Last year I wrote an article discussing the current trends in e-discovery Software as a Service (SaaS) or on-premise solutions as legacy platforms were being replaced. Since then, as expected, our industry continues to mature with platforms that appeal to firms looking to the cloud or their own secure client data centers. The focus of this article will be on specifically law firm successes of both on premise deployments and SaaS adoption as well as the hybrid approach leveraging third party e-discovery providers.
Retain—Any Last Holdouts?
No matter the size of the firms I have encountered, it is a foregone conclusion that legacy infrastructure and software platforms need to be replaced. Because the use of these platforms span decades, many of the cases turn into archives that are then stored when they are sunset, and many firms mandate that no new cases are added to the system.
The main reason for keeping the platform turned off and archived is the investment into work product that the firm doesn’t want to lose. There remains always potential for revisiting those cases and in deciding to keep the software as a repository there is peace of mind it is accessible. As a precaution, though, make sure the corporate client and the firm have a defensible deletion plan for that data when it should be destroyed as to not be unnecessarily subject to discovery later.
On Premise—The Law Firm Investment Into Technology
In the previous article, many of the considerations are the same for costs, IT burden, security etc. exist and should never go away, but I do hear a common question: “If/since we have made this investment, how can I make my department profitable so that it’s all worth it?”
Let us consider a fully functional and successful litigation support department who has decided to invest in people, infrastructure, and software. Many teams, where they have full or near-full adoption from the firm, are acting as an in-house e-discovery company. Some will even rebrand that department to a separate company and name from the firm itself.
The core team is focused on maximizing billable hours with strategic case consulting managed by key case managers and e-discovery attorneys. The secondary team are project managers applying the technology to the strategy and the last team (I call them the incubation team) are managing the software by processing data, administrating the platform, and working with IT to ensure the data center is optimal. This system allows for the last team to grow into a billable position over time, and the cycle continues.
As teams work together, refine processes, and gain internal adoption, the firm and their clients will see the benefits when done successfully. The overall goal with scoping out this investment will need to balance the amount of cases, case value and data, and outweigh the costs of the entire team, software, and infrastructure investments. Generally, I see this in firms that consistently have large and significant matters.
Self-Service with SaaS—No Law Firm Investment Into Technology
No matter the size of a given firm, all firms are in the business of organizing caseloads and costs that center around their core legal practices. Many firms, though, don’t carry the continual high volume and high stakes cases involving electronically stored information (ESI), which is where nearly all the e-discovery SaaS platforms cater their offering. The user experience is typically very easy for administrators, support staff, and attorneys to perform data loading, searches, tagging, and productions.
As outlined in the previous article, there are major benefits in utilizing an e-discovery SaaS product, but a couple concerns I continued to come across included support for the products, and that some still seem to be in their infancy.
Many platforms design for self-service, and they do a great job at that, but may not offer full project and case level support. To compensate, some firms assign the task to internal staff to learn what is needed and others (and will describe more below) look to their local litigation support providers.
As with many software providers of all industries, some platforms are released before they are “completed,” and e-discovery SaaS platforms vary significantly. Despite claims of “end-to-end” e-discovery, as all attorneys like to answer, “It depends.” You may only need a simple process for one case and varied complexity in another, but regardless of the case profile, ensure your team is vetting the platform correctly. I recommend that you speak with a trusted third party who can evaluate your needs and recommend technology that best fits the case types.
Hybrid—SaaS, Support, and Service
Due to the proliferation of e-discovery SaaS companies and platforms, many firms are either just settling for the cheapest option (making the assumption that all SaaS platforms are all the same) or they are paying the high dollars to go a known safe route. All of that in mind, there are three main successful configurations I have seen that encompass a hybrid approach whether the technology is on-premise or SaaS.
The first are the law firms who have only a handful of large cases per year and a normal flow of small matters involving ESI. As the team assesses the case value, timelines, and costs per case, they can rely on the predictable models the SaaS providers give access to the technology. The pricing is typically based on the size of data and projected length of the case, so it is easy to determine software/hosting costs. The firm may have a service-level agreement (SLA) with a SaaS provider and use their local provider to assist with administrative functions, searches and investigations, data organization for review, and productions. These providers simply bill by the hour or have a consistent monthly number of hours in an agreement. In the end, the software pricing and service is predictable, approved, and billed to the client, which allows the firm to focus on the legal merits and process of the case.
The second, and most common, configuration is the law firm that has a steady flow of small-to-large cases involving ESI. The blending of on-premise and outside providers certainly varies, but there is generally a platform and workflow to process and review small cases (around 10GBs or less) and a relationship with a local e-discovery provider(s) to manage cases that are above the internal thresholds of management. Creating this process internally allows third parties to manage the larger cases and give the firm freedom to practice law rather than managing data that inevitable all vary in size and complexity.
Finally, law firms that continually have large and complex matters involving volumes of ESI manage a workflow of data triage, culling, and organization. Once the data is ready, they leverage their third-party providers for further searching, concept analytics, technology assisted review, etc. Oftentimes these law firms have selected multiple providers based off their niche expertise or the sheer volume of cases and data.
Your Firm, Your Business
Regardless of any example model listed in these two articles, the law firm representing their clients and the firm’s profitability needs to make the decision to learn what works best. If you haven’t already, appoint someone or a team to continually evaluate what is available on the market and how that applies to your firm. Not only is the technology evolving, so is the way law firms need to conduct their business, and software and service providers are great resources to help keep your practice optimal.