The Role of AI in E-Discovery

Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS)

Ari Kaplan speaks with George Socha, the senior vice president of brand awareness for Reveal, an e-discovery software company. He’s also a member of the global advisory board for the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists. Most notably, he is the co-founder of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model.

Tell us about your background and your role at Reveal.

I spent about 16 years as a litigator and in 2003, I launched a solo practice as an e-discovery consultant. Tom Gelbmann and I started the EDRM in 2005, then handed it off to Duke Law School in 2016. I spent four years with a large services provider and have been with Reveal since September of 2020.

What role do you see artificial intelligence playing in e-discovery?

A.I. is playing an increasingly significant role in virtually every aspect of electronic discovery. It will and should become much larger as we move forward. The volumes and complexity of the data we deal with go beyond human capabilities so we need additional support to make sense of it.

15 years ago, you determined that e-discovery needed a framework to operate more efficiently. Has the objective of the EDRM been realized?

The technology has changed considerably in the last 15 years. What we can do with the tools available to us now were things we could only contemplate as unattainable possibilities in 2005. We have gone from a place, where 15 years ago, if you were to have resized the boxes and the circle on the EDRM diagram, based upon the amount of money and the amount of effort put into each of those stages, the review box would have pushed everything else completely off to the edges. You wouldn’t have even been able to read the text in, for example, the production box. That was unavoidable because we didn’t have the tools, techniques, or buy-in to do it any other way. While you can debate, and people do so, what qualifies as artificial intelligence, it has allowed us to focus so much more on the analysis of our records, and I think technology like Reveal’s can help you do that successfully. You can resize those boxes so that that review is no longer the largest of the boxes, and actually shrinks considerably. The analysis box grows, but not to the previous size of that review field, especially after reducing the total amount of time and money spent on review. We want to try to get to relevant information as quickly as we can and one of the ways to do so is through the effective use of artificial intelligence in electronic discovery.

You have developed the E-Discovery Leaders weekly video program on the ACEDS network. What lessons have you learned from those conversations?

Our weekly sessions at 11am ET on Friday mornings typically runs about 25 minutes and are an outgrowth of a column I had been writing for ACEDS summarizing new developments in electronic discovery, privacy and other areas. It has been an interesting exercise because it gives me the chance to speak with people, who have a variety of perspectives and experiences. We have featured law firm attorneys, in-house leaders, and several representatives from service providers around the world.

In March of 2020, you earned your CEDS certification. Why did you pursue that accreditation?

I actually held off for so long because I kept thinking: “What if I take that test and I do not pass? … Even if nobody else knows, I will know and will feel like such a failure.” I am, however, a member of the ACEDS global advisory board and I recognized how important it was for me to attain the organization’s signature designation. As a member of the board, I wanted to be able to provide meaningful input into the mechanics of the process and the exam so I put on my armor and went to battle against the test. It was a useful experience and puts me in a better position to provide helpful guidance.

Do you think that certifications have increased in their appeal during this period?

Truthfully, I think it’s really hard to say. The certification plays different roles or performs different functions for different people. For some, it is important to add it to their CV as they look to advance their careers. For others, it serves as an independent assessment of their skills and capabilities and gauges their own personal or professional advancement. Ultimately, the value of it depends upon where you’re coming from and what you’re seeking out of it. I suspect that in these very turbulent times we live in, where a significant number of people have gone through job changes they did not anticipate, the ability to study for, take, and pass the test is a useful and very valuable resource for people.

How do you see the pandemic changing e-discovery over the long term?

E-discovery changed almost overnight as in person review was no longer a viable option. The organizations that provide reviewers to work on projects had to pivot from secure facilities with monitored conference rooms to completely virtual workspaces. For those who had already established these capabilities, it was a relatively smooth transition. For those who were less prepared, remote review was a scramble. That said, I was surprised in a very positive way at how quickly everyone figured out how to shift to this different approach. In fact, I don’t think we are going back entirely to a review room situation as there are some definite advantages to remote review, such as the elimination of geographic limitations. If you want someone on your review team who has specialized capabilities, you no longer need to be concerned with their proximity to a physical review center. Now, you can use someone who is across the country or the globe, if there aren’t cross-border issues, which wasn’t an option in the past. If you build the right communication capabilities, you have an opportunity for team members to actually communicate more frequently and effectively than when they were in a room together. In addition, we have had to learn how to collect data differently. It no longer is viable to send people physically to locations with boxes and to copy data from those boxes. Now that we have  figured out how to do it remotely, there is no reason to unwind that. Sending people to locations physically always was problematic, especially since no one liked paying the travel expenses. If you can grab that content remotely, and we’re figuring out how to do a better job of that, why would you go back? Finally, there is a broader array of the types of electronically stored information subject to scrutiny now, which have always been there, but haven’t been as obvious or widely used, such as Zoom recordings and chat messages, among many other platforms. Our eyes have been opened and I don’t think they’re going to close. Ultimately, there has been an unprecedented willingness on the part of law firm attorneys to try something they hadn’t tried before, either because they didn’t have a choice, as in remote review and collection, or because they have identified better ways of working.

Listen to his conversation with George Socha here

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