Recently, at a Spring event associated with the chief legal officer leadership forum, Sheila Murphy, associate general counsel at MetLife, was interviewed by Bill Mariano of Applied Discovery Inc. The subject of the interview was the changing complexion of document management with the advent of new technology. According to Murphy, electronic discovery and the amount of data that it necessitates are the single biggest problems faced by legal departments in the modern age. Because of the sheer amount of data being handled by a company’s legal department on a given day, producing documents which present this data in an effective manner is an incredible challenge. As companies and systems become more and more computerized, legal departments are often hit with what Murphy describes as “blunderbusses” of information requests from regulators who Murphy feels might not have the best handle on the reasons behind the regulations they are enforcing. “You want to be able to have an intellectual, educated discussion with them about the regulation, what it means, and how what you’re proposing will get them the data that they need, and not extraneous data that they’re going to have to weed through to realize at the end of the day they’ve wasted their time also,” said Murphy, illustrating the importance of effective communication between regulators and corporations with regards to the sharing of information.
This need for effective communication, Murphy says, necessarily leads to the need for adequate education of both employees and of regulators. Maintaining a good relationship between companies and regulators is essential as well, since regulatory agencies will often investigate companies that it knows and trusts as examples for the rest of the industry to follow: “I also think it’s important because otherwise you’re going to be subject to extremely broad requests that are going to take a lot of time and a lot of money to respond to.” Another issue that legal departments often face when dealing with regulators is the advent of new technologies in the industry. Since regulators expect accurate information regarding what certain pieces of technology can or cannot accomplish, every lawyer in a company, according to Murphy, must be familiarized with new technological advancements as they appear.
In conclusion, Murphy believed that a proactive policy towards regulation and inquiry, as well as constant and effective communication, was the key to successfully negotiating the changing legal and regulatory landscape. As important as a proactive policy is, however, with lawyers constantly planning for the future, a reactive policy is also important to Murphy in certain situations. No matter what lawyers plan for, in other words, they must also be prepared to react to situations as they present themselves.