How Brewing Coffee is Just Like E-Discovery

Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)
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Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

For so many people that know me, I have a bit of a coffee addiction. I love coffee – but perhaps not in the way many overpriced coffee chain drinkers do. I love the art and science behind how coffee is made. In fact, I own six different coffee brewers and even roasted raw coffee beans in my garage (and promised my wife I’d never do it again because of the smell!). Every coffee cherry tree in every region across the world are tended are cared for by extremely hard-working families. What’s so interesting is that dependent upon the region the cherry is in, the temperature, the altitude, and the type of ground upon which the bean is dried out (desert, lush rainforest dirt, or cement) all make a huge difference in the taste of the bean. The same varietal from Africa will taste different in Hawaii. It’s amazing. How the same bean is roasted and for how long will also impact the flavor. If you use a blade grinder instead of a good burr grinder, the taste will be impacted. If you buy pre-ground beans (please don’t!), it will taste different. Add too much water and at the wrong temperature – yes, it will make a difference! There’s so many beautiful subtleties and nuances that go from farm to the cup.

So what in the world does my obsession with coffee have to do with eDiscovery? Everything. If you haven’t figured it out by now, there’s a couple of ways in which brewing the perfect cup of balanced coffee is just like eDiscovery.

1. You get what you pay for

Aldo Gucci famously said that “the bitterness of poor quality is remembered long after the sweetness of low price has faded from memory” is so very true. If I want just a cup of coffee, I can go to my local gas station or chain coffee house. Coffee has traditionally been so commoditized that it doesn’t matter where you buy it from because you can get it – and cheap. But you must know that you get what you pay for when you do. The same must be said for eDiscovery. There are so many eDiscovery providers out there today who all say that they can do it better, cheaper, and faster than that other company. But the reality is that this type of behavior only does a disservice to us as lawyers and legal professionals.

When every vendor says the same thing, it confuses the consumers of eDiscovery. It takes the high-quality differentiated work of competent eDiscovery service providers and turns their services into a commodity, thus giving off the appearance that the service offerings are undifferentiated. Intense competition and “cheaper” prices inevitably make a service become a commodity in a market.  This is the very reason there is so much confusion in the eDiscovery market. This also creates a lot of risks for law firms and legal departments who need to quickly choose a provider, and then go with the lowest price. The unfortunate side effect is that the companies whose value does rise above the morass of the other providers may get glossed over. It can ultimately lead to missed deadlines, poor project managers, and dreadful communication.

This is a wonderful reminder that just because there is a coffee shop chain over every other street corner does not mean that they have the best baristas, source the best beans, and take care in their product. Likewise, the same goes for eDiscovery providers. Just because the company is bigger, does not mean that you are getting the best PM’s who authentically and genuinely care about your matters, your projects, and want to help elevate you and your team to understand the absolute best ways to approach each matter with the right eDiscovery technology. It’s so important to get to learn why the company exists, how they are going to help your team and ensure it’s not just about “closing a deal” to meet a quota for the month.

2. It’s always the details that matter

As you can tell from my introduction, there’s a lot of details that go into making a great cup of coffee. The details do matter. Lawyers involved in eDiscovery may not want to ever know how the “beans are brewed” — you just want it done and done right. I get that. It seems like every eDiscovery provider out there is making up some new gimmick to win the business: “We’ll give you X gigabytes of processing for free!”; “We’ll throw in the processing!”; “We’ll give you free users!”; “We’ll give you one month of free hosting!”. There are also service providers who are going to tell you that their Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Deep Learning, Technology Assisted Review, Predictive Coding, et cetera is better than the next provider – and it just may be true! The point here is that there are far too many choices and as a result, it becomes increasingly frustrating to figure out who can competently do the work, can have it done on time, and is reasonably priced. That’s why partnering with your in-house litigation technologists is so important.

Plus, it is more important than ever to understand where the data is being hosted and the security around that data. All data is in the cloud now. It’s just a question of whether it is in a private data center or a commercial enterprise cloud environment like Azure, AWS or Google. In either case, it’s critical to know where the data centers and the co-lo are located, what security certifications have been performed, are they performing independent audits and penetration tests, et cetera. If it is a multi-tenant environment, how are they performing database segmentation to ensure isolation of your data? To put it mildly, there are a plethora of very important questions to be asked around the security of the data that can be overwhelming but should be known before choosing a service provider.

Choosing a service provider because they all seem like the same and so, therefore, we should go with the lowest priced is not a strategy that ever works out. Understanding from a technical subject matter expert (often called Solution Consultants, Solution Architects, or Sales Engineers) can help turn the technical underpinnings into plain English. Just because a bean looks like a bean, doesn’t mean it’ll taste the same. Likewise, just because a service provider can process and host your data does not mean that the work product will be done efficiently, correctly, or done with the best customer service you’ve ever had.

Wrapping Up

As I finish drinking my highly roasted single-origin coffee from Nicaragua, I will also close this post by saying that the details matter. The technology to go from data chaos to data nirvana is available. The technology is out there and readily available to find the right facts in the right documents to help prove your matter like you never could before. The ability to review fewer documents with the help of algorithms is proven and accepted. And, the ability to secure your data appropriately and ensure compliance with national and international security standards is there. But just because something is advertised as better, cheaper, and faster does not mean that you are getting the best or even close to the best. Understanding both the nuances in the technology and most importantly, the level of authentic care the people have in helping you achieve your goals and exceed your expectation every time is no different than appreciating the nuances of brewing a great cup of coffee!

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