Recap: Creating Your Own Discovery Team

This is our final recap from Discovery Symposium 1.0. If you would like more information on the event or to inquire about attending in 2010, please email us.

As more corporate legal departments are looking to bring discovery in-house, this panel was of keen interest to attendees.

What was very striking was how the panelists – an incredible group of leaders who really know about bringing matters in-house and managing the discovery process – have truly become knowledgeable about their respective companies’ IT departments. They're very familiar with IT -- something that likely could not have been said of most attorneys even just a few years ago. This sheds a little more light on the demands of the discovery process today.

Even though each of the panelists work within a large company with substantial IT departments, it was clear that the best practices they brought with them could apply to companies of any size. Creating a team often means including legal, IT, human resources, operations, outside partners – whoever touches the company’s data on a regular basis. And this team helps guide and monitor progress from through collection, production and review.

It’s also worth mentioning that the attorneys on this panel have collectively saved their companies tens of millions of dollars on the discovery process in a relatively short period of time. Talk about demonstrating the value of the legal department ...

Creating Your Own Discovery Team
Panelists: Senior attorneys from Fidelity Investments, Cox Communications, Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), Georgia-Pacific
Moderator: Candice Reed (Executive Director, Counsel On Call)

Summary of Dialogue
IT staff is critical to the team as well as representatives of other departments specific to your business. Know the people on your team; trust them. Know where the data is located. Know your systems. Trust your company knowledge, which surpasses that of a law firm.

The discussion began with a statement: E-discovery is a management task. Those in charge of discovery cannot be afraid of technology, must serve as traffic cop and coordinator, and need to be a “techie” who can talk to lawyers. When choosing members for your discovery team, it’s about 1) Having the right people on the team, and 2) Trusting your own judgment that you have put the right people on the team. One panelist said her team meets weekly.

Another panelist said she received incredible pushback from her outside law firm when she decided to build a discovery team in-house. Her team includes attorneys with employment and patent experience, a paralegal, representatives from the IT department, as well as a person from the legal department dedicated to e-discovery (who has since been moved to another department and not directly replaced). The team meets once a month.

Another panelist put her team together when in-house e-discovery experience quickly surpassed that of the company’s outside counsel. The core team consists of her, representatives from the IT department, as well as an outside consultant. Other team members are attorneys with commercial, labor, and insurance experience and representatives from Records Retention. Since three-quarters of her company’s corporate employees are members of the IT department, it is important to have everything IT-related documented – how the department is organized, who reports to whom, detailed protocols, and the location of specific data. This information also is in the company’s E-Discovery Manual, which is constantly updated. Due to an increasing number of matters, the panelist wanted to create a “thoughtful and consistent approach to review.” After each project, the team would discuss what data was collected, what part(s) of the process worked and what didn’t, and even examined the overall cost. Perhaps most importantly, they looked at what could be done to make future matters cost-effective. In order to better predict future costs, her company partnered with Counsel On Call, whose team handles several parts of the company’s discovery process, to find a software vendor that would do just that.

Another panelist stated that all data collection is done by her in-house team, which consists of a technology specialist (a member of the legal department) and staff members dedicated to forensics and collections. Representatives from compliance, human resources, and audit departments also are interested in the data collections. She added that the names of employees on legal hold are posted on the company’s main web page, giving the responsibility to each individual to know whether he or she is on hold. Also, everyone on legal hold takes a mandatory, computer-based training. She does not rely much on outside counsel (but is considering sending them to her company’s “E-Discovery College” course) as usually the in-house team knows and understands more about these matters. To communicate policies to her employees, she also hosts “Lunches and Lectures.”

Regarding the size of the team, the panel believes it is dependent upon the amount of litigation. The group was in agreement that the size is not as important as those who are on the team, specifically those who know where the data is located. One panelist’s top priority is to never turn over a privileged document; Other panelists had recently lost key team members and were filling the gaps internally.

In follow up, Ms. Reed asked the panel what keeps them up at night. One responded with “making sure we have all the data.” She worries that something will be left in a warehouse. However, she finds comfort in her IT staff. Each person has a designated back-up (another individual in the department) and all information is shared.

Ms. Reed also asked if outside counsel was involved in setting up the discovery process or is involved directly with the e-discovery team. One panelist said she uses outside counsel and often prefers to use first or second year associates simply because of their computer literacy. Her company currently has Counsel On Call attorneys on its discovery team, and she is adamant about outside counsel respecting these contract attorneys. Another panelist views outside counsel as part of the team as well but not as decision makers. All decisions are made internally because those in-house know the business and the matters better. Ms. Reed asked how she handles this with outside counsel. “Directly,” the panelist said. She tells outside counsel she wants efficiency and cost-effectiveness and to “go for it” if they can match it. This has not happened yet, and she is very confident in her company’s model and processes, and how they work with Counsel On Call to achieve cost savings. Also, she mentioned outside counsel helped define the preservation letter – “They can comment on it, not change it,” she said.

DS1.0 - Day 2 Begins

8:25am
What a day yesterday was here at the Discovery Symposium in Nashville - my brief posts here can't do it justice. The programming ended with an incredible discussion about the new dynamics of working with law firms ... Brian Edwards (SunTrust), Brian Cadwallader (International Paper) and Jennifer Molinar (Caremark) share some incredible insight and experiences with the group, and not surprisingly this led to a very spiritied discussion. Possibly the most interesting tidbit was regarding the bidding out of every significant matter; Brian Edwards spoke about how beneficial this has been and how his firms understand that SunTrust will walk away if they aren't getting the price/services they're after. The group was intrigued by this and asked several pointed questions.

Some of us (namely me) are probably still a little groggy after enjoying the evening's songwriter's night ... Don Schlitz, who has penned 24(!!!!) No. 1 hits, was kind enough to entertain us. Don is a friend of one of our attorneys, and his wife is also an attorney -- so he had a steady stream of lawyer jokes ready for us, which is always fun.

I'll post more later today...

4:15pm
Everyone is on their way home now, probably somewhat exhausted after another substantive day to close out the Symposium ... we started with a powerhouse panel -- Sue Dyer (HCA), Marty Mazzone (Fidelity Investments), Heather Munday (Georgia Pacific) and Kristen Weathersby (Cox Communications), moderated by Counsel On Call's Candice Reed -- discussing how to create your own discovery team. Over 2.5 hours, these women really broke down how their processes work, who is involved, the challenges they've faced, mistakes they've made and what's most important. Each panelist was asked "If you're just now starting to assemble your discovery team, what would be the first thing you would do?" The unanamous answer was "identify the person in IT who is going to be by my side throughout this process and make things happen." These women were very, very impressive as a group and individually, and as I remarked to someone: "You can see we have some great resources to learn from here at Counsel On Call." We were really pleased that so many people got to hear the information/opinions that we have access to every day.

And that seemed to be a common theme ... our post-event survey responses indicated that there haven't been many (if any) events like this one, that the program was relevant and informative, and truly in the 'best practices' mindset. My biggest takeaway is that in-house attorneys are genuinely excited about the value they can provide to their company in the discovery realm, and many shared some great stories about the reactions they've received when showing the cost savings of the processes they've implemented.

A great event all around ... we'll post some of the best practices that were discussed during the event soon.

Alternative Fee Arrangements Gain Traction

Recently, the National Law Journal (NLJ) reported that Burger King Holdings Inc., is just one company asking its outside legal counsel to consider "alternative and creative billing" methods in responding to the company's request for proposals -- further evidence that the billable hour is losing popularity among corporate clients who are under mounting pressures to cut outside legal fees. (Another NLJ article this morning also discussed the need for alternative billing models.)

Burger King has negotiated a variety of alternative fee arrangements with its outside counsel, according to the NLJ, including fee caps, blended rates and monthly retainers. Other companies, as well as the American Bar Association and the Association of Corporate Counsel, also are calling for the demise of the billable hour, saying it “breeds inefficiency and is driving up legal costs." A number of law firms are heeding the call to abort and are offering flat fees, success fees and contingency fees. One such firm offering its clients a "smorgasbord of fee options," as mentioned in the article, is Valorem Law Group. Interestingly, Valorem cites the use of Counsel On Call attorneys as one of the reasons that it is able to provide its clients with so many alternative and cost-efficient options.

We applaud Valorem's progressive and straightforward approach with its clients. We have a similar mindset – if our clients see value in working with us, we want to provide solutions that work for them -- whether those solutions include great attorneys, remote work, tested and repeatable processes or alternative billing arrangements.

Another note: For those of you in Tennessee and the surrounding area, I would like to invite you to an upcoming CLE sponsored by the Tennessee Bar Association this Friday, February 6, at 9:00 a.m. (CDT). As part of this CLE, a panel of in-house corporate counsel, including Michael Zylstra with Cracker Barrel, Sue Dyer with HCA, and Debra Enderle with Willis North America, will discuss what creative ways and alternative fee options they have utilized in an effort to reduce their legal budgets. Register here.