November 20, 2004

More on In-House EDD

Continuing the discussion between Dennis Kennedy, Ron Friedmann, Bruce MacEwen, and myself on law firm in-house EDD:

Dennis is "a bit more optimistic about law firms going into the electronic discovery services business". Along those lines, I think that the right combination of legal, lit support, and IT staff could do well with examining, searching, organizing, and producing electronic evidence that has been collected by a qualified EDD source. Indeed, many firms have been doing this to some degree already. There is a particular line of evolution that has the potential to serve firms quite well if they're willing to commit to it and recognize the value of their Lit Support Manager and IT Department collaboration.

Before I get to that, however, Dennis could very well be right in that an extremely small number of law firms with the properly trained and certified EDD people on staff and the right hardware and software savvy just might pull it off -- but by far this is the exception to the rule, as it's going to require an unconventional progressive-thinking and tech savvy culture (not too common in law firms, I'm sad to say). And they will still need to consider and address all the issues we've collectively mentioned, and more. Is there first-mover advantage? Possibly. However, I think there's a more "balanced" approach worth considering.

For this, I'm going to refer to several sources that Mike Arkfeld mentioned on his Electronic Discovery and Evidence blog a little over a month ago:

75% of Top Law Firms Not Qualified to Handle EDD Matters

E-Discovery Execs Name Top EDD Law Firms; 75% of AmLaw 200 Not Qualified to Handle Complex EDD Matters. "However, when asked, "What percentage of AmLaw 200 firms has the requisite knowledge and experience to professionally handle a complex EDD matter?" there was broad consensus that the answer was not more than 25%."

I actually read Mike's post well after I expressed similar thoughts. I'll reiterate from my prior posts that I believe that counsel and staff need to challenge themselves to be more educated on technical matters relating to computer systems, data, and EDD issues, and they need to be closely engaged with the EDD process. Of course, this is not going to happen overnight. But in doing so, they can guide the process, offer counsel, and make sure that the expensive EDD resources are being focused in the appropriate areas.

Mike also has another key post on this topic that is definitely worth mentioning:

Role of IT in Law Firms re EDD, which links to this article: Conference Preview: Use your EDD by Andrew Haslam. Andrew explores many of the issues we've discussed, and the example of a firm who crashed their entire computer system by hosting EDD is a good caution.

Having worked closely with various Lit Support and Project Managers, I think he's on the right track in the following quote, because I've seen it happening already:

"How will all of this affect IT departments? I believe that the role of the litigation support manager will evolve from one focused on the processes of scanning, coding and hosting systems, into a higher level of strategic adviser and project management. In parallel, the IT function could start to move from being a cost centre to a business contributor."
Now this is where I suspect more firms will be successful overall in extending their EDD savvy, rather than trying to become the full-blown in-house EDD provider. It allows a more gradual, less-costly ramp up. It also provides a greater opportunity to improve the quality of advice and service to their clients -- with less overall risk to both relating to EDD collection and custodianship. Another advantage is that it gives the firm time to evaluate their options and directions as they evolve with EDD. For more firms, this is probably the most doable proposition I've seen to date, because it enables firms to progress while keeping closer to doing what they know best -- their core competencies.

Topic(s):   Electronic Discovery  |  Law Practice Management  |  Legal Technology
Posted by Jeff Beard