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An Attorney’s Answers to 3 Questions on Analytics and e-Discovery

By Bridgette Harris

Historically, some legal teams have looked at e-discovery as a cost center. Fannie Mae famously spent nearly 10 percent of its operating budget in 2008 on e-discovery. Put simply, a growing amount of data means lots of digging and investigating, and more data has traditionally required more attorney reviewers.

By investing in and applying the right tools, however, corporate executives are saving their companies money, and law firms are providing greater value to their clients and focusing on other aspects of practicing law.

It seems obvious, but attorneys still get questions about the value of applying the latest e-discovery technology, even from colleagues. Here’s how to answer them.

Question #1: What’s so wrong with the way we’ve always done it?

Discovery is getting more complicated as data volumes grow, and a hands-on-paper approach just doesn’t cut it these days. Hearken back to the days when you had to search for case law by looking through books—yes, paper books. Searching through a database of case law with special fields telling you which court the opinion came from, when the opinion came down, and whether the law from that opinion is still valid is inarguably better and now a natural way of working.

e-Discovery has essentially done the same for data. Tools such as Relativity let you search through a ton of data and information in an instant. Just as you would limit case law search by courts or opinion date, you can limit what data you look through by custodian, date, file type, and much more. If you think strategically about how to search better, the latest e-discovery technology can make case teams’ jobs much simpler.

Question #2: Isn’t keyword searching all we need?

Sometimes, but other times you’ll get a lot more by digging just a little deeper.

Imagine trying to find a good restaurant in a city you’ve never been to without Google or Yelp—tools that know the ins and outs of every restaurant on the map thanks to hundreds of diverse customer reviews. You may arrive at your destination city and ask a local, but their recommendations are limited by their individual knowledge and experience. They may point you to a decent dining experience, but you’ll never know what amazing meals you missed out on.

The idea is the same when it comes to using a tool like concept searching for e-discovery: you can find a lot more detail in your data without being limited by your own awareness of what might be buried in it. So instead of searching for a few key terms you’ve theorized on, your e-discovery software can reveal patterns and related concepts you’d never even thought to look for—just like Yelp can show you a hole-in-the-wall diner with stellar reviews that most locals haven’t even heard about. As soon as I explained this to my foodie Big Law colleague, she understood the risk involved in not using a proper search tool in e-discovery.

Question #3: How can the benefits of something like technology-assisted review outweigh the risks that the computer might miss something?

Taking these metaphors one step further, if Yelp could make recommendations for restaurants based on your favorite spots, or a case law search engine could suggest similar cases to the one you found very helpful, you could save a lot of time and get what you need quicker. Technology-assisted review (TAR) does just that in the e-discovery context. By cutting down on the time and number of documents that need to be reviewed by an attorney, we’ve found that TAR saves a lot of money. Based on current models, TAR can save nearly 80 percent compared with traditional review. When it comes to missing documents, there’s no need to worry. The technology has been proven effective, and the courts have endorsed it several times. Even more critically, it can help you make determinations about case strategy earlier on.

And with all that time you save by not sifting through documents, you can create more value for your client by focusing on the more interesting parts of your job—writing cutting-edge legal arguments and advocating for their needs.

What other questions do you commonly get about the ROI of e-discovery technology?