"Bad E-Discovery Costs $60 Million Per Year."

That was the comment that got the most gasps from attendees of Discovery Symposium 3.0, our annual event for general counsels, directors of litigation and e-discovery managers.

The select group of attendees – approximately 50 senior attorneys from 40 corporate legal departments – come together to discuss the challenges they’re facing involving e-discovery, solutions we’ve collaboratively executed, and share stories about technology tools in the marketplace and different approaches with outside counsel, among other topics. The full agenda can be seen here. It’s a highly engaged and interactive group that has proven to consistently identify numerous best practices in the discovery realm and truly cares about seeing one another succeed.

Now, back to the byline… one of our attendees, from a Fortune 100 company with an extremely knowledgeable legal department that has taken the majority of its e-discovery work and processes in-house, shared with the group that the company conducted an in-depth study on the true costs of e-discovery. The report included issues such as outside counsel and vendor costs, retention and collection policies, internal resources and technology, the possibility of sanctions, and many other factors. The attendee’s full quote is this:

“For a $25 billion company, handling e-discovery very well costs approximately $3 million annually. Average e-discovery costs $10 million. Bad e-discovery costs $60 million per year.”

While results may vary for corporations, those are eye-opening numbers and we're glad we're helping them get on the right side of those numbers. It led the discussion about how a department can’t just let outside counsel handle all things e-discovery anymore (even though most are past that) and it’s now so much more – there has to be process at every stage, there has to be real management and monitoring, there has to be a real dedication to quality control, and IT and Legal must be on the same page. All help build a “great” process. If a company isn’t focused on these things, one attendee shared, it’s “borderline negligence. At best you’re costing your company millions of dollars a year.”

The attendee went a step further, saying that "this data shows that Legal can be a revenue generator, so to speak. We can stand there and make a very strong argument as to why we need to spend money on certain software, or why we want to partner with certain companies... or even not work with certain law firms or vendors."

We’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the numbers above. The legal industry certainly isn’t averse to hyperbole, but this report holds up against much of the client data and results we track and report. For instance, it’s not uncommon to save clients in the eight figures over the course of a year compared to previously utilized models that didn’t focus on eliminating data, experienced project management or incorporating client-dedicated teams of Counsel On Call attorneys.

We’ll also follow up with thoughts and quotes from some on the different DS3.0 sessions.
 

Efficiency v. Effectiveness v. Innovation: Why Draw Lines?

There’s a quiet debate among legal pundits that’s often played out on social media sites such as Twitter, one that probably not too many people pay attention to. It’s almost an ancillary argument to the “traditional” way of billing for legal services, but it a debate that I believe cuts to the heart of value and innovation in our profession.

On the one side is the “effectiveness” argument, and one of the most outspoken voices on the topic is Ron Baker of California-based VeraSage Institute. Mr. Baker is a proponent of the death of the billable hour, and frames many of his opinions regarding legal value with the “effectiveness trumps efficiency” argument. If you’re on Twitter, I would encourage you to follow Mr. Baker.

Another proponent of the demise of the billable hour is Pat Lamb of Chicago-based Valorem Law Group – you might recognize Pat from recent 'New Normal' posts on the subject on the ABA Journal website. In a blog post over the weekend, Pat addressed the notion that effectiveness comes at the sacrifice of efficiency, and that the pursuit of efficiency stifles innovation. Pat says it all very well, but I’d like to tack on a couple of thoughts.

When undertaken properly, the search for efficiency can undoubtedly lead to innovation. We see it firsthand when we look at the processes of our clients; how they manage their legal work, who touches the documents, if there are better ways to allocate resources, where money can be saved and work can be handled better, as well as many other factors. We put a new plan into action and, as the process evolves, we look at how our attorneys are working, if the quality (or “effectiveness”) is meeting or exceeding expectations, and how we can do even better work in more efficient ways. As long as the goal is better effectiveness, the search for efficiency can certainly lead to innovation.

A huge target for this is the multiple-level review of documents in the e-discovery process. A common practice is for a team of attorneys to handle a first-level review of the documents and then for outside counsel to re-review a certain percentage of these documents. This process is almost always ripe for efficiency, especially considering the cost of the law firm’s review of the documents. But is it effective for the lawyers trying the case to only see a select portion of the documents?

That’s sometimes a contentious subject, but with a thorough quality control process, adept use of technology platforms and experienced attorneys conducting the initial review (especially those with deep experience litigating cases both small and large), it’s become clear to us that outside counsel often needs to review decreasingly fewer documents. The key is to build an effective QC process alongside outside counsel, part of which includes having senior people on the review team who have a solid understanding of the case and who work closely with outside counsel; they understand what outside counsel is looking for to win the case and can build a process to feed them the right documents. In practice, with each ensuing matter these issues become both more efficient and more effective, but it takes a certain level of innovation to design and implement the process.

So yes, I strongly believe the search for efficiency can lead to better effectiveness AND innovation. In fact, I think efforts in any of the three of these areas can benefit the others.
 

Harried, But With Purpose

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Harried. That’s the usual descriptive word for the week prior to the start of a discovery project (especially when it's been a week like this one: several new projects beginning while preparing to head to LegalTech NY next week). Assembling and familiarizing team members; developing and fine-tuning QC protocols; hour-by-hour updates from technology partners; constant discussion with outside counsel; making sure the client is getting concise and relevant information. Effectively relaying all the information to the people who need it. Logistics, logistics, logistics.

These challenges, as you might have noticed, are solved through collaboration, communication and coordination. It is the groundwork needed to achieve a successful and budget-conscious review project. The maestro of this orchestra is the project manager. It is his or her responsibility to have a plan in place, implement it, tweak it as necessary, manage the issues and move the process forward.

Much of a project manager’s time and expertise is best put to use in transitioning the project from a harried environment to one of streamlined communication and coordination. This includes accurate budgets and every member of the team knowing his or her role in the process. “A” comes before “B,” etc. Initially, ramp-up might be full of changes and the desired decision rates targets might not be met; the good PM will have a plan that accounts for the unexpected, avoid overreaction, correct what needs correction and get everyone and everything running at optimal levels.

Some may call it organized madness, but every review truly is one large learning process. It just has to be built into the process – knowing when and where the team could experience difficulties and being able to adjust on the fly. It is as critical as assembling the right team leadership and team members. It includes training on the substance of the matter and on any new software or technology that might be put into use during the review and preparing the materials that are needed for an efficient start and completion of the project. Again, each of these measures takes thoughtful collaboration and communication in order to maximize results down the road.

In the end, it all comes together to increase efficiency and effectiveness, save the client money and get the job done right and on time. Just know that the duck that appeared calm on the surface likely had its feet paddling like mad underneath to make it happen.
 

What Would Hal 9000 Do (WWH9D) for E-Discovery?

“Greetings, attorney 61432. Your security access has been confirmed. What type of documents would you like me to search and code for you today?”

Imagine e-discovery being that easy. Simply logging on and telling a computer to handle your process for you. Sounds like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

When I began my legal career, the dominant discovery work involved reviewing paper documents in cardboard boxes and inputting information onto coding sheets or onto computer ‘boxes’ with blinking orange or green lights and no internal drives. Not exactly the golden age of artificial intelligence, eh? That being said, very few could foresee the impact of the computer itself in the legal world, but with the advent of e-mail an entire industry was born to deal with the “E” part of e-discovery in particular. The jobs that many lawyers hold today did not even exist in that form just a decade ago.

Fast forward to today where the talk of the town is predictive coding using the ones and zeros to do the work that a human lawyer currently does (maybe "The Matrix" would've been a better analogy here). Predictive coding has received an increasing amount of discussion among the various forward-thinking lawyers involved in e-discovery (see a good example here). This trend and its impact will no doubt increase over time.

Predictive coding takes a number of forms but basically it involves someone with case knowledge starting to review documents, and then the computer learns from the documents marked responsive, non-responsive, privileged, etc., and applies that knowledge to categorize all the documents in the entire data set that has been collected. (Of course, the value that most discovery attorneys bring to a case is more than just tagging a document as responsive or privileged. They also analyze the documents and determine how they fit into the overall litigation. They can find problematic, hot or helpful documents too that might not be possible to find strictly from a predictive coding perspective.)

The question that remains is whether predictive coding will be good enough to rely on for production or will we still need to review the documents at a more “Quality Control level” before production. The upsides are definitely there if it can work. Speed, cost savings, accuracy, etc., could all be improved. As always, much depends on the accuracy of the initial information inputted into the process, but overall it bodes well for saving clients money.

And as cost-saving devices are created to meet the current technology challenges, the technology challenges themselves are also changing and increasing. The next challenges will likely involve social media sites, text messaging, audio and video files, and dynamic databases, each of which are only starting to rear their ugly heads in the discovery world.

Add all of this discussion to our current economic times and we once again have the concern about the impact on jobs and future careers. Will they still need me if a computer does all the review? The question is not unique to the legal world and the answer may surprise some of you.

While it took a decade for e-discovery to take over the entire discovery process and discussion, the new waves will likely come much faster as technology evolves and impacts everything that lawyers, especially attorneys involved in e-discovery, do. Attorneys may not be first-level reviewing any e-mails in five or ten years, but they could be looking at videos on an eighth-generation iPad! New avenues that currently don’t exist or only exist in their embryonic stage will be available to us all. There will certainly be new workflows and protocols created to incorporate technology into making the discovery process more effective and efficient – someone is always seeking ways to build a better mousetrap, and we at Counsel On Call fall into that category.

Part of my job as Discovery Process Architect is to continually analyze what’s working and what isn’t, what our teams can do to better utilize the available resources, how to deliver the best-possible work product, and ultimately what can we do to save our clients time and money. Predictive coding could very well be a part of that in the not-too-distant future. I do believe, however, that attorneys will still be an integral part of any smart and flexible discovery processes that are developed.

The bottom line: I don’t believe we’re anywhere near the Hal 9000/Space Odyssey scenario or a comprehensive predictive coding process eliminating the use of attorneys during the review.

But as the year nears its close, realize that change is constantly in the air these days. Change with it. Expand your skill set. Don’t get stuck where you are. Learn something new about technology this year. Read. Experiment. Become better at what you do.

I know these words have been uttered by every generation, but as one of the old guard who has transitioned into our brave new e-discovery world, I can speak to the value of its counsel.
 

Cost Predictions Rely Equally on Technology and People

I’m a little late on this one, but this article outlines the use of technology to budget and control the cost of a document review project and could be helpful to some folks. It's sometimes an overwhelming topic, but there's no question that law-related technology tools have advanced in recent years and, when used properly, can drastically reduce the overall data set that is needed to review, code and produce. De-duplication, near dupes, key words, clustering of some type or another and document-ranking technology all can be very effective steps to take. In fact, if you are not using the available technology to reduce the data set needing to be reviewed, it’s practically scandalous.

I've seen more than a few very professional, normally sane in-house counsel practically lose their lunch when they hear about the initial amount of data that must be reviewed on a case. When the word "terabyte" is uttered, or there are three digits in front of "gigabyte," it can be somewhat alarming... that cash register sound starts to go off inside your head. But once everyone has calmed down, reason sets in and the processing stage begins. A majority of that data is going to be culled out. If using an early case assessment (ECA) tool, another huge chunk of data will be eliminated. All told, as much as 95% of the data could be vanquished. Now we have an amount of data we can work with. It can certainly be budgeted, too -- and if the review partner knows what it’s doing, it can be very accurate and for even less money than anticipated.

So technology by itself is not the final answer. Technology combined with knowledge and experience are the keys to understanding the complexities of such projects and bringing back a semblance of simplicity and predictability. Yes technology, used skillfully, can reduce the overall data set and the volume that needs budgeting. But when coupled with skilled, professional reviewers and experienced project management – known quantities that understand the entire collection, processing and review stages, software, and how to measure results and benchmark data – you can better prepare a cost forecast that can be relied upon for the duration of the project and on subsequent matters. I feel confident in stating that any in-house attorney who has worked with a good project manager in particular will gladly share how invaluable that PM has been to his or her department.

So if you aren’t using 1) e-discovery specialist project managers and attorneys and 2) data reduction and/or ECA tools, there are significant savings to be had.

Additionally, in the normal course of business you can also reduce the overall cost of a review project by creating and following a record retention policy, as well as using project management consulting to help with other pre-litigation planning. These measures reduce the overall data set, help you understand where your data is located, and give more certainty and predictability in later creating the review budget.

Data is key in today’s world; technology has made it readily available, but you also need a cohesive approach to tap all of its benefits. It might sound like a tall hill to climb, but there are some very simple steps that can be taken to start the process without causing too much pain. In the end, the cost savings and improved processes that are gained will make all that work worthwhile.
 

Early Case Assessment + Content Analytics = True Savings

We often hear about the most important factor in creating a cost-effective e-discovery review: the review rate of the attorneys. Without question, the use of a content analytic review tool has greatly enhanced the ability to increase review rates for attorneys who know how to use these tools -- by 3 to 10 times versus a linear tool.

This improved productivity goes directly to the bottom line and dramatically reduces the largest component of the e-discovery cost structure: the attorney reviewer expense. Content analytic tools also greatly reduce the manpower and duration required for review.

Here’s where people often get stuck: The upfront cost of using a content analytic tool is (usually) significantly higher than that of a linear review tool. But as many have discovered, those upfront costs are typically recouped many times over by the end of a case because of the efficiencies that are gained in using a content analytic tool. The additional good news is that there’s a way to decrease the upfront costs by culling the amount of data needed for the review. These early case assessment tools are equally, if not more important, to the bottom line.

Early case assessment software platforms (such as Clearwell, Metalincs, and Autonomy’s Aungate Investigator & ECA, among others) enable corporations and law firms to dramatically and intelligently reduce the amount of data that needs to be reviewed. These programs offer a sneak peak at the data at a fraction of the cost of loading for review with a typical content analytic tool. In addition to standard culling methods like de-duplication and file-type extractions, early case assessment tools provide a means to develop legally defensible keyword searches, identify key players in the litigation (or more importantly identify non-players), and allow for bulk coding of clearly non-relevant materials or potentially privileged documents prior to loading into the review platform.

A quick example: A company's initial collection totals 300,000 documents for review. Using an early assessment tool, that number is dramatically reduced through de-duplication (20%), excluding privileged documents eliminates (another 10%), performing a multi-phrase keyword search (25%) and identifying the responsive data set (70%). The final number of documents to be loaded into the content analytic tool: 48,600 (or just 16% of the original collected documents).

Common volume reduction achieved through an early case assessment tool is 70-80% (the companies mentioned above have case studies on their respective websites that detail even greater reductions). The point is clear: reducing the volume of data, combined with the increased speed in which it can be reviewed via a content analytic tool, is a winning combination for corporations and law firms seeking to better manage e-discovery matters.

It’s always fun to be part of a meeting in which the realization sinks in that not only will the work product be better, but it will save hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars.