Understanding Legal Technology Terms and Pricing

I am not an information technology vendor nor do I play one on TV. However, I do interface with many technology vendors and get asked by clients to interpret technology terms and pricing structures all the time. Here are some tidbits to chew on that may help you at least understand the issues and decision points that will need to be made (so you’re not making them in a vacuum devoid of pertinent information).

For all the IT professionals or vendors that may dispute what I say, remember that I am just trying to simplify for lawyers what you do on a day-to-day basis. Let’s start with some terminology that can cause confusion to lawyers.

What do these terms mean?

  • Processing – I have often heard from lawyers that this is the most mysterious component, the least understood and, quite frankly, the most questioned term when they look at the bills. Processing is what has to happen to take the documents out of their original/native system (Outlook, Lotus Notes, Word, PowerPoint, etc.) and move it to the review software (unpack it,  index it, etc.) – extracting the mysterious metadata.
  • Metadata – Everyone always says it’s “the data about the data,” which is about as helpful as your mother telling you to look up the spelling of a word in the dictionary. Here’s a simple example. When you create an email it has the message that you wrote. But it also has a date, a "To" field and a "From" field. That’s metadata. Or if you create a Word document you create the text of the document, but Word also captures you as the author and the date the document was created. That’s metadata. There’s much more to it, but that’s enough to get you started.
  • De-duping – For most vendors this is a normal function of eliminating or suppressing duplicate documents so the review team only needs to look at one copy of it (For example, think of an email sent to seven different people. The attorney review team will only look at one copy of it.) This greatly reduces review and storage costs, increases the overall speed of review and provides for consistency of coding between identical documents.
  • Early Case Assessment (ECA) – The most overlooked portion of an ediscovery project. This is the time you should be spending on reducing the volume of documents that need to be reviewed. Key word searching, eliminating irrelevant documents and sampling and validating terms are all part of ECA.
  • Predictive Coding – This means a lot of different things to different vendors. Basically it’s using the computer to help you get to the most relevant documents first instead of reviewing every document one at a time. It is often a means to prioritize the documents so you’re looking at the most relevant ones first.

The other area I am asked about a lot is how to compare pricing between technology vendor bids. What do all these terms mean? Processing. Monthly user charges. Per GB pricing. Production costs. PM time. It becomes almost impossible to properly compare pricing sheets.

The way I advise clients to handle this is to give each vendor the same task. Have them tell you what it would cost to deal with a case of 50-gigabyte size or 250,000 documents (mostly emails), and then what other parameters you might add that are unique to your project. Total technology project cost is the best way to truly compare bids that you receive.

See? It gets confusing quickly, and it’s easy to hide costs in bundled pricing offers. As lawyers in 2013, we have to better understand technology if we are to zealously represent our clients. Hopefully this is just a little start to help de-mystify some of the terms you will begin to encounter. This will help you on the road to a deeper understanding of the processes and things that are ultimately your responsibility. It is imperative to commit these terms and their definitions to memory in order to perform your job duties with excellence using most current methods available.

 

The Illusion of Balance

“Almost every wise saying has an opposite one, no less wise, to balance it.”

- George Santayana

 

Counsel On Call has built its reputation partly on the notion of providing a different measure of work-life balance into the lives of experienced attorneys. It’s still an important part of what we offer in certain practice areas, and we have conversations every day with attorneys who are looking for a new way to practice law. If attorneys working in big firms are sitting down speaking with us about our model, they have honestly given a lot of thought to how their professional and personal lives are going, and that’s an important step. This has given us a lot of perspective and experience to draw from as we educate attorneys on what to expect working in the modern legal model.

But rather than thinking of work-life balance as a goal to be achieved, I prefer to see it as a resulting condition that emerges when an individual accepts his or her own history, circumstances, priorities and values.   We commonly hear the term “work-life balance” used when someone is putting in extended hours at the office, or when someone is worn down because of a work environment that is highly stressful. These are legitimate problems. I once encountered a high-level, legal project manager who was known to work in excess of 20 hours every day in advance of a tight deadline.  It was clear the entire culture around this individual (including his team) was tired, disorganized and chaotic.  

There’s also another extreme.   Too often, members of the workforce (especially lawyers) find themselves under-motivated or resistant to fully engage in their professional lives.   This side of the problem, for obvious reasons, isn’t as widely talked about.  Nobody wants to admit they are apathetic toward their job – or, worse; they’re filled with resentment toward their employer or their clients.  These attitudes are difficult to mask.

And of course we all know the person whose professional reputation remains sound, despite his or her private life being in shambles.   We often read about these folks in the newspaper or in the rulings of the Supreme Court’s Board of Professional Responsibility.  

Either way, the question is:  how does one find work-life balance?   Here are 5 steps that can help chart a course to balancing your personal and professional life:

 

  1. Take a minute to reflect on your life. Before self-evaluating, make a conscious decision to accept whatever you find.   Sometimes the truth isn’t pretty, yet it does no good to wallow in self-pity about past decisions or current circumstances.  Make a commitment to live in the world of “what is” as opposed to the world of “what was” or “what should be.”   
  2. Get honest about your baggage.  Let’s face it, nothing ever changes in our lives unless we’re willing to get real about what’s happened and what’s happening.   We can switch jobs or move to a different city and still fail to identify the source of our unhappiness.   Seek help for larger issues like addiction or mental health, if needed.  A useful exercise is to make a timeline of your professional / personal history to see if insight may be gained.
  3. Identify priorities.  I’m not talking about an ideal list of priorities, but rather what really are your current priorities?  Where do you spend your time outside of work?   How do you spend your time at work?  Where do you spend your financial resources?  An honest reflection of where you spend your time both outside of work (exercise, television, internet, community service, hanging with family or friends, yard work) and in work (emails, internet, phone, snack breaks, spinning wheels, redundant work) should reveal what we need to know about our current priorities and where we may be out of balance. 
  4. Identify values / drives.  This is an intensely personal topic, yet I believe it’s impossible to find a balanced lifestyle without determining individual values and examining how our lives as currently structured are aligned with those values.   We all need to come to terms with the forces that drive us and motivate our actions.   Identifying what actually drives us is the key to initiating dynamic change.
  5. Take action. Once we know where our lives are out of balance, we can begin to take action toward greater alignment.   Set small, achievable, one–day at-a-time goals to create momentum and payoff.  Worry less about the big picture and focus on your day-to-day actions.   Sometimes circumstances legitimately limit immediate drastic changes, but there are undoubtedly some small things we can do today to enhance our integrity.   

 

A healthy balance of our lives occurs when we make an effort to evaluate our past and use that knowledge to mold our future. It’s a process and takes time, but the outcome is a more fulfilled and stable way of living (and working).