E-Discovery Tools: Evaluate, Collaborate and 'Lawyer the Problem'

It’s hard to believe that after all the planning from Discovery Symposium 2.0 that it’s over. It was a very fast-paced, informative and fun two days. But now it’s time to recap – if it’s possible to capture in a blog post the back-and-forth dialogue from panelists to audience -- and figure out what we learned… and where better to start that the first session of the first day?

On the ‘Software Experience, Culling and Early Case Assessment’ panel, I had the pleasure of sitting on stage with Edward Efkeman from FedEx and the director of our E-Discovery Division, Richard Stout. Edward has co-chaired FedEx’s internal e-discovery initiatives for the last three years, and if you’ve been to a major e-discovery event, you’ve likely seen his name on the program. Edward and his FedEx colleagues have a great discovery model in place.

We had a lively discussion with a lot of interaction with and questions from the audience. The most important takeaway for me was a comment from Edward: “Don’t forget to lawyer the problem.” FedEx definitely walks the walk in this regard and their in-house team is incredibly hands-on and detailed-oriented. His point: it’s not enough to throw technology at a matter or process; it must make sense and it must still meet the legal standards of reasonableness, defensibility and good faith. This is wonderful advice that I believe gets lost in the noise of the thousands of technology tools, webinars, conferences and white papers that engulf us.

In the spirit of ‘lawyering’ the problem, we were also reminded that lawyers have been doing early case assessment (ECA) from the beginning of the profession… it’s just now they must use technology to help solve a technology problem, which is volume. One still must interview custodians, decide what’s in and what’s out, strategize, etc. Using technology to solve a technology problem is really the only thing that has changed, and when utilized properly certainly makes life easier. (There is also a good post on E-Discovery 2.0 surrounding the discussion of the interviewing process.)

So your software selection must be understood and used by your lawyers. It’s not good enough that IT is impressed with the technology; the lawyers are the ones who must understand how it works. And bringing the process in-house is not the only option that a corporation may consider, obviously. They can also partner with an outside vendor to help guide and staff the process, review and ultimately produce what needs to be produced.

Along with risk tolerance, these decisions also come down to cost and results. Cost savings are found in reducing the amount of data and then reviewing the remaining data faster. Content analytic tools, clustering, and improved search functionality have aided review teams to speed the process and thus save money. Good tools and consistent protocols also provide more reliable cost predictability, which has generally been lacking in the discovery world in most cases. Using experienced attorneys who understand how to use the full capabilities of a review tool helps with speed, accuracy and overall project cost.

Relationships – internally and with outside counsel, IT vendors and other service providers – are also keys to success in the discovery arena. Everyone must understand roles, collaborate and communicate, and problem-solve. These were consistent themes throughout DS2.0, actually, and success with the above factors leads to results that are difficult to top, the panel agreed.

We also discussed several specific tools and platforms. ECA platforms such as Clearwell, Lateral Data and Equivio, among others, were detailed; the number of companies that have started to use one ECA platform or another has risen dramatically in the past year; reducing up to 90% of the data to review will clearly open some eyes. Some have even tried various purported “all in one” tools, though the general consensus was that no one tool excelled in all areas of the EDRM. The majority of companies that have the resources to pull chunks of the EDRM in-house don’t seem overly concerned with the “all in one” solution – they want the right tool for the specific case or matter, or have identified particular tools that fit the majority of their work (or at least ECA and the review). Others find the idea of off-site hosting/processing very appealing, and along these lines the panel and audience discussed platforms and services that offer “seamless” use of multiple tools, but with no real consensus. Regardless of the path, it's always wise to "test drive" a tool or platform before making any decisions.

Another takeaway worth noting: since it’s the lawyers who must be able to use the tool, a vendor may have already lost the sale if its software requires a full day (or even a multi-day) training session to fully utilize and comprehend it. That time commitment just isn’t realistic in today’s environment, and it certainly doesn’t affirm the “ease of use” mentality that so many in-house counsel seek. Understandable, practical and cost-effective are what matter. Without those, the in-house lawyer will not even give a tool or platform a second look.

We’ll have more on our other sessions in the coming days.
 

Discovery Symposium 2.0: Brief Notes & Quotes

Everyone is back in the office and looking fresh this morning, having wrapped up our 2nd annual e-discovery client event, the Discovery Symposium, with GCs, heads of litigation and those managing the e-discovery process. It was a fast-paced two days, with nine sessions covering a healthy spectrum of issues. All indications are that it exceeded last year, of which the general consensus was “the best discovery event put on by a wide margin.”

What makes the event so unique are the panelists who volunteer to participate and the open dialogue they help generate from the audience. The group is relatively small by design – we capped it at 55 in-house attorneys from 40 corporations – and there are no vendors in attendance. We also don’t put strict parameters on the content; we want the conversation to flow to what the attendees want to talk about. In the end, it’s peers speaking frankly about their experiences with the goal of identifying best practices and new ideas.

The group is diverse, with numerous Fortune 50 companies to small legal departments, with attorneys managing discovery in a variety of practice areas. What is especially rewarding to us is that our attendees have truly connected and reach out to one another to share ideas once they've returned to their respective offices.

Posted below are a handful of the great comments made during the sessions by our panelists and attendees. We will likely have several posts in the next couple of weeks recapping specific sessions.

“What differentiates some of the (software) tools often comes down to whether or not a lawyer can actually use it… I shouldn’t need two days of training, and no one on our team has 16 hours for that anyway.”
- ‘Software Decisions’ panel

“We truly develop and invest in our relationships, whether they’re with outside counsel, our IT department, or partners like Counsel On Call… otherwise it’s constant re-education.”
- Fidelity Investments panel

“I tell them it’s my risk, not theirs. And it’s what we’re doing, so you’re either in or you’re out.”
During discussion about law firms who regularly ‘fight’ when e-discovery is shifted in-house and Counsel On Call attorneys are utilized. The group cited instances in which the law firm said, ‘Well, it’s my name on the pleadings and I won’t risk it.’

“Let’s get real: you can’t budget everything. We’re creating budgets during the summer for the following year... we ask everyone to track key metrics and forecast their work volume, then make mid-year projections.”

“Yes, the action is in the forecast.”

- Discussion during ‘The Budgeting Puzzle’ panel

“I have gotten religion about value. I’m focused on cost and how to reduce it. The events of the past 18 months… there is no turning back. This is the way of life moving forward.”

I’m a lawyer with a practice who has to report to my clients. This IS a legal practice and we have to show we’re providing value. I communicate that to everyone on my team.”
- ‘Litigation Leaders’ panel

Two of our law firms made a conscious decision to pursue inclusion on the best ‘Profits Per Partner’ list. Well… they made it. But they’re no longer working with us."
- ‘Working With Outside Counsel’ audience member; his company has more than 1,000 cases annually
 

Energetic Group for Discovery Symposium 2.0

In May 2009, we hosted our inaugural Discovery Symposium, a Counsel On Call client event for a small group of heads of litigation, general counsel and e-discovery managers. We thought that by keeping the group small it would increase the likelihood of candid dialogue about what our clients are experiencing on a day to day basis, where they are struggling, and hopefully result in some real information sharing and best practices… and to help our E-Discovery Division improve and better meet their needs.

The feedback we received from the 35 in-house attorneys who attended the event indicated we achieved these goals, and several attendees made us promise that we’d organize the event again in 2010. So not only are we hosting it again (May 12-13), we’re stepping it up a notch with what we believe is even better programming that is more tailored to the diverse e-discovery knowledge levels of our attendees.

Best practices surrounding early case assessment and technology platforms will be a significant part of the program, as will process management, collaboration, budgeting and outside counsel relationships. We’ve also developed breakout sessions for those attendees without “robust” IT departments and for those highly knowledgeable about the litigation hold and ESI policy processes, among other topics. Panelists are from companies such as AT&T Mobility, AutoZone, Cox Communications, FedEx, Fidelity Investments, HCA, International Paper, Partners Healthcare, and SunTrust Banks, among others.

The response to the DS2.0 program has been tremendous, so much so that we’ve had to cap the registrations at 55 attendees from 40 legal departments across the country. It's a diverse group of Fortune 25 corporations, mid-size companies and smaller departments and we’re really looking forward to the event.

We’re also excited to once again “live blog” from the event, so please check in next week for recaps from each session. For more timely updates, you can also follow Chad Schmidt on Twitter (others to follow are listed on the menu to the right).

If there are any questions you'd like us to pose to our distinguished panelists, we'd love to hear from you... please just post in the comments.