Conversations from LegalTech 2013
Going to LegalTech, for me, is like going to a high school reunion. This year was my 13th LegalTech (East Coast) and I think it has to be my favorite conference of the year – although there is one coming up in Zurich regarding data privacy that by mere locale could trump LT. It is the one time of year that I am guaranteed to see every person I have ever worked with in the last 16 years. 13 years of booths, sessions, parties – they’ve all kind of blended together over the years – so that I can’t really distinguish one LegalTech from another.
What does stand out for me each year are the conversations I have with people – colleagues, clients, competitors, partners, and friends. The themes of these conversations set the tone for the coming year.
Past years’ themes have been: Online Repositories – wouldn’t it be great if there were case folders and batch printing available on the Internet?; Production Management – how do we solve this problem of having to deliver the same docs to multiple parties and can we deliver docs in some other form than paper?; Document Review – is there a cheaper way than using law firm attorneys?; Offshore and Onshore Outsourcing – should we do it and why India?; Litigation Readiness – what can we do to be prepared for discovery?; Early Case Assessment – how can we gain case insight earlier in the process?; Concept searching and intelligent batching – what are these things people are calling “concepts” and how do I use them?; And of course, Predictive coding.
This year’s topics were both reassuring (because we’ve been working on solutions for them) and surprising (because perhaps naively I thought they’d been fully addressed in the past).
In no particular order, here are the themes of the discussions I had this year:
- Almost every client (law firms and corporations) that I spoke with mentioned the need for experienced, knowledgeable project managers. Since e-discovery is getting increasingly complicated to manage, having competent, consultative PMs, both internally and externally, is essential to their success. Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, and I’ve always believed it to be true, but looking at the complex workflows and the constant customization we tend to offer to our own clients at Integreon, it may be truer now than ever before. I’m reminded of the days of my first online Review engagements, when clients struggled with learning DT Search and navigating in a database, on top of having to read through tens of thousands of documents linearly. There was just so much to learn. I feel like we are there again today, in the ‘so much to learn’ phase and PMs really need to be able to effectively guide their clients along this increasingly complex path.
- PM turnover was also a big topic this year because every e-discovery provider struggles with keeping their PMs happy. PMs today have really hard jobs – they have 18 hour / 7 day a week jobs full of difficult and complicated cases. Projects don’t stop because its after 8pm or on a Sunday afternoon – issues can and do come up at odd times. The PM’s job is essential, and yet still undervalued or unappreciated by some. The pressure to succeed and always be available can burn out a PM. At LT, what I heard is that every client fears this burn out above most other things that can go wrong on a case, second only to inadvertent production. Losing a PM who has gained trust, who can be relied on without tremendous QC, can be a serious blow to a client’s workload. I was told that the very idea of a trusted advisor leaving is one of the most depressing things that can happen during a case. We, as employers in an industry where great PMs are essential, need to make it a priority to help our PMs learn, grow and balance their workloads to avoid burn out. It is also incumbent upon us to create a clear career path for growth and professional development.
In-house Technology Centers
- One of the themes I heard from both law firms and corporations alike is that they are evaluating what they will do next with technology. Six or seven years ago decisions were made to bring technology in-house in order to drive down the cost of processing and hosting. Seven years later the technology (infrastructure) is old and they are struggling with the question of what to do next. Options I heard were:
- Upgrade to new software/hardware
- Find a managed service arrangement where they have bulk all-you-can-eat deals in place or preferred pricing deals with high volume capacity
- Source work on a project basis with service providers, like they were doing before their investment in technology
- Many clients were saying they won’t be able to justify investing in new technology when the last seven years have shown that they cannot recoup their costs from previous investments. It will be interesting to see which route people decide to take.
Data Reduction Strategies
- I also had several conversations regarding the volume of projects crossing my clients’ desks and the ever increasing volumes of data involved in each one. Many corporate clients, and their outside counsel, are struggling with ways to drastically reduce data and document sizes in collections, processing, hosting and review. Not only are the costs associated with discovery in large-scale projects so high as to elicit audible gasps at budget review time, corporate clients also struggle with multiple, simultaneous projects where aggregate costs are eliciting even greater gasps.
- We have recently analyzed our past processing cases and seen that we have been successfully reducing raw data, on average, by 90% or higher. Gone are the days of 70% reduction – it just isn’t a viable option anymore. And this steady reduction has been achieved through standard deduping, search terms and date filters alone. We get much higher results (95% or higher) when we add in data analytics prior to review – removing file types, refining terms to avoid garbage, identifying highly non-Responsive custodians early through term reporting and other measures. Making even a small effort at the start of a case to understand the data and strategize on reduction techniques can reduce data sizes and dramatically bring down costs.
Predictive Coding – this is the year!
- The collective feeling is that this is the year that predictive coding will stop being a hot topic and start being a hot practice. The choice this year will be not ‘should I employ a predictive coding workflow’, but rather ‘when should I employ it and which technology and workflow best suits my needs?’. People seem optimistic on this point, almost euphoric, especially the providers of predictive coding workflows. We, the preferred partners of the world, have long been proselytizers of Technology Assisted Review (TAR) workflows that heavily rely on human leadership, but this year we will turn into experienced project managers and consultants; we will lead a new generation of review attorneys into the bright realm of intelligent solutions; we will provide exciting and valuable workflows contingent on embedded use of mathematical algorithms and statistics; we will, we will, we will!
- Law firm and corporate clients alike were also insistent that this is the year they will start using these workflows. The fact that judges are now getting involved in the decision making process is leading to a fear potentially even greater than that of not looking at every document. The idea that one may be involved in a matter where the judge mandates use of these workflows could prompt firms/clients to get some prior experience under their belts and test out different methodologies so that they can advocate for the ones they like best, rather than being the less experienced player who has to go along with decisions they do not quite understand.
These are all the themes I think will prevail for Integreon this year. I believe we will see the need for more investment in advanced PM training and more PMs added to our team overall, more clients who previously invested in technology turning again to outsourced solutions, higher focus on data reduction strategies and data analysis prior to review, and increased use of, not just interest in, Predictive coding workflows.
2013 should prove to be a milestone year for the fast evolving field of e-discovery!Tweet