Legal tech: MSU Law grad specializes in e-discovery work

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

One of attorney Phil Shane’s first cases at Miller Canfield involved a contract dispute for a client in northern Michigan. “The other side provided us with a ‘data dump’ of millions of documents during discovery,” says Shane, a senior attorney and member of the firm’s Electronic Discovery and Legal Tech (eDLT) team “We needed to find the key documents that would support our claims quickly, and not bankrupt our client in the process.”

Rather than hire an army of lawyers, Shane and eDLT team colleagues Kenneth Treece and Nathan Cortright relied on keyword and concept searches, and later predictive analytics, to sift through this massive document population and locate critical documents. “We even identified new fact patterns and players with predictive analytics, which helped us to procure a favorable settlement for our client,” Shane explains.

The eDLT team helps colleagues and clients identify, preserve, collect, analyze and use relevant electronically stored information (ESI) such as e-mails and PowerPoint presentations, digital photos and audio files, and information stored in databases. Both the number of cases involving ESI and volume of ESI at issue in those cases are growing exponentially, Shane notes. “There’s a decided advantage in being able to separate the wheat from the chaff and identify critical documents early on in a matter,” he explains. “Our job is to give our trial lawyers that advantage.” 

With a caseload that has run the gamut from legal malpractice defense to a patent dispute involving animal litter products, to securities and antitrust cases, Shane has a passion for the advocacy and storytelling aspects of practicing law. “It’s my job to get into the weeds, to know the details better than anyone, and to offer insight to the lead trial lawyer that will help him or her tell our client’s story in the most convincing way, supported by the best evidence we have,” he says.

“Litigation and government investigations are almost always fact intensive, and I really enjoy learning the facts and creating our narrative of those facts. It’s detective work, in a sense. And I flatter myself that my legal insight and technical know-how have helped contribute to our successes, at least in some small way.”

A native of St. Joseph and Stevensville in southwest Michigan, Shane earned his undergrad degree cum laude, from Western Michigan University, majoring in English with emphasis on practical writing.  “My plan was always to attend law school, and I thought pursuing an English degree would help to make me a stronger reader, writer, and speaker,” he says. “Plus, I preferred Hemingway and Faulkner’s prose to political science textbooks.”

He earned his J.D. from Michigan State University College of Law, where he was a member of the Business Law Society, and enjoyed the enthusiasm and talents of his professors.  “Professor Jack Apol, may he rest in peace, had a strange practice of having his students shout, in unison, the bar exam definitions of crimes,” he recalls. “Anyone on the fourth floor who wasn’t deaf learned – whether they wanted to or not – that larceny is the taking and carrying away of the personal property of another with the intent to steal it, and that robbery is larceny from a person by force or threat of force.”

 An avid MSU fan, Shane had the pleasure of stenciling an “S” on the back of Spartans super-fan “Johnny Spirit” several times. “It’s a long story,” he says with a smile.

In six months as an intern for the Hon. Curtis J. Bell of the Kalamazoo County 9th Circuit Court Family Division, Shane was able to experience courtroom proceedings from Judge Bell’s perspective, and then compare notes with him afterwards. “Judge Bell also drilled home for me how important it is to write clearly and succinctly,” he says. “Lawyers historically have had a tendency to say 10 words when four will do, but more recently there’s been push among the bar for plainer English in legal writing. Judge Bell, to his credit, was definitely on that bandwagon, and dragged me along kicking and screaming.”   

Shane also interned at Legal Aid of Western Michigan in Kalamazoo. “I was fortunate to work with some very talented lawyers who devoted those talents to public service,” he says. “You learn a lot about yourself when you’re advocating for people that haven’t had all of the advantages you’ve had.”

Longtime residents of Kalamazoo County, Shane and his wife Anne recently moved to Oakland County, and Shane has transitioned from the firm’s Kalamazoo office to Troy. “I’ve lived in Michigan my whole live and I’ve slowly made my way across the Mitten,” he says.

A regular player of pickup basketball until tearing an Achilles tendon last May, Shane now prefers golf. But his best interest is spending time with his wife and children: Charlie, 8, Jude, 6 and Lilly, 2, as well as Sam, a one-year old golden-doodle. “Our boys are getting old enough to be pretty good at board games, so family game night is something we look forward to. They’ve even started to play chess,” Shane says. “Once the kids are tucked in, I enjoy settling down with a Michigan beer and a good book, or watching a classic film with my wife. Our favorite is ‘Casablanca.’”

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