Originally published in 2016, this post highlights some helpful tips for handling large e-discovery projects. It continues to get attention today, so we're republishing it in case you'd like to take another look.
While the day-to-day differences between working at a plaintiffs’ firm and a defense firm can be quite drastic, one challenge both sides face is how to efficiently handle large e-discovery projects.
On the plaintiffs’ side—where case teams are often smaller than those at large defense firms—planning for your next e-discovery project is more complex than simply issuing a request for relevant documents and finding some extra bodies to thumb through the defendants’ productions. With today’s data volumes, discovery requests can result in thousands or even millions of pages of information—especially in large class action lawsuits like those our firm typically handles.
So how can you better manage these large review projects? At Lowey, we’ve recently made a big effort to up our e-discovery game. Below are some tips based on what we’ve learned so far.
Tip #1: Get Your Team Involved Early in the Process
This not only promotes efficiency but also avoids potential legal missteps that can result from an inadequate understanding of e-discovery technology. For example, in working directly with defendants to negotiate discovery protocols regarding how electronically stored information (“ESI”) will be handled, it’s important to know the kind of data you need—metadata included—to ensure that the necessary documents are produced in a useable form. Once documents are received, the overlap between law and technology only continues as attorneys at our firm have a hand in all aspects of the projects—end-to-end—including developing the appropriate workflow and managing the actual review.
We’ve found that making sure everyone understands the ins and outs of the entire discovery process is a great way to maximize each team member’s impact and has made a big difference in our success.
Tip #2: Line Up a Solid Support Structure
Start by identifying a go-to resource on your team who can take the lead on getting your e-discovery processes in order. At Lowey, I took on this role because my background in computer science made it an easy fit. That’s not to say that only former programmers can effectively manage an e-discovery team, though. Depending on the software and services setup you’re using, the job may be simpler than you think.
One way to quickly lay a solid foundation is to partner with an outside service provider that has specialized expertise. For example, at Lowey we run Relativity in-house on an appliance, which comes with certain administrative responsibilities. To handle these aspects of our e-discovery process we brought in JND eDiscovery (formerly Alloy Group), a solution provider that helps set up our projects, load productions, troubleshoot, and optimize workflows. Alloy also contributes on technology-assisted review (“TAR”) projects, helping us figure out the best way to optimize the use of analytics in each case. This support structure effectively removes some of the technical burdens from our attorneys, giving them more time to focus on what really matters: using those hot documents to win cases!
Tip #3: Take Full Advantage of the Technology Available
Less time reviewing documents means more time spent doing something else, including serving clients in other cases that are not currently in the discovery phase of litigation. With the mega-productions we receive, we are constantly trying to accomplish more, faster. Leveraging technology to quickly find key information is one way having an efficient e-discovery infrastructure can generate outsized returns.
Advances in technology, like text analytics, have made it possible for team of 10 to accomplish what once required 100 full-time reviewers. Be sure to make the most out of these tools. Our best practice has been to use this technology—including TAR—on almost every project. The ability to organize data, look for specific documents, and understand what’s in a given production quickly and cost-effectively has been a huge advantage.
Here’s how to use TAR at the start of a case to speed up the review. Have someone who’s really familiar with the matter (e.g., the person who drafted the complaint) code a training set of documents so the system can identify the most relevant data right away. Using those results, you can quickly pinpoint a considerable amount of information you might have stumbled upon during the course of a traditional, linear, “page-turning” review. Hot documents that don’t share consistency in custodian, file type, or anything but the core concepts of your case suddenly bubble to the surface. The time savings here can be amazing so it’s definitely something worth trying right away.
Tip #4: Share Your Success
Once you’ve hit your stride and have a reliable process in place, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Discussing what works and (most importantly) what doesn’t is a great way to strategize and develop new protocols going forward. For example, we work with co-counsel across the country in many of our larger class action cases, giving them access our Relativity workspace remotely. Sharing our experiences and collecting feedback from these attorneys, many of whom have worked on similar sized reviews in the past, has played a big role in fine-tuning our e-discovery process. Collaborating effectively has allowed us to coordinate efforts across firms, avoid duplication of efforts, and build better strategies with our entire team.
It also pays to be vocal about your success; clients will be thrilled to hear about the modern, cost-saving processes that you’re using to drive litigation forward.
Tip #5: Don’t Be Afraid to Get Started
Despite the large role it plays in our businesses, many small to mid-sized law firms have yet to take the plunge into mastering e-discovery. The most common reason for putting off this decision? Fear. Lawyers in general aren’t known for being the most tech-savvy group of individuals, so trying to learn, master, and manage a new field that’s largely driven by evolving technology can seem intimidating. Having gone through this process myself, I understand the concern. But what I found amazing—personal technological experience aside—was how easy it was to get started.
Just like building a solid support structure is key to managing an active review, taking advantage of all available resources during the setup and planning phases of your project can ensure success down the line. For example, brainstorm with your current or prospective service provider about the best kind of implementation for your firm. With some basic information, such as your caseload, expected production size, and estimated number of users, they can help come up with a list of proposed solutions that you can evaluate with your team. Asking a more technical coworker for advice is another a great place to get started as they may be able to answer some of the more detailed questions you’re not quite comfortable with just yet.
As you do more research and read up on the industry, there are loads of videos, tutorials, and webinars online that you can use to bolster your knowledge. This way you’ll feel confident the next time a new review project rolls in the door.
Christian Levis, an associate at Lowey Dannenberg P.C., is a New York attorney and computer programmer who uses his technical expertise to build innovative solutions for complex legal problems.