Profile: Lynell Phillips; Director of Electronic Discovery, Capitol Digital Document Solutions, LLC; and Founder of Phillips Computer Forensics
by Regan Morris
With a lab in her Northern California home and a solid reputation as an expert in forensic data collection and analysis, Phillips is also the director of electronic discovery for Capitol Digital Document Solutions, LLC, a San Francisco-based full-service provider in the litigation-support arena.
The two jobs keep her busy, and LawCrossing spoke to her by phone as she ran from her office, down an elevator, and to meeting. A frequent lecturer at legal conferences and an expert witness, Phillips said she's used to working on the run.
As a computer forensics expert, Phillips is generally asked by law firms to dig through clients' computer files for evidence in civil litigation cases.
Like attorneys and paralegals, Phillips said the most important part of her job is ethics. As an expert witness, she tells it like it is, not how the attorneys and clients want to hear it.
"Ethics are really important," she said. "As an expert, it's really important that you're able to believe in and support the data through your opinions. And it's one thing you make clear to attorneys up front--it's an expert opinion based on the evidence."
Often, expert witnesses say what the attorneys want to hear, she said.
"Some people bring less supportable opinions to the table. It feels like they're making opinions on what attorneys want to hear," she said. "It's hard because sometimes opinions can go either way."
Testifying in court is just a small part of her job, and only a small fraction of the cases she works on end up in court. Finding the electronic data for evidence and analyzing it for the attorneys is her main priority.
Phillips started studying computer forensics while working for the now-defunct Fast Track Litigation Support as the director of electronic evidence. The company had been using subcontractors for forensic work and was spending too much money. Phillips was able to do the work in-house. She specialized in the collection, preservation, analysis, and presentation of computer-related evidence and discovery for the legal community.
With litigation and sensitive computer files from the opposing side, one would think Phillips would often face hostility in her work.
"There's varying degrees of professionalism, and sometimes people are great; other times, it can be very tense," she said. "If it gets to be too antagonistic, usually attorneys will be present, and it's their job to make sure I can do my job."
Phillips collects computer data using the EnCase methodology at Guidance Software and works with most all computer operating systems, including UNIX, DOS, and Windows. She is also experienced with litigation support and discovery software like Concordance, Summation, Discover-E, Discovery Cracker, and I Discover.
She keeps current with changes in forensics through various Internet groups, which often include government and law enforcement computer experts. Her access to that expertise is one of the reasons Phillips said she does not do criminal cases. She would not ethically be allowed to use the forensic news groups if she were using the information for criminal defense cases.
"I have a better support system if I stay out of criminal cases," she said. "In the groups, there are prosecutors and the FBI. They freely share tips and tricks about the business, but not about particular cases. If I move into criminal defense, that's no longer available to me. Besides, I really like civil cases."
Phillips said she has been asked to help with the defense of people accused of child pornography, but she said no.
"Everyone deserves defense, but I did not feel comfortable with it," she said. "It's not for me."
In one case, Phillips was asked to dig through computer files at a company because the boss was convinced that an employee was using company data and access to clients to set up his own competing company. The boss thought the employee was using company email to convince clients to jump ship to the new company. Phillips was able to retrieve deleted files and prove that the employee was trying to lure clients away.
While Phillips' work is solely for attorneys, she said she has never been asked to conduct an internal investigation at a law firm.
Phillips' career in law was more accidental than by design, but she plans to stay in the legal field.
"I actually was never driven to dealing with attorneys or the law. It just kind of happened as job changes happened," she said. "But it's interesting. It was a great opportunity, and there will always be good cases to work on."