As they say, discovery is a big firm’s game. Or at least they did. Until recently, data-heavy discovery, with its antiquated technology, high-priced vendors, and higher-priced third-party experts, was only available to litigants with deep pockets and a giant roster of attorneys at their disposal.
That’s no longer the case. With the advent of better tools, technology is leveling the playing field between litigants and firms large and small. Cloud-based automation, improved processing technology, and more user-friendly platforms that have been developed during the Age of Discovery 3.0 mean that all firms can handle more of their discovery needs in house, lowering their costs and increasing their billable hours while delivering faster and more accurate results for their clients.
Don’t take our word for it. In a recent series of interviews for ILTA’s Peer to Peer Magazine, Ricky Brooman, litigation support project manager at Saul Ewing, examined how smaller firms were transforming the way they did discovery. That included an in-depth conversation with Aaron Crockett, eDiscovery counsel at Portland’s Harrang Long Gary Rudnick, about the ways cloud-based eDiscovery solutions have changed his firm’s practice. It’s worth a listen in full, but here are some of the key takeaways.
Making the Case for Cloud-based Discovery: Cost, Security, & Simplicity
When Crockett joined Harrang Long, he explained, he was able to build the firm’s approach to discovery virtually from the ground up. “We essentially started from scratch,” Crockett said. With that blank slate, Crockett decided that a cloud-based eDiscovery tool was the way to go.
One of the reasons for that was cost. “It’s easiest to think of it in balance sheet terms,” Crockett explained, “when you’re storing it in the cloud, it’s like a utility.” This turned Harrang Long’s discovery costs into something more like an ongoing utility, determined by total data storage, rather than a capital expenditure, which requires significant up-front investment and contains trailing costs that most firms don’t consider.
“It makes you much more efficient by bringing the cost of your data to the forefront but at the same time eliminating the hidden costs of on-prem solutions.”
“When you go to the cloud and it becomes a straight utility payment it directs the focus back to the data and whether you need it and how much,” according to Crockett. “It makes you much more efficient by bringing the cost of your data to the forefront but at the same time eliminating the hidden costs of on-prem solutions.”
That cost adjustment also meant a lower bill for clients. And, of course, “clients like seeing a lower hourly rate.” By bringing more of the review in house, rather than delegating collection and search to the clients or a third party, and charging a flat rate for largely administrative tasks like data collection, setting up production, and setting up searches, “everybody knows what it’s gonna cost up front.” That cost predictability further adding to client comfort and satisfaction. Reduction in firm overhead and background costs, Crockett also noted, was a significant added benefit.
Can You Trust the Cloud for eDiscovery?
There are still attorneys who worry about storing data on the cloud, Crockett acknowledged. But those fears are misguided when a cloud system is properly secured—and today, most cloud providers devote more resources to security than any law firm could. “It’s primarily an education factor,” Crockett noted, adding that cloud security concerns were justified in the past, but at this point it’s more a matter of catching people up to the state-of-the-art in storage security.
“The fundamental problem is that data always sits somewhere,” Crockett told Brooman. “When it’s in the cloud, like with Logikcull, it’s sitting in an Amazon data center. I’m much more comfortable with data being at rest in Amazon’s hands than in a locked closet at the back of the office.”
“I’m much more comfortable with data being at rest in Amazon’s hands than in a locked closet at the back of the office.”
And anyone who remembers eDiscovery 2.0, remembers terabytes of document data stored on external hard drives and floating around on USB drives (and, god-forbid, printed into a conference room’s worth of black binders filled with Bates stamp-stickered pages). Those devices posed their own security risks. With data stored in the cloud, Crockett noted, “If someone steals your device, they are not stealing your data or your client’s data.”
Making the Transition to Cloud-based Discovery
While cloud-based tools can add efficiency and security to the discovery process, firms need to be conscientious about implementation. A core transition issue, according to Crockett, is that simply adding a new tool onto an inefficient workflow doesn’t immediately solve the problem—you have to change the workflow too:
“The biggest problem for a small firm can be manpower. A lot of what particularly the old school attorneys have in mind is a linear manual review. Makes totally sense if someone has already reduced the documents to 1,000 for you, but if you’re starting with a raw database of 100k or more... it’s not gonna work.”
Law firms will end up doing more eDiscovery work in house because their attorneys now have the tools to do so, but that also means adjusting your process so you can cull out, so to speak, inefficiencies. And you may be exposing attorneys to “a lot more raw discovery issues than they’ve ever seen before,” Crockett says, helping build expertise in the process. “Increase in oversight,” Crockett said, “means a lot of increased education and transition discomfort that needs to be accommodated.”
“The improvements are manifest and the hurdles are surmountable.”
Essential to that process is moving attorneys and staff away from the word “document” and to the word “data” instead. And unveiling the mess that is an email database to older shareholders can be an eye-opening experience. “The improvements are manifest,” Crockett assured, “and the hurdles are surmountable.”
Picking the Right eDiscovery Platform
Just moving a small firm’s eDiscovery to the cloud, still leaves open the decision of which cloud-based discovery platform to choose. Crockett told Brooman it took about a year to go through dozens of different platforms and solutions. Crockett knew he wanted whatever solution he chose to be in the cloud and there were two driving issues during the decision-making process:
- Pricing Structure: It “it had to fit the business,” according to Crockett; and
- User Interface: “Since we were starting from scratch,” Crockett said, “none of the attorneys or staff had any experience with advanced features like machine learning, clustering, or visual analytics.”
Crockett wanted the overhead on pricing to be minimal, paired with good visibility of those costs for clients. “We pass-through Logikcull costs directly. It’s client friendly and again it simplifies our administrative back end.”
(Side note: Crockett and Brooman are both experts on eDiscovery billing. They recently hosted a webinar covering best practices in eDiscovery billing that can’t be missed.)
Crockett also knew the user interface was going to be critical for two reasons. First, the interface had to be easy to use and easy to digest for support staff and lower associates, and second, it had to be easy to teach to key stakeholders and shareholders footing the bill and using it in their matters.
“I want them to be able to sit down, look at it, and figure out what it’s trying to tell them intuitively.”
Logikcull’s user interface fit the bill, with minimal clutter and effective organization of advanced features for those who needed them, without confusing everyone with options they’d never need or use. It also made onboarding far easier, according to Crockett. “If I have to teach everyone everything I know about computer interfaces so that they can be on the same tool I am, it’s really counterproductive. I want them to be able to sit down, look at it, and figure out what it’s trying to tell them intuitively.”
In the end, Crockett narrowed it down to three eDiscovery providers, scheduled demonstrations, and got as many attorneys and staff present for the demos as possible. He also spent those demos watching the participants, rather than the demo, to gauge how engaged they were with the features and assess their ease of use.
“Right now we’re using Logikcull for most of our matters,” Crockett said, after moving to the platform a little over a year ago. And Crockett and Harrang Long have appreciated the shift. “In the old days of eDiscovery, it just meant losing control of your matter to a vendor and spending a huge amount of money,” concluded Crockett. “That’s not how we do it anymore.”
To listen to the full interview featuring Aaron Crockett and Ricky Brooman, click here.