Interviews With In-House Legal: A Spotlight on Success
“Why do we not have poutine in the American McDonald’s?”
Sarah Thompson, Chief Product Officer at BlueStar, asked Diane Diaz, eDiscovery Manager at McDonald's Corporation this pressing question and more. Sarah sat down with Diane to discuss, not only poutine and the EDRM but Diane’s day-to-day work life and the landscape of Diane’s successful career. In the video interview, Diane gets into the nitty details of eDiscovery, legal technologies, tips of the trade, and her personal journey of 17 years at McDonald’s. The evolution of eDiscovery and Diane’s trailblazing career is disclosed in the video interview.
[Sarah T.] Let’s talk about you, eDiscovery, litigation and all that good stuff. What do you do in your role as Sr Litigation Paralegal at McDonald’s? What does your day-to-day look like?
[Diane D.] I have been with the company for 17 yrs. I have been around the block, kind of grew up in this eDiscovery space. I work with 9 lawyers, 2 paralegals, and 2 admins. Every day is different depending on what case we are working on. It’s a really fun group. We have a unique position and we touch all aspects of the business - like franchising, real estate supply chain, menu management, equipment, or government relations just to name a few. There never is a dull day at McDonald’s.
[Sarah T.] So that must be one of the things that you really love about your role at McDonald’s? It's just the fact that every day can be different, and you really don’t know what’s going to come your way?
[Diane D.] Yes, absolutely. You never know if it's going to be a good juicy subpoena or a juicy piece of litigation, not that we want that to happen, but it keeps me on my toes.
[Sarah T.] You say that there are a few attorneys, admins, and paralegals. It doesn’t sound like there is a huge team there. Is this just in the United States that you are talking about or is this global?
[Diane D.] We are a global legal department, and our team is a global litigation team. So, if a matter comes up that involves another country, we take the opportunity to partner with our colleagues from that country and work on the resolution together.
[Sarah T.] Wow, your team is tasked with handling the litigation for one of the largest corporations on the planet. That sounds like a small team. You must really have your hands full every day.
[Diane D.] Small but mighty. We have good protocols in place and that we follow. It’s a great, great group of people that I have the privilege and pleasure of working with daily.
[Sarah T.] You mention that you have been at McDonalds for 17 years as a paralegal. What has evolved for you in the position as paralegal during that time because a lot has changed with tech and litigation?
[Diane D.] Yes, it sure has changed a lot. Coming in 17 years ago we were really focused on issuing legal holds via email or in-office mail. We focused identifying and collecting paper files. But as the digital landscape evolved the collection extended to electronics. And the EDRM was created and I just grew into the space. I didn’t know it. It wasn’t until I actually put pen to paper and wrote down all the tasks that I do throughout the year where I realized I am supporting this EDRM from left to right in every single area of that space.
[Sarah T.] Do you find that the technology in the legal tech space has helped you a lot? Is it helping you more now than before? What is your sense in terms of the legal technology tools available to teams like yours?
[Diane D.] Yes, I mean going back to when we were reviewing emails natively and how time- consuming that was and the antiquated processes that we had in order to do that. I was begging for help and to bring on a tool to assist with this review process. I knew tools were out there and because I was talking to vendors that were selling them. It took a while, but there was an amazing lawyer we hired who helped me put together a business case and pitch the reasons as to why we needed a tool in house. We got approval and brought on an early case assessment tool and it was a game changer. With all the data today, you have to have a tool. You can’t do this natively.
[Sarah T.] Do you remember what your first legal tech tool was?
[Diane D.] Yes, I do. The first tool that we had was Clearwell. It was a great tool for where we were with reviewing data. We made sure it wasn’t just that shiny red car that we parked in the garage and looked at without driving. We pounded on that tool and used it for all it was worth.
[Sarah T.] Are there any problems that technology should be solving but isn’t today?
[Diane D.] If I had a wish list, and I don’t think I am alone in this space, I would wish that legal technology would just have this end-to-end solution. Just one tool, easy to use, and that I don’t have to be certified to use it.
[Sarah T.] I mean you talk to some legal tech vendors, and they might argue with you, but I think I agree. There is not a one size fits all kind of solution out there, and certainly if there is, it's not easy to use which may be by design. We kind of like that because we (BlueStar) are certified in those tools. On the other hand, is it something that you would want to do, would you want to be running the entire eDiscovery process and not having to outsource everything or do you like the fact that you are actually getting some work off your plate when giving it to outside vendors?
[Diane D.] That is a great question. I don’t want to do it all. I don’t want to be the person reviewing all the data. I am happy to run the preservation process, interview the business clients, identify where the data is, collect the data, management the data, load and process the data. I don’t want to remediate it. I’ll pass that along to my vendor for support. And I don’t want to review it. I’ll pass that along to my outside counsel as well.
[Sarah T.] You mentioned that you have a small team, and it seems like a lot of them are women, is that true?
[Diane D.] It is. My two colleagues that I talk to and collaborate with on a daily basis are women.
[Sarah T.] That’s not uncommon for in-house counsel to be supported by a largely female staff, why do think that is? Is there something about the position that women are just like, “Oh I love it”? Why is that we are attracted to these roles?
[Diane D.] I don’t know. It’s a really great question. We have about 50 paralegals in the US legal department and only one is a man. He is the lone soldier in the pack. I don’t know why that is. From McDonald’s legal department someone just recently said that 60% of the legal department is women. So, it’s a thing.
[Sarah T.] What got you started in this line of work? Maybe that will lead us to the answer. What attracted you specifically?
[Diane D.] Well, I can say what attracted me to the legal profession was my grandmother. Going way back to when I was a kid in elementary school, she was a legal secretary at a law firm. She would have to work on a Saturday on occasion and she would take me or my sister in there and I thought it was great. I would get to use her typewriter and she would let me pick out some pens and markers from this big supply room. And she would take notes in shorthand and then type them up. I was fascinated. Maybe it was the pretty pens and paper, or the typewriter. And after work, she would take me to McDonald’s for lunch. We would bring it home to eat, but she would say we have to eat the fries first because they were best when they were hot. SO true.
[Sarah T.] You mentioned that in-house is just litigation, is that the only difference between law firms and in-house counsel?
[Diane D.] Well, I think in-house there are more opportunities for development. I never worked at a large law firm so I can’t compare what opportunities are there. . In our legal department, you can cross-train on other teams to learn real estate or contracts.
[Sarah T.] Do you think there is more of a focus in-house on eDiscovery technology or is the opposite true?
[Diane D.] On my team there is certainly a focus on eDiscovery and technology. We are the only team that focuses on that. We handle it for all of our cases. From a technology perspective, that lands in my lap and my colleague’s lap just. We make sure we are using up-to- date technology that’s going to get us where we need in a quick and reliable fashion.
[Sarah T.] What advice would you give yourself 17 years ago?
[Diane D.] First, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I think I have done pretty well in my career here. But what I would say is don’t just sit back and watch things happen, speak up. Had I not spoken up 17 years ago when that email process was changing, I don’t know what would have happened. Maybe someone else would be leading the show for this particular part of my job. Speak up and be positive. No one likes a negative nelly. Staying positive just makes for a better day.
[Sarah T.] In all of your 17 years at McDonald’s, of all the tools and processes you have implemented, is there any one of them that you are most proud of?
[Diane D.] I don’t know if there is one that I am most proud of. I pride myself on being that strategic thinker. You know, we’ve got a problem how are we going to solve it? I love being that strategic thinker and solving a problem. Finding the needle in the haystack. That’s what I am most proud of.
[Sarah T.] Is there any problem today that is top of mind that you are strategizing about or trying to solve?
[Diane D.] The data! Oh, the data! You know, just trying to wrangle that beast. I think any large company is going to have a lot of data. You want one lens into what you have. That will always be the beast, right?
[Sarah T.] Definitely. Has it ever happened that the company has taken on a certain technology or tool, it could be cellphones or whatever, that is too challenging and too expensive in terms of fulfilling your corporate preservation obligations?
[Diane D.] Nothing that comes top of mind. If there is something out there, we will do our best to wrap our heads around it to be able to preserve and produce it if we need to.
[Sarah T.] Right now, this is a really interesting time for everyone on the planet with this pandemic that seems to be never ending. How has McDonald’s had to change their processes or the way that they work at this time?
[Diane D.] I can only speak from my seat. The business as a whole pivoted. In the legal department, we were already in that hybrid workspace where we were working a couple of days from home and a couple from the city. We are very flexible, and I am extraordinarily pleased that I work for such a flexible team.. One technology that rolled out to the company during the pandemic was Microsoft Teams. So, as the eDiscovery paralegals, we took the opportunity to figure it out - at least from an eDiscovery perspective. It was quite a web to untangle. The communications were more difficult to track. But we had lots of meetings and figured it out.
[Sarah T.] You mentioned Microsoft Teams and having an end-to-end eDiscovery platform. Microsoft does have what they claim to be an end-to-end eDiscovery platform. Do you have any comments about that?
[Diane D.] I have a lot of opinions. I don’t know if they are right, but they are my opinions. We look at tools all the time. We looked at using the security and compliance center for the end-to- end eDiscovery solution. But we noted some holes we couldn’t fill. Microsoft seems to have made it very lucrative for themselves to ensure you have all the holes filled. You have to have that big E5 license in order to work with it all. And we were not going to spend that kind of money. So, we work with a portion of it and created processes to use some of it but not all of it and we utilize other tools to complete the solution.
[Sarah T.] In mentioning Microsoft Teams again, Microsoft 365 has that functionality that comes along with that lower-level license to be able to preserve any data in Teams and along with every other source in Microsoft. So, does that bring any concerns to a team like yours because the nature of those Teams conversations tends to be a little more casual, a little more conversational. What do you think about that?
[Diane D.] Yes, like I said Teams was really one of those webs that we had to untangle. There were a lot of pieces. We try to educate people on the messages when we talk to them. But there are policies in place that employees should read and be aware of. RIM does a great job with putting the policies out there for people to refer to.
[Sarah T.] I definitely think number one; understanding your data source, having a great policy for your employees, and education is really the key to having a great preservation policy.
You have been in this position for 17 years and it has evolved over time, really taken on a lot of legal technology, implementing different policies and procedures, what's next for you?
What are you aspiring to?
[Diane D.] I love my job. It probably wasn’t until a few months ago that I put pen to paper and was like what the hell am I really doing? It was crazy. I mean what I do in looking at this EDRM. I was like, holy smokes and then when I quantified where the bulk of my work is focused, which is information governance and data and technology, it was eye opening. And I really love doing this. It started out we were focused on legal holds and getting that out to our business but the technology has just exploded. So, where do I want to be in 5 years? I don’t know. I hope that I am still with the company and growing in this eDiscovery career and taking it to the next level (to be determined).
[Sarah T.] Diane, in your 17 years at McDonald’s in what ways do you think you have brought value to that corporation in your role as Sr Litigation paralegal?
[Diane D.] In thinking about it, and I always go back to this EDRM, it's just kind of what I follow and what I do. And being sort of an early adopter, user, and follower of this spectrum and just the historical knowledge that I bring is how I add value. Again, it's not just preserving anymore. It’s learning about what technologies are being brought on. How does that function? How does the metadata look like? I never thought I would talk about metadata and get all excited but, I do. Having my head in this space, being interested in it and continuing to learn about the technology and the tools available to help drive down risk and cost is how I add value.
[Sarah T.] I think it’s a really great point that you are making, and I want to take it a step further. To really illustrate the value of your position and people that are doing the work you are doing in a corporation. What would happen if you weren’t doing that work? What would be the consequences to a corporation that wasn’t preserving and collecting like you are with all the different data in the ESI landscape?
[Diane D.] Yes, obviously it’s a big risk and I think it puts more pressure on the lawyers. If they didn’t have us, they might be relying more on outside counsel and those fees are going to go up. They would have to do what I do and figure out where did this technology come in, what is it connected to type of thing. We are helping drive down risk and control cost from outside counsel.
[Sarah T.] Well, not only that but you are ensuring that you are fulfilling your corporate preservation obligation, therefore avoiding sanctions possibly in some cases. I also think that there are times when the data you preserved can help you, some people think of it as a hindrance, but it can actually help you in litigation, so you are ensuring that that evidence is there when they need it. Hats off to you! Having people in-house like you actually preserving and collecting in a forensically sound manner, you really are preventing a huge risk to this company, and we didn’t even mention spoliation. You talk about metadata. If we want to nerd out on metadata, this is all about making sure that the document you preserved or collected is as pristine as it can be, meaning it’s forensically sound, no one has tampered with it. Because you are thinking about it, your litigators are not going to be facing sanctions or having evidence thrown out because of spoliation, so I think this is an extremely important job that you do! Thank you so much for your time today, Diane!
Sarah Thompson (nee Sims), Chief Product Officer, BlueStar Case Solutions, Inc.
Nominated for the 2020 Relativity Innovation award for legal technology innovation and one of the legal industry's foremost authorities on Microsoft 365s legal and compliance capabilities, Sarah possesses a wealth of legal and cloud technology expertise in the areas of product management, e-discovery, data privacy, and Microsoft 365 Security and Compliance. Sarah is passionate about legal technology having developed, brought to market, positioned, and managed some of the legal industry’s leading technology offerings for over 15 years. In her current position, Sarah leads BlueStar's Microsoft 365 consulting and legal technology development efforts. Her career includes senior product management positions at Zapproved, Cumulus Data, LexisNexis, Dataflight, and iCONECT Development. Sarah holds a BS in computer science from the University of Western Ontario, Canada.