When Christine Chalstrom founded Shepherd Data Services in 2002, she branded the company “Shepherd” as a tribute to her loyal friend and German Shepherd-like rescue puppy, Sadie. And out of that steadfast relationship, she also built a service philosophy. “Our theme is we are a client’s best friend,” Chalstrom says, “kind of in the same way a dog can be a person’s best friend. We always try to put ourselves in the client’s shoes and ask, ‘If I were a best friend, what would I do to help them in their project?’”
Nearly 20 years later, Shepherd Data Services is an indispensable partner to litigation firms, legal services companies and business entities seeking to preserve, retrieve and analyze electronic data. The company’s comprehensive array of services includes eDiscovery, digital forensics, training and consulting, and managed reviews delivered by highly trained specialists.
Chalstrom’s fascination with technology began in law school, when she purchased an early IBM computer and figured out how to use it. She graduated from William Mitchell College of Law (now Mitchell Hamline), and she eventually opened her own law firm. As an entrepreneur, Chalstrom channeled her inner techie, and she began networking and digitizing her law practice long before it was an industry norm. At the dawning of the new millennium, Chalstrom says she realized that she could make a career out of legal tech, and she set out to bridge the “knowledge gap between law and technology.” And like many savvy entrepreneurs before her, Chalstrom bootstrapped her new venture, willing to “eat peanut butter and bread for a month” if that be the price of success.
Chalstrom’s great instincts for technological advances and their integration into the legal process have helped her position Shepherd Data Services as an industry trailblazer. She has not only kept pace with evolving technologies, but has anticipated trends and conveyed services that have placed her clients ahead of the pack. After building her foundation on document imaging, review and eDiscovery, she was early to implement cloud-based technologies. “It was like the Wild West. There was no protocol. The cloud was a scary concept for a lot of people in the beginning.”
Chalstrom then looked into the future and foresaw a growing need to integrate digital forensics technologies, and she grew a team to meet the need. “The hardest thing in the industry for us to develop out for Shepherd was not so much gathering evidence, it was building out the forensics department. We wanted to be able to have a department that understood eDiscovery, as well. Often, there is a chasm between the two. I decided to become an expert myself and put myself through all the training along with the others. We understand all the touch points for eDiscovery and have developed a strong foundation on that.”
In addition to leveraging existing technologies, like RelativityOne, for which Shepherd Data Services is a certified partner, the company has also developed proprietary technologies. Computer Programmer and Developer Brandon Ward joined the team and developed what is now Agility Blue, the premier project management and communication software product that is offered by sister company Sadie Blue Software. “I took two Shepherd employees and made them cofounders of Sadie Blue, Brandon and Ben Legatt. It’s now its own company. We’re always looking for opportunities like that, things that bridge the connection between forensics and discovery. We’ve also developed a process called fOne that integrates cell phone data and Relativity for eDiscovery, and another process that will give people a heads up if there is a possible theft of intellectual property.”
Chalstrom’s nod to her partnership with Ward and Legatt provides insight into one of her primary beliefs about success: it flourishes out of collaboration. “I want to stress that the success of this company is not just me, it really is the team. We’re led by a management team that includes Joy Solomon, our director of marketing, Laura Elwood, director of client development, and Jen Stegora, director of technical services. It’s so critical that we meet every week to figure out how to run the company. It’s a safe place to air whatever is bothering us and get support. I feel like I always take on the initial investigation of a product or service to get the scope of it, and that once I bring someone else in, they take it so much further than I ever had.”
The all-women management team at Shepherd Data Services happened like much else there — organically. “It didn’t occur to me until our second or third meeting that we were all women,” Chalstrom says. “ I didn’t even think about it — these were just the people who were part of the natural progression of our company. It made sense. We’re all like that. We’re all so into our work we didn’t think about gender. We’re just doing our jobs. Internally, we don’t feel the glass ceiling, and that’s highly unusual throughout the industries we touch. We’re not a big company, but we have so much diversity — Native American, Asian, LGBTQ. It’s not a checklist for us. These are just wonderful people whom we just wanted to come on board.”
Mentoring reinforces the retention and advancement of diverse people within the company. “We all have certain strengths, and we can mentor each other in those areas. The scenario here is always, what would you do for your best friend? I’m an attorney and a technologist, and I find other people to mentor me where I need it. And when we have people in the group who are newbies in the industry, it’s fun working with them and showing them all avenues they can take in their career. It’s fun finding them and bringing them up through the ranks.”
According to Chalstrom, her job never feels like work, and she continues to see herself as part of a “big experiment” that involves pursuing her passions while creating opportunities for others and contributing to the success of clients. “Through collaboration with other professionals, including our vendor partners and our legal counsel Joe Alexander of Maslon, I think we’re making the industry much better by providing access to more quality and reliable evidence, and therefore, better judicial decisions. I’m in awe of all the wonderful attorneys out there. Instead of trying to do everything alone and having technology hinder you, we’d like to be the partners that allow you to dance.”