How Baker Donelson Achieves "Hockey-Stick Growth" With Its eDiscovery Program

How Baker Donelson Achieves "Hockey-Stick Growth" With Its eDiscovery Program

“Hockey-stick growth” is often used to define rapid revenue growth for a business or product. Think of the massive adoption Slack saw in its early days, doubling its user base every few months, or the unprecedented spike in Zoom usage early this year, as much of the economy moved rapidly to remote environments.

Hockey-stick growth is a sign that what you’re offering is serving a massive, and previously unmet, demand.

But that sort of success isn’t just limited to revenue growth. For any program or approach, whether focused at external customers or internal stakeholders, a considered implementation ramping up to exponential growth is proof positive that what you’re doing is working. That’s true for a product, but it’s equally true for the adoption of internal technology, for example, or the shift to a new work approach.

It’s that kind of success that the 700-attorney, Am Law 100 firm Baker Donelson achieved after reimagining its approach to eDiscovery in early 2019. It’s an approach that has seen massive adoption throughout Baker Donelson’s team, while reducing costs, empowering trial teams, speeding time to data, and minimizing internal overhead.

Last week, two of the leaders behind that change, Clinton Sanko, Baker Donelson shareholder and eDiscovery officer, and Anthony Mendenhall, Baker Donelson’s director of eDiscovery operations, joined Logikcull for a webinar where they detailed just how they achieved such success.

“When you land on something, when you’ve reached consensus and can implement rapidly, that’s how you see the hockey-stick growth of the tool you’ve tested,” Sanko explains. “You’ve tested, you know it works and you know it’s a good fit.”

(We highlight a few key learnings from the webinar here, but, if you’re looking to achieve dramatic improvements in your discovery approach, you’ll want to watch the entire webinar recording, embedded below.)

Identifying the Proper Goals for Transforming the eDiscovery Process

“For our team, our chief goal is to enable better client outcomes. This includes defensibility of the production, partnership with the trial teams, providing only value-adding services, and ensuring maximum efficiency,” Sanko explains.

Baker Donelson’s core value is “clients first.” That means a firmwide commitment to maximize client value and minimize client cost. In the discovery sphere, that approach plays out through a relentless pursuit of improved client outcomes—ensuring the defensibility of a production, for example, partnering closely with trial teams, making sure that firm services are only value-adds, so that another timekeeper isn’t added to a project unnecessarily and, finally, ensuring maximum efficiency.

But how best to achieve those goals? “We took a step back two years ago,” Sanko says, “and we were looking at our portfolio. We realized that that certain of the tools in the discovery realm weren't scaling down to the needs of the smaller and the mid-level cases, of less data-intensive, less review intensive matters. And we really wanted to address that.”

To solve that problem, the team at Baker Donelson focused on identifying the factors preventing their teams from fully utilizing their existing technology.

“After listening to the attorneys and paralegals we work with, we started hearing several consistent themes emerge,” Mendenhall explains. Those were:

  • Cost: “Everyone wants to reduce costs,” Sanko notes. But equally important is cost certainty—“the ability to front-end budget, the ability to understand and message to clients, how much this service is going to cost." The firm needed to achieve both.

  • Speed: Trial teams want to move quickly and, for many cases, the delays that could arise with some tools just weren’t worth it. Waiting for advanced analytics before access data didn’t make sense for the mid-sized cases where review and analysis are combined in the same process. The firm needed to get its teams in front of their data without the extra bottlenecks.

  • Autonomy: For cases with less ESI, Mendenhall notes, “adding in a litigation support professional or project manager to the mix usually doesn’t add any value, it just drives up costs and increases the time to get the work done.” The firm needed a solution that was easy enough for trial teams to manage themselves, without additional overhead.

Finding the Right eDiscovery Solution for the Problem

Finding the right tool to help achieve those goals required a considered approach—and one that aligned with Baker Donelson’s perspective on continuous improvement. Sanko and Mendenhall are big fans of the principles of lean manufacturing, or “The Toyota Way.” (Their blog is even entitled Lean Discovery where Sanko regularly discusses how “eDiscovery can be improved by lowering costs and delivering more value to enable better client outcomes.”)

As Sanko explains:

“We had this realization, many years ago, that when you got a certain part of the eDiscovery lifecycle, when you’ve collected data and you want to produce a subset of that data that was relevant and responsive in a defensible way—that had a lot of similarity to manufacturing.

“You’re taking raw material, you’re applying technology (or machinery if you want to think about creating widgets), you’re applying labor, the professional services, to manage the decision process of what goes and what goes—and you’re ending up with a refined set of material for this production.

“We thought, if we want to improve that part of the eDiscovery cycle, we should be open to the same things that our clients look to when they’re improving manufacturing.” That brought them to the Toyota Way—and to the 2004 book by Jeffrey Liker of the same name.

Particularly, Sanko emphasizes two of the approach’s 14 principles. First, “use only reliable and thoroughly tested technology that serves your people and processes.” Secondly, “make decisions slowly by consensus, thoroughly considering all options and then implement rapidly.”

In practice, that meant a thorough vetting of the tools available, including a six-month proof of concept through which the team could agree that, indeed, they had found the right tool for the job. That process of clearly identifying the problem you are seeking to solve, listening to and involving stakeholders, and thoroughly evaluating options ensured that “the decisional process and testing rubric was clear,” Mendhenhall says.

The result of this particular implementation of that approach, as detailed in a recent case study, was rapid growth in both adoption and satisfaction.

To see the full webinar, including a detailed discussion of how the Baker Donelson team evaluates the success of a program, how the firm has been able to refocus internal resources for greater value, and how clients have reacted to the new approach, access the recording here.

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