What Technology Can't Do

There’s an interesting post on In-House ACCess about Alan Turing’s ‘Turing Test,’ the mathematician's theory that a computer's “intelligence” is based upon the number of times it can fool a human into mistaking it for another human.

In his book, Fooled By Randomness, Nassim Nicholas Taleb argues that the converse is also true -- a human's “intelligence” can be determined based upon the number of times he or she comes off sounding like a computer. Taleb’s argument is that so much of what we say -- especially in business -- means nothing. In-House ACCess’s Larry Salibra argues that the same is especially true in the legal profession.

Most of us would agree that effective communication requires more than just words; it involves eye contact, physical expression, empathy, thought and sincerity . . . all of those things that computers cannot bring to the table (and much of which is expressed more effectively in-person than by phone, e-mail or text messages). If the bedrock of the business and legal professions is communication – and if this is how we understand our clients' concerns and discuss ways of addressing them – then shouldn't we be doing a better job at it? Shouldn't we be bringing something more to the conversation than what a computer can type on a page? How do we include the human element in today's fast-paced, technology-driven, information-overloaded world?

Perhaps it goes back to building relationships . . . meeting with people face-to-face and learning more about them and their businesses than what merely appears on their website bio pages. In this day of conference calls and web meetings, nothing replaces the opportunity to sit across the table from a client and truly start to delve into the challenges that he or she is facing and how the services or products you offer may help address those challenges (or how they don't). These open and honest discussions help build the relationship and make it easier to effectively communicate, which leads to better client service – and better business and legal professionals.

I typically find that it is much easier to get to the heart of the matter quicker in face-to-face meetings with clients (call me old fashioned). I also find enjoyment in the personal connections that we make during these meetings -- even when they are all about business. I chose to enter the legal profession to help people solve their problems; I have found that I have a similar purpose as a businesswoman, and I know that I am much more effective in working towards this goal when I have a relationship with my clients. After all, that relationship is something that no computer can emulate – no matter how smart it is.

Podcast: What Works In E-Discovery, Cost Savings

The second podcast with LegalTalk Network's In-House Legal show is now up.

Richard Stout, director of our Litigation Support Division, and Dennis McKinnie, executive director of our Atlanta office, discuss all things e-discovery: Why the review rate is important, early case assessment tools, what e-discovery savings should really look like, the importance of outside counsel, and why every in-house department should have a discovery process it controls, among other things.

The 13-minute interview begins around the 13:45 mark. The podcast is also available on iTunes for free download.

We hope you'll check it out and let us know what you think.

In E-Discovery, It's Not About The Hourly Rate

The billable hour has received a lot of attention in recent months as it relates to associate salaries and the value the client receives, among other issues. But it has been especially relevant in the e-discovery field in recent years, as more in-house departments have realized that much of their discovery work can be done for under $65 an hour versus the $200-400 they were accustomed to paying.

So now that this is the norm in our profession – paying $45-65 an hour for e-discovery work – the real question becomes, ‘What am I really getting for that money?’

Once you’ve driven down costs to the $45-65 per hour level for e-discovery, I would argue that the hourly rate makes little, if no difference, on your bottom line. The most important factor is the review rate of the attorneys. In fact, it’s really very simple math.

Let’s take a medium-sized matter: 30 gigabytes of data, or 400,000 e-mails.

Using a traditional (linear) review tool, an average review rate would be approximately 50 document decisions per hour for an attorney. By increasing the attorney review rate by 20 decisions per hour, the cost savings over the life of the project would amount to $125,000 and cut the project’s time by 25-40%. That more than compensates for a $20 per hour difference in an attorney's hourly rate, too.

That’s also a very conservative answer, because many companies now utilize a content analytic review tool that clusters documents together by topic versus a linear tool that only organizes data chronologically. Using the content analytic tool is likely to produce a 300-500% increase in the review rates, which saves in excess of $300,000 and 70% in time on that same 30GB of data. Content analytic tools cost more, but you can see where that difference can be accounted for.

So if you can accept this concept, it truly becomes a question of what you’re getting for your money. Many in-house departments have $48 an hour attorneys handle their e-discovery work, but ultimately the work is re-reviewed by outside counsel, there’s no fluid process in place and the client has no idea what kind of productivity the attorneys are generating. How would they know if they could be doing it better?

The question really becomes about how to increase review rates and thus productivity. There are many ways to do this, but it starts with experienced attorneys who know e-discovery and the technology. It’s supported by proven processes and talented project managers. Everything must be transparent: work closely tracked, benchmarked and learned from. It’s a collaborative, highly communicative process with outside counsel. And it can be repeated from matter to matter, creating more opportunities for learning and efficiency.

Focusing on the process and maximizing productivity -- not the hourly rate -- is where money is truly saved in e-discovery. The math really will speak for itself; all a client has to do is ask for it.