By Debora Motyka Jones, Esq.

Published on Thu, October 29, 2020

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Have you ever had this scenario – multiple team members from different groups come to you frustrated because the working relationship between their groups is “broken?” Legal is saying they aren’t getting what they need, IT says they are providing what’s asked, and finance doesn’t understand why we are paying our outside vendor for something that the internal IT and legal teams are “supposed to do.” You are responsible for process improvement among these groups so the questions and frustration lands on your desk! This is a common issue. So common, in fact, that this was a big part of a recent Legal Operators webinar I attended. The good news is that the solution may be simple.

Often times, the issue revolves around language and how different departments are using the words differently. Let’s explore the above scenario a bit further. The legal team member says they asked IT to gather all data from a certain “custodian.” The IT team took that to mean all “user-created data” on the network from one certain employee, so that is what they provided. They didn’t, however, gather the items on the person’s desktop nor did they gather records that the person created in third-party systems such as the HR and sales systems that the company uses. The legal team, therefore, asked the outside vendor to collect the “missing” data and that vendor sent a bill for their services. Finance is now wondering why we are paying for collecting data when we have an IT team that does that. The issue is that different teams have slightly different interpretations of the request. Although this scenario is ediscovery specific, this can happen in any interaction between departments. As legal operations is often responsible for process improvement as well as the way legal functions with other departments, the professionals in that group find themselves trying to navigate the terminology. To prevent such misunderstandings in the future, you can proactively solve this problem through a dictionary.

Getting on the Same Page…of the Dictionary_AdobeStock_137677401

Creating a dictionary can be really simple. It is something I have seen one person start on their own just by jotting down words they hear from different groups. From there, you can share that document and ask people to add to it. If you already have a dictionary of your company acronyms, you can either add to it or you can create a specific “data dictionary” for the purposes of legal and IT working together. Another option is to create a simple word document for a single use at the outset of a project. Which solution you select will vary based on the need you are trying to solve. Here are some considerations when you are building out your dictionary.

What is the goal of the data dictionary? Most commonly I have seen the goal to be to improve the working relationship of specific teams long term. However, you may have a specific project (e.g., creation of a data map or implementation of Microsoft 365) that would benefit from a project-specific dictionary.

Where should it live? This will depend on the goal, but make sure you choose a system that is easy to access for everyone and that doesn’t have a high administrative burden. Choosing a system that the teams are using for other purposes in their daily work will increase the chances of people leveraging this dictionary.

Who will keep it updated? This is ideally a group effort with one accountable person who will make any final decisions on the definitions and own updating in the future. There will be an initial effort to populate many terms and you may want a committee of 2 or 3 people to edit definitions. After this initial effort, you can allow access to everyone to edit the document or you can have representatives from each team. The former allows the document to be a living, breathing document and encourages updating, however, may require more frequent oversight by the master administrator. The latter allows each group to have its own oversight but increases the burden of updating. Whichever method you choose, the ultimate owner of the dictionary should review it quarterly to ensure it is staying up to date.

Who will have access? I recommend broader access over more limited access, especially for the main groups involved. The more people understand each other’s vocabulary, the easier it is for teams to work together. However, you should consider your company’s access policies when making this decision.

What should it include? All department-specific business terms. It is often hard to remember what vernacular in your department is specific to your department as you are so steeped in that language. One easy way to identify these terms is to assign a “listener” from another department in each cross-functional meeting you have for a period. For example, for the next 3 weeks, in each meeting that involves another department, ask one person from that other department to write down any words they hear that are not commonly used in their department. This will give you a good starting point for the dictionary.

Note that. although I am talking about a cross-functional effort in the above, this dictionary can also be leveraged within a department. I have found it very effective to create a legal ops dictionary that includes terms from all other departments that you pick up in your work with those other departments. This can still help your goal of resolving confusion and will allow you to get to a common understanding quickly as you are then better equipped with the language that will make your ask clear to the other team.

Are you using dictionaries in your legal operations department? I would appreciate hearing additional perspectives on how it is working for you. Don’t hesitate to reach out at

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About the Author
Debora Motyka Jones, Esq.

Senior Advisor, Market Engagement and Operations

Debora has been with Lighthouse since 2009 and has made a significant impact on the company’s growth and business strategy during her tenure. With a background in litigation from practicing at law firms in both Washington D.C and Washington State, her expertise and deep understanding of complex ediscovery matters enabled her to create a resonating brand and architect the innovative products and services that keep Lighthouse at the forefront of the ediscovery market. She led the execution and implementation of the company’s rebranding in 2012 and developed the marketing department from the ground up. In addition, she has been instrumental in spearheading the company’s strategic technology partnerships, driving the formation of Lighthouse’s product strategy, and the evolution of Lighthouse’s SmartSeries. She also instituted and continues to maintain a client advisory board to ensure strong alignment with market demands. Finally, in 2015, Debora lead the company’s expansion to the eastern seaboard by managing the development the New York office and team, as well as expanding upon the company’s current set of services and clientele.

Prior to joining Lighthouse, Debora was a Complex Commercial Litigation Associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP in Washington, D.C. where she worked on matters such as the WorldCom and Enron bankruptcies. Her practice also included multi-million-dollar commercial and securities litigation, and internal investigations. While at Weil, Debora was recognized three times for her dedication to pro bono service. Debora also practiced as a litigation Associate at McNaul Ebel Nawrot & Helgren PLLC. Her practice included commercial, employment, and securities litigation, as well as legal malpractice defense.

Debora received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Washington where she graduated magna cum laude. She received her law degree from The George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. She is admitted to practice law in New York State, the District of Columbia (inactive membership), and Washington State. Debora is Level II Pragmatic Marketing Certified. Debora is actively involved in the legal community as the former Director of Women in eDiscovery, as a mentor with Mother Attorneys Mentoring Association of Seattle, as an Advisory Board Member for the Organization of Legal Professionals, as the former Chair of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC)'s New to In-House Committee, and as a former board member of the Washington Women Lawyers (WWL). Debora was also recognized for her contribution to the ACC and was named 2012 WWL Board Member of the Year. Debora is a frequent speaker on eDiscovery strategy, a former instructor for the Organization of Legal Professionals, and a regular Lighthouse blog contributor.