in addition to their appointed cases.