Centralising eDiscovery: Advice from the Experts

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One of the easiest ways a law firm can look to innovate is in the area of eDiscovery and document management. As data levels grow exponentially, centralising and automating data management/analysis within disputes, investigations and regulatory response work can drive huge cost and time savings. Legal tech is also developing so quickly that it’s use transcends time and cost efficiency. The technology can do a whole raft of things humans cannot achieve alone.

Understanding these tools and leveraging them to benefit clients can be key to promoting law firms as progressive, future-proofed and tech-enabled. Below is a summary of some possible ways to leverage legal tech with tips for success from our experts.

So how do you go about centralising eDiscovery in the first place? Popular models include:

  1. Full in-house capabilities – When executed well, the firm would see not only large ROI but also a legitimate, in-house team of experts who can streamline firm processes and help win new business. However, there is a lot of pressure here given the size of the investment – which would likely put off risk averse law firms. Alongside the upfront capital expenditure, there are costs associated with the following:

    1. Keeping technology up to date – think how frequently something as simple as an iPhone needs an IOS update.
    2. The very real cost of human capacity – you need the right people to maintain and develop tech; otherwise, it becomes obsolete.
    3. Finally, the risk and cost associated with liability and the required insurance need to be considered.
  2. Purchased technology/outsourced support – As with the first model, the firm would purchase the technology at the source. Many of the same considerations around CapEx, ongoing costs and upgrades would still apply. However, the firm would not have any human costs. There would be an agreement with an eDiscovery company who would provide analysts, project managers, AI specialists, etc. Those resources are not on the firm’s books – they’re in the “market” and so likely to benefit from ongoing development, and, importantly, they can be used as much or as little as necessary at any given time.

  3. Provider panel – No investment needed but a robust selection process certainly will be. This undertaking can be extensive, with the result not pleasing everyone at the firm – meaning an uphill struggle for panel uptake. Lawyers have a duty to act in the best interest of their client, who also pays the final invoices, so it’s impossible to mandate the use of certain providers without significant additional benefits. This approach does carry the least risk though, as you can have multiple providers on a panel with no committed spend or investment.

  4. Managed service – Forging a long-term partnership with one external provider can be incredibly successful. No upfront investment in technology, a vested interest in each other’s success and some of the largest savings through long-term commitment. From a provider’s perspective, this model is hugely attractive – they have the firm’s commitment and can heavily invest in the relationship with limited risk. The firm then has access to extremely competitive rates, dedicated support, the latest technology and a continued investment in tech education programmes (the more the lawyers know about tech, the easier they are to work with). However, if you choose the wrong partner, you may lose faith in the concept and be further behind than when you started.

As with any innovation project, there are a few things you should consider before you make a decision to ensure you can measure the success of the project:

  • Understand the current state – Figure out who has needs for eDiscovery and document management – it will not just be disputes. Employment investigations, regulatory response projects and cyber incident response teams will also make use of the tech. You need to understand all of their pain points, who they currently work with and how much they use the services. There is an opportunity to minimise your risk by utilising suppliers that are tried and tested whilst also creating scoring criteria for the project from regular users based on their current experience, e.g., response times, costs.
  • Set a goal for 6, 12 and 24 months – This can be anything from simple firm-wide compliance, a savings goal based on the new ways of working or even business won through the new approach. Set a goal so you can map success against it, potentially editing your strategy at each mark to create a better end solution.
  • Gather the metrics needed now – External eDiscovery spend is likely the most useful metric. It can be used to drive better rates from any external tech providers or support services whilst highlighting the biggest areas of spend. Outside of this, all data is useful – especially if you want to demonstrate the success of the initiative to senior execs, whose careers have been built on hard metrics, e.g., billable hours, PPP.

Finally, below are some tips on making eDiscovery centralisation a success:

  • Pilot the solution you choose – Using the data you collected above, figure out the ROI, and then pilot the solution you think is most appropriate. If that’s using a piece of tech, work with the provider to do a three-month pilot. If it’s working with a provider, contract them for three months, and see what savings/metrics they can achieve. Reduce the risk – trial it first.
  • Educate those involved – Education is one of the biggest reasons eDiscovery projects fail. If your colleagues don’t understand the process, they will make decisions that can seriously impact the success of the project. Increasing the technological IQ of your firm will be a key success factor when centralising.
  • Appoint a ‘tech captain’ per team or office – Empower someone to take the lead and incentivise them as such. Provide them additional training or allocate a certain amount of their billable hours to your initiative and link it to their overall goals. They will ensure their peers are compliant and help distil some of the most complex concepts.
  • Ensure you have a method to drive compliance – Compliance drives success. You need to sell the initiative internally as much as you do to your clients. A firm-mandated solution would force compliance, but generating real buy-in (through data) will prevent resentment and scapegoating of the solution.

Law firms are, by their very nature, extremely risk averse. That said, rolling out technology, an innovation agenda or even just a new way of working can be very challenging. eDiscovery technology offers an “easy win” through its wide range of uses and the many options available for centralisation. It’s important to adequately prepare for centralising your eDiscovery management processes to ensure the final result is positive and any external partners you work with are bought into the success of the project as well.

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