Meet Pradeep Selvarajan, a TLS London Senior Forensic Consultant with 15 years of forensics experience. TLS London’s Director of Business Development Adam Kemeny sat down with him to discuss how he got into the discipline, how it’s evolved over the years, and some of the constant challenges he faces to continue collecting data in an increasingly data-savvy world.
How did you get into forensics?
Completely by accident, really. My CV actually says I'm an engineering graduate. I did a couple of modules in law whilst doing engineering.
Out of university, I found a job where a law firm wanted somebody technical who also had law knowledge. They then described the role to be ‘forensics,’ which was completely new to me. But I sat down and read the manual on the first day and got on with it.
When the project ended, they asked me to stay on to do more ‘law.’ Preferring the technical element of the work, I moved to an actual forensics firm in 2006 and haven't looked back.
On that note then, where do you see yourself fitting in between the law and such technical work?
When I moved to my first forensics firm, I worked on a lot more projects that interested me. I was working on investigations of electronic data for disclosure, IP theft, bad leavers, etc. The industry relied upon investigations carried out by forensic practitioners to find the necessary evidence.
Today, now that e-disclosure is so prevalent, lawyers are doing their own reviews. Previously, lawyers would provide a brief – similar to “These five people have gone from Company A to Company B. Have a look at their PCs to see what they've been doing and if they've gone and stolen data.’ – and that really interested me.
I've also worked on a lot of criminal cases for law firms and the police. We would be asked to validate what the police were putting forward. Then we’d provide a report that what the authorities were saying was accurate.
You then spent a lot of time at a big four accountancy practice; was that different?
I mainly worked with clients on matters leading up to litigation between two sides. Much of the work was similar to what we do at TLS. This includes collecting and handling of data in a forensically sound manner to ensure it can be defensible in court.
Coming from such a massive organisation, are there any skills you can say you took from there?
Certainly dealing with larger clients and making sure everything I present is accurate. I've had to learn how to deal with big personalities. I had to constantly push myself and learn how to present myself to stakeholders, but I have confidence in what I do.
It's an interesting environment to be in – within the Big Four – but I think you get a lot more done in what is seen as a smaller firm.
Now, there is much more problem-solving and creative ways to achieve outcomes, find new ways to work, and be adaptable. It’s my favourite thing about what I do.
That's a nice segway into my next question: what did you know about TLS beforehand?
I knew about TLS even before joining my previous firm. I knew a couple of people who joined TLS recently. It's a small industry, so when the opportunity came up to join the team, I leapt at it. It had similar attributes to the previous firms I have worked at.
At my previous firm, there was a feeling of separation between the regions. With TLS, I saw that it was one of those close-knit teams that work together. And that’s not just within the UK, t’s worldwide.
What would you say has been the biggest shift in how you've done your job since you started back all those years ago?
In the past, I have also managed processing and reviews myself. It's useful to know how the full EDRM spectrum works. I think the shift has gone from pure forensics and pure investigative work to more of the collection aspect. This includes handing over to data processing and having the data reviewed by legal teams rather than a forensic practitioner.
The industry has gone towards the e-discovery process and letting the lawyers do their thing. Also, I used to collect only from computers. Now, I collect from anything which holds data.
Do you think clients are getting more sophisticated?
Most definitely. Once a lot of the clients have had two, maybe three, of these electronic disclosure matters, or whatever litigation they're in, they understand the process. They won't understand how to do it and make the data defensible in court (that's basically our job).
People are more aware of the forensic tools and techniques in use. The common belief held in years previously was that ‘once you delete data, it's gone!’ But now I think people understand that actually, ‘it's not gone, how do I destroy this?’ (if they want to).
Similarly, the various operating systems like Mac and Windows have adapted by encrypting data, making it a bit more ‘anti-forensics.’
Away from work, what are you doing to decompress?
We have a newborn called Aleks, who is causing havoc. He’s a little trouble maker, so he takes up most of my free time.
As an Arsenal fan, it’s pretty hard to unwind watching them; that’s too stressful! I’ve recently bought a Brentford season ticket with some friends. We are finally being allowed back into stadiums, so I guess I’ll be a Bees fan, too.
Can you tell me a little about one of the more interesting projects that you've worked on?
Wow, I've gone all over the world.
I've been to most of Europe, the Middle East, China, Hong Kong, the US, etc. The interesting jobs have been the places that aren't used to this sort of work taking place. Here, we are basically on a knife-edge with the parties involved. The challenges come in the form of on-site problem solving and managing the client and their expectations. It’s quite interesting and exciting.
I've worked on projects in Moscow where, for obvious reasons, it's pretty hard to get data. Even more randomly, and possibly due to their previous ties to Russia, Khazakstan also provided challenges. It was up to me to collect all the data and do all the on-site processing. I also had to allow for review by the legal team, which is what we do at TLS.
With Kazakhstan being a new place and a new market, it provided some challenges. This is especially true with the organisation not being too aware of our practices. When you have a brand new client who is not used to forensics, the collection of data, or e-disclosure and you’re in a country not used to this way of working, it made for a pretty tough situation. You feel like you are on the brink of being thrown off the site.
We have had some interesting side notes to projects, too. The same project in Khazakstan came with an ex-KGB agent who acted as a driver/bodyguard, which was nice. Similarly, having been dropped in Bahrain for a month came with second shadows. On our non-working evenings/days, we got used to seeing the same guys at random places we went to.
And now you join TLS in the midst of a global pandemic where the idea of an on-site collection is far less feasible…
Yes, a fair bit less travel, or even going to the gym. Now I get tired walking down the hallway these days.
In all seriousness, at TLS we can take advantage of the remote collection element of our work. We will send out remote kits that have clients plug the equipment in and carry out the collections work either via Teams or some kind of video conference.
We’ve had to adapt, but by no means have we had to stop. We are still going full steam ahead. We’ve changed the way that we work, so that we don’t stop actually working.
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