Migrated from eDJGroupInc.com. Author: Greg Buckles. Published: 2010-04-02 08:00:25  Although my consulting practice focuses on corporate legal departments and Biglaw firms, expert work does not discriminate against small firms. Following a recent consultation, an attorney from a small three person firm reached out to me for advice on basic software to handle the firm’s modest needs. It had been a while (quite a while) since I had checked the options and pricing for technology appropriate for this part of the market. I was seriously out of touch on the per seat pricing for CT Summation’s iBlaze and the firm definitely did not want any volume or subscription based licensing. They wanted to buy software, learn to use it and get on with practicing law. This exercise reminded me of Craig Ball’s EDna Challenge back in January. My challenge was about equipping a small or solo firm with basic eDiscovery technology without breaking their budget.Before making any process or product recommendations, it is critical to define the normal usage cases and the functionality or features required to accomplish them. Everyone’s practice profile is different and has unique needs and challenges. For the purpose of this discussion, we can start with some assumptions:

  • The firm has 1-3 counsel and at least one paralegal/support person
  • Volume or subscription based software is off the table unless it is the only option
  • At least one person has minimal technology skills sufficient to work with load files

It always surprises me that most corporate and firm clients have not really broken down the primary types of matters they handle and the corresponding average volume and types of ESI involved. You have to define this ‘practice profile’ to understand what you really need or what kind of technology, training or personnel investment will pay off for you. Typical profile questions or factors:

  • Does paper or native files dominate your discovery collections?
  • Average size of your review and productions?
  • What kinds of native files are in your typical matters? (Office™, email vs. CAD, audio, databases)
  • Average size of opposing productions?
  • Typical source of opposing productions? (email vs. paper records)
  • Billable model on typical cases?
  • Can/do you pass through discovery expenses to the client? (contingency vs. defense)
  • Do you handle any criminal defense?
  • Average number of cases at any one time?
  • Much deposition or actual trial work?
  • Do you handle appellate cases?
  • Existing firm IT infrastructure?
  • file server, email server, SaaS, PC, scanner, high speed printer, etc
  • Do you use service providers to process, convert, host or otherwise handle your discovery?
  • What review platforms are personnel familiar with?

This information helps to define the type, scalability and complexity of software needed to meet the firm’s average eDiscovery matter. Besides knowing what the firm could do in-house, it is important for them to know their limitations and to acknowledge when the scale, complexity or expertise justifies outside help. Michael Swarz’s eDicovery For Small and Solo Law Firms blog focuses on when to call in an expert. My consulting philosophy tends towards enablement rather than embedding services, but knowing what you are not going to tackle helps a lot in purchasing decisions. If you know that any review and production over 10 GB will be hosted with a provider, then you will not be as worried about the database limitations of Summation or a desktop application.The next step is to take what we have learned in the Practice Profile and walk through the eDiscovery Lifecycle to determine the major stages that will fall within scope. The EDRM diagram is a good tool for this and the new Evergreen project phase diagrams add a lot of process detail to each phase. The goal of the exercise is to translate the firm’s practice into software types required.

  1. Identification/ECA
    • Assess liability/cost, investigate causes of action, scope criteria definition
    • Index native files for search, inventory reports, preview items, metrics reports
  2. Preservation/Collection
    • I rarely recommend heavy investment here for firms. Corporations are buying archives, forensic and selective collection tools. This is the highest sanction risk area of eDiscovery.
    • Remote collection, hold notification & tracking, forensic software/appliances
  3. Processing/Production
    • Why buy processing if you are not going to get branding features? Processing is easy, but processing correctly can be difficult. Understanding, remediating and/or disclosing files that could not be processed correctly (exception files) is tedious and technical work. Small or homogenous collections are a right fit for most firms. That means you do not need high volume software AND you should consider purchase of a block of GB’s to get access to a better platform.
    • File/Container extraction, Metadata Extraction, Load Files, Indexing, Culling, Deduplication, OCR, Tiff Conversion.
  4. Review/Analysis
    • Probably the most critical application is a decent tool to organize, classify and review outgoing and opposing productions. Advanced analytics like concept search, dynamic folders, Social Networks and more are useful, but may not be worth the cost.
    • Search, View Native/Images, Tagging, Folders, Production Tracking, Redaction, Email Threading, Batch Printing
  5. Presentation
    • Although this is still done in paper by most small firms, you will want to have access to all of your core evidence at trial as well as all the filings or transcripts.
    • Transcript Management, Exhibit Linking, Native Projection, Legal Analysis, Live Transcription

This has outlined a typical process to define the firm requirements and potential software features desired. The Practice Profile should help define an appropriate budget and help make the case to any other partners for the potential Return on Investment. The next article will try to outline software and utilities within reach of the small firm or solo practitioner.

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