DS7.0: Fresh Topics, New Challenges and Solutions

Counsel On Call’s Discovery Symposium 7.0 was recently held in Nashville, Tenn. The annual two-day event was a good balance of relevant large data topics, fun networking between in-house attorney peers, and open dialogue on the issues challenging the legal industry today.   

The Symposium’s program is full of experts, but not the typical people one sees at other events. Instead, our speakers are the in-house attorneys who are actually in the trenches for their companies, trying to solve challenges that are ever-changing while learning new technologies and processes – doing it all on a shrinking budget. The Symposium provides our attendees – some are GC’s, others Heads of Litigation or Discovery, and others manage specific parts of the process – some of the intelligence necessary to do all of these things. (See the DS7.0 agenda and panelists here.)

This was the genesis of the Discovery Symposium seven years ago when 35 in-house attorneys first gathered in Nashville in a law firm- and vendor-free environment to discuss the challenges they were encountering. Counsel On Call coordinated the topics and stepped out of the way. Today, the issues of 2009 are not only still present, but are also more complicated. Roles have changed. Brilliant people have changed their respective outlooks. Priorities and strategies have changed. And so has the programming.

We limit the number of Discovery Symposium attendees to 75 because we’ve found that number consistently produces the most open dialogue in the room for each panel. This year did not disappoint in that regard.

From panels on “Getting Maximal Results in Information Governance” to “Broadening the Big Data Model” to “Quantifying Success with Business Intelligence,” the topics were fresh and garnered enthusiastic audience participation. For IG in particular there seems to be a fair amount of frustration with policies that must be written and can’t be enforced consistently, but panelists Jessica Watts (Hewlett-Packard), Mike Lisi (Fidelity Investments) and Scott Veenendall (UnitedHealth) provided very helpful examples of what has worked and what hasn’t at their respective companies that the audience appreciated.

The “Business Intelligence” session was particularly enlightening. Led by two well-known experts in the financial services industry Counsel On Call is proud to partner with on these initiatives, the session began with a simple question: “Why?” Why is it important to track the data you want me to? What is the benefit of providing you access to our data to do it, or to lock down our resources to help you? From there, the panelists provided examples of the data that is most meaningful to them: data that provides the basis for judges to rule on reasonable amounts of discovery, data that wins cases and allows them to budget with precision.

But it was an evergreen topic of interest at Counsel On Call’s Discovery Symposium that garnered the most discussion this year: Technology Assisted Review (TAR). In one form or another, we’ve covered this topic since the first Discovery Symposium, but it’s only now that there is a true critical mass of regular users, as well as an educated group of in-house attorneys who have an understanding of TAR but have not yet deployed it for a variety of reasons.

Led by John Tredenick (Catalyst) and Susan Hammond (Regions Financial), the session began with an overview of what TAR really means, encompassing Continuous Active Learning, predictive coding and even early case assessment-focused platforms. But the two issues that drew the most interest asked: What are the best cases to utilize TAR, and does it really provide the value in-house departments are searching for?

For the former, the general consensus was that TAR could be used on any case, but for those without an overwhelming volume of litigation there was a ROI level after 50,000 documents. This number was reaffirmed in a survey we conducted with our attendees about their use of TAR prior to the symposium.

For the latter, related question, there is still much debate. Many attendees firmly believe that aspects of TAR are continually utilized (and fully utilized on large cases), but with core teams of client-dedicated discovery attorneys who know the technology and consistently get results. That is certainly a principle at Counsel On Call – no matter how much a platform can reduce a data set or how quickly it can identify the responsive documents, it is only as good as the attorneys who train the tool and work within it.

For smaller departments or for those companies that do not have significant litigation portfolios, it is a hard proposition to sell internally. Many of these companies are very dependent on outside counsel and are vulnerable regarding technology decisions. To a person at DS7.0, however, these attorneys said the discussion on this topic was going to help them shape new policies for either anticipated litigation or to be ready with their own process for any potential litigation.

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Again, DS7.0 was a great event and the post-event survey scores – an average 4.39 out of 5.0 for the panels – were outstanding. We are already planning next year’s event, which will be held in late April or early May in Nashville. If you are an in-house attorney or manager of the discovery process and are interested in learning more about DS8.0, please visit the Discovery Symposium website and contact us to get on the event distribution list.

 

Three Factors that Make the Case for Lawyers Using Social Media

In a recent article in Law Technology News, there is a discussion about social media usage among law firm associates. As is usually the case when technology moves forward, there are those who embrace it and those who do not.

No surprise here that lawyers have been more reticent as a group to embrace the use of the latest technology than others. But times seem to be a-changing, and by 2014, investing in social media will no longer be a luxury – it will be a necessity, according to a recent Forbes article.

Glen Gilmore, a New-Jersey-based solo practitioner and social media expert (ranked number 15 on Forbes’ list of social media influencers), found it surprising that only one-third of mid-level associates are “leveraging social media [because] the failure [of] law firms to ‘get’ social… [it] is a terrible disservice to their clients, most of whom are using social media for personal and business purposes.”

What are the factors causing lawyers to participate in social media networks? My list would include: more personal usage, seeing other lawyers surpass them in knowledge and use of social media, client demand and the ability to bill their time, and the ease of research and networkability. I’ve elaborated on these points here:

  • More personal usage: I suggest that the personal usage of social media is one of the greatest drivers of whether a lawyer uses social media in a professional environment. In much the same way as some lawyers who refuse to use computers and prefer to handwrite or dictate their communications, the ones who do not use social media in their personal lives tend not to use it in their professional lives. The inverse is also true. Lawyers should start using it on a personal level, and as they build their network it will be less intimidating to use it on a professional level.
     
  • Competition and client demand: This is also a factor because you don’t want to be seen as uninformed or behind the times by your peers or clients. More clients are now using social media and expect their lawyers to be savvy with its usage. Of course, having the ability to show value and bill for the activity is also a driver. If you can show yourself to be more efficient, quicker to do the research, and more responsive to your clients, then you will find that social media might be a great use of your time. LinkedIn and Twitter are especially useful networks in this situation.
     
  • Ease of research and ‘networkability’: Finding articles of interest, doing research, connecting with other professionals or thought leaders: you no longer have to wait for good information or spend hours searching for usable content. Individuals can now publish research, commentary, and news or updates seconds after it is written. Some of the most experienced lawyers and top experts in the legal services industry are providing valuable information every day – all day – for free through social media. New client relationships are being formed and thought leaders are emerging, and it’s all at our fingertips. Even if you don’t “follow” a particular person, there is someone you do follow who will re-link, re-tweet or otherwise make you aware of the good content. As you build relationships with people online, you will begin to see who is providing timely and valuable content and which information is worth reading.

What is deterring you from joining in the conversation? When used correctly, social media will sharpen your networking skills, heighten your awareness of emerging trends, and help develop you or your firm as a prominent thought leader in the legal industry.

Things are happening online, and the speed of the internet is picking up. Better get on board.
 

Legal Expenditures, Value and the Three-Legged Stool Approach

Expenditures are always a spotlighted area, but especially so in this economic climate. When looking at the amount of money that some clients pay to have legal services performed, I often wonder: What do they get in return?

Companies pay millions of dollars annually for litigation services. Historically, a good result was the best a client could hope for. However, if an entity has to pay for litigation, a cost of doing business, then why not get something more than a result … why not start building processes so that they next time litigation presents itself the company can build upon what was done in the prior matter to cut costs moving forward? Processes are created, responses are stored, material is archived, knowledge is retained, the decision-making process is enhanced (and more reliable) … these are company assets that can be modified and improved moving forward without reinventing the wheel every time. Short term, heads of litigation are in a position to forecast or budget future litigation. Long term, the money spent on litigation actually creates assets that can consistently benefit the company. This is the mindset in our Litigation Support Division: What is truly in the best interest of the company? Is it a big matter or a small one? Because when we are all looking for value -- and what are we getting in return for the money paid – can we really afford simply to pay a significant amount of money and not create something that can save us money in the future?

A few weeks ago I met with a client, an attorney who is former GC of public company, who is now in charge of operations for several divisions, including legal. During the discussion we were talking about the need that every company has to continue to make budgetary cuts. This client has worked with Counsel On Call for several years and discussed how, based on his experience, this is where he sees the future of the in-house legal department: In-house attorneys, outside counsel and outsourced attorneys making up the legal team (the “three-legged stool approach” referenced by another client a few months ago). Some in-house leaders have seen the value of this approach for several years, but it is certainly becoming more mainstream in today’s business world.

Yet, when one says outsourced I still believe there is a caveat … are you building relationships with the outsourced attorneys? Are they part of your team? Counsel On Call attorneys choose to work with our company, this is the way they choose to practice law. They were with us before the economic downturn and will be with us when it passes. Thus, we have experienced and well-credentialed attorneys who work with the same client, in-house legal departments or law firms, for years. The cost savings are staggering and the value received is real – someone who knows you, your business, your issues, and possesses the skill to get the job done correctly, and who is available to work whenever you need. This value and flexibility makes them integral to the team’s success. The word “outsourced” doesn’t necessarily capture that sentiment – it’s almost a divisive word. But that spoke of the wheel is equally important when building a cohesive legal team with well-defined roles.

All of this being said, one of the most common questions I get is, “So, how does it work?” Many people simply don’t know where to begin, which is easy to understand. Labor is often the No. 1 expense for our clients, so it’s good to start by assigning value to that enormous expenditure:

  • What are you getting in exchange for the money paid?
  • What are your in-house attorneys doing? Is that a good use of their time based on the total amount being paid?
  • Could you have someone else do some of the lower-level work and free up your in-house attorneys to do more complex matters?
  • What are you paying outside counsel to do? Are you getting real value for the money paid?

To the last questions regarding outside counsel, often the answer is “yes,” but more often is it “sometimes.” The implication is that things can be done better, or more efficiently, or more cost-effectively. So once this bridge is crossed, it becomes a matter of shaping a new, collaborative approach between in-house counsel, outside counsel and Counsel On Call attorneys working together in the best interest of the client.

Assuming times stay tough for a while longer, in-house counsel aren’t simply going to be able to continue sending things to their traditional outside law firm for reasons like, “that is what we have always done” or “we just do not have the internal resources to get it done.” The stakes are too high and there are proven, high-quality and cost-effective ways to accomplish the same tasks. Most involve collaboration, and there are numerous “pain-free” ways to implement this approach. Like the client I was meeting with the other day, I too believe this is the future model for in-house legal departments (and, quite honestly, law firms ... but that’s a topic for another day).