One of the expressions I use in the world of litigation support is “A database is a database is a database“. When we are exposed to yet another database tool for the first time this expression will apply because all databases have the same basic features. It is just a matter of finding out where the features are located and how they work within the new database tool. Our expectation is that the basic features are there somewhere.
Depending on how easy or annoying it is to use the basic features, we will decide if we like or dislike that particular tool. Of course, the database tools in our industry will always have additional features, which we sometimes refer to as “bells and whistles“, that may present themselves as a pro or a con in the mind of a litigation support professional.
There is something to be said for spending more time with one database tool in particular and becoming very familiar with its features. It is this familiarity that some hiring managers would like litigation support candidates to have. However, there are other times when hiring managers will take into account a candidate's experience with other databases in general. Database experience in any industry can be a plus if the hiring manager is willing to train the candidate on-the-job in litigation support databases. For instance, some Information Technology professionals might have an easier time transitioning to litigation support.
Basic knowledge of databases will go a long way in understanding a conversation about a database. Understanding the lingo and being able to articulate it well in a conversation about a database can make a positive impression. For example, this video starts with some basics and the author does a good job of making it simple to learn.
In addition to the fields, rows, tables, and primary keys in a database, there are other components like indexing, reporting, forms, and queries. In the litigation support industry, there is an image viewer component and the database and image viewer must be linked so that they stay in sync with each other.
Taking a course to learn Concordance or Summation or one of the many document review tools is a positive step and will certainly show initiative. However, keep in mind that learning the software without understanding the context in which it is used is only one piece of the puzzle. I remember when one person I mentored announced to me one day that although she was learning the steps to use the database software on the job, it didn't click until she had a conversation with an attorney about how he wanted to use the information in the database to accomplish a task that assisted him in practicing law. In other words, she knew how to perform the steps with the software from a litigation support perspective, but it wasn't clear why she was doing it or how it would be used by the end-user.
Individuals interested in breaking into litigation support often ask “which databases do I need to know?” I hope this article explains why that can be a difficult question to answer.