Legal Tech: Area attorney 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,” said 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 explained.    

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 said. “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 said.   

Litigation and government investigations, Shane said “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, and an alumnus of Lakeshore High School, 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 said. “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 recalled.

“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 said with a smile.    

In six months as an intern for Kalamazoo County Circuit Court Judge Curtis J. Bell, Shane was able to experience courtroom proceedings from 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,” Shane said. “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 said. “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 said. “Kalamazoo was a great community, a Division I college town with a friendly small town vibe, and a wide variety of interesting places to go and things to do. And beer — you can’t swing a cat in Kalamazoo County without hitting a brewery. We’re adjusting well to life on the east side of the state, though — there’s been a welcome uptick in Coney dog consumption at our house.”   

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 said. “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.’”   

Shane is also a past president of the Kalamazoo Children’s Chorus Board of Directors. He became involved with the chorus as a favor to a colleague.

“It’s one of the best favors I’ve ever done. The organization gives kids an in-depth opportunity to explore and perform choral music, and spend time with other kids who share that same passion,” he said. “There are so many more avenues for bullying and negativity these days than there were when I was a kid, so it’s great to see kids of different ages and races and schools and backgrounds united around something as simple and ancient as music.    

“I’m not a musical person,” Shane said, “but my family is very musically talented. Being a KCC board member is my way of contributing to culture and the arts without putting anyone through the agony of listening to me sing.”   

Volunteer activities in Kalamazoo also included the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and Knights of Columbus Catholic Charities.

And when Miller Canfield recently celebrated 30 years in Kalamazoo by giving back to the community in 30 different ways, Shane participated in several initiatives, his favorite being a fund-raising run for Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan.

“Even on a newly repaired Achilles tendon, I finished with a respectable time,” he said.

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