Discovery vs. Document Review Is Value vs. Cost

Counsel On Call has a Discovery Division while many other companies and law firms have document centers. We also have attorneys working on discovery teams, not document review teams. These might seem like subtle differences, but we are often asked why this is the case.

Many years ago, I met with a CEO of a large document review company that had several document centers. At the time, we really were not doing much of this work despite many requests from clients – it just didn’t seem to fit with our business model. During our discussion about the challenges of the document review business, he stated that he had “X number of seats” and explained to me how he had to get his cost per seat to less than $25.00 per hour. I asked, “By saying ‘seats,’ are you talking about attorneys?” He nodded. I left the conversation thinking, what are we doing here? I understood that it was a business and costs are important, but it was unsettling.

At the time, clients asked us to handle this work because we already had litigation or other types of attorneys working with them, and they appreciated our model: providing talented attorneys a different way to practice law, emphasizing professionalism but eliminating so many of the strings that go along with the traditional practice, and allowing modest rates, experience and competence to drive cost savings. So as I digested the conversation with the CEO, everything became lucid: Why can’t we bring our approach to the discovery process, of which document review is a component? Why can’t we do it differently and better? That commitment built a foundation of success, and our Discovery Division has expanded many times over in recent years.

It comes down to this: If the attorneys understand where documents and data fit within any case, and understand the importance a piece of evidence can have to a deposition, summary judgment motion or even the crux of the case... they provide more than just the cursory review of documents. They provide legal expertise and have the ability to participate in virtually any phase of the discovery process. They exercise judgment and discretion, they review and analyze; they have a solid understanding of any case and how what they are doing fits within the strategy. Our attorneys may not take the depositions but they are in a great position to work with those who are. They aren’t just a seat in a massive room, but a valuable team member working within a well-planned structure that capitalizes on their experience and ability to contribute.

This results in providing value throughout the discovery process, not just for one component or a heightened focus on lowering a “per seat” cost. As we’ve stated before in this space, the hourly rate of the attorneys is important in achieving cost savings, but issues such as experience, leadership, technological flexibility and execution are equally important when looking at value and savings over the life of an assignment. So when we combine the talent and cost practicality of our attorneys with processes that are continually being improved and evaluated, a thorough understanding of technology and the various options that exist, a focus on lowering costs by dramatically reducing data and gaining efficiencies, working across multiple stages, maximizing resources on a repeatable basis and treating attorneys with professionalism, it equates to a better, consistent, less expensive and value-driven work product.

I would love to travel back and ask that CEO about costs over the life of an assignment, the flexibility to choose software that’s right for a particular data set, implementing review efficiencies, quality control protocols, best practices and early case assessment initiatives. I would ask him if their attorneys choose to practice with his company, whether they communicate with outside counsel about case strategy, depositions, motions and other aspects of the discovery process. Whether thought is put into the environment and teams in which people work together. I would ask how they do a better job for their clients on the next assignment, about the metrics they use to track results and about the other litigation phases on which they assist.

All of these issues differentiate discovery from document review, and all of these issues speak to value versus cost.