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.