Here at Contact Discovery, we talk a lot about the importance of preparing for the future. That oftentimes involves getting a better understanding of the past. The world of legal technology moves fast, so it’s easy to lose track of just how far we’ve come. However, past challenges can inform how we tackle present and future challenges. In some cases that involve older documents, we find ourselves working the past, present, and future all at once. It is in that spirit that we take this holiday season to reflect on our industry. Specifically, the Ghosts of Discovery Past, Present, and Future.
The Ghost of Discovery Past = Paper
Before eDiscovery, there was just Discovery, with a nifty little thing called “paper.” Companies kept paper records as far as the eye could see. Tens of thousands of documents scattered across various offices, filing cabinets, and even warehouses.
If there was litigation on the horizon, lawyers and their associates would have to manually go through these documents and hope they found information they could use to build a case. It required a lot of people, and it was much easier to miss metaphorical smoking guns if reviewers weren’t communicating effectively.
In the earliest days of eDiscovery, practitioners scanned these documents so reviewers could read them on computer screens. This meant that documents no longer took up as much physical space, and reviewers wouldn’t have to spend as much time on site or reviewing copies upon copies in law firm storage rooms. However, it still paled in comparison to platforms such as Relativity and others that are common in today’s Discovery landscape.
The Ghost of eDiscovery Present = Mobile Meets Global
While the past was largely about taking paper documents and converting them to electronic documents, today’s world is different. Now, most of our communication originates electronically. That came with new challenges. How do you find server space to store all those documents? How do you make sure the right people have access and the wrong people don’t? How do you take advantage of technology like email threading and data analytics without letting relevant documents go unnoticed?
For the most part, legal teams have figured out systems to combat those issues. However, there’s one innovation that’s still tripping up review teams: the mobile phone. While mobile phones have been with us for decades now, mobile chats supplanting email for professional communication is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Many professionals would’ve scoffed at the idea of texting a teammate about a work assignment even five years ago. Now, it’s quite common for co-workers to talk shop over text as well as exchange more personal messages they would never email. Many businesses also rely on collaboration platforms such Microsoft Teams, which has seen its userbase skyrocket in light of the pandemic.
This presents new challenges to legal teams. Not only are there technical challenges involved with more messages in a wider array of file formats, there’s also the change in user behavior. Personal and professional messages are more likely to comingle in a text chat than they are in an email thread. This raises privacy concerns and can increase the need for redactions.
Apps like WhatsApp has also made it easier to communicate across national borders. As more Americans start having more conversations with people abroad, there’s more regulations that lawyers have to tiptoe around to maintain defensibility. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, enacted in 2018, helps protect the privacy of people who have communicated with someone under a legal hold. Even if your business isn’t based in the EU, you need to be mindful of this if anyone stateside was communicating with someone in Europe.
When shopping around for legal technology partner in the present, look for teams that are GDPR compliant, even if you don’t necessarily do that much business abroad. Remember, as your business scales, your legal needs will as well, and it’s best to be prepared. Also avoid companies that are designing their discovery strategies exclusively around email communication. Some companies such as Contact offer software specifically designed for mobile data review. Even if your current technology doesn’t, at least ensure that your team isn’t neglecting these communications altogether.
Future = Artificial Intelligence and Decentralization
As technology becomes more and more advanced, sheer man power won’t be the prized commodity it once was. In the past, most businesses relied on big name law firms with recognizable brands. They knew that top attorneys flocked to these reputable firms in droves, so why go through the trouble of investigating other options? That was really the only to get an edge over opposing counsel anyway: good attorneys and lots of them.
More and more legal technology companies are starting to integrate artificial intelligence that can search and review documents faster than any human could. AI simulates an elite crew of top notch attorneys doing ALL your review, rather than a massive army of attorneys who bring varying levels of talent and experience to the equation. This technology is still in its infancy, but if used to its fullest potential, it will eliminate that need for sheer man power. Suddenly, one attorney will do review that might take 30 attorneys now.
As AI helps make review more user friendly, companies on both the service side and the technology side are helping corporate counsel internalize more of their discovery. In this new frontier, businesses don’t need their law firms to be a one-stop shop, but can instead seek out strategic relationships with more specialized partners.
“Smaller firms like Contact are winning victories in huge matters that never would’ve gone to a company our size 5-10 years ago,” says Rich Albright, CBO of Contact Discovery. “People are starting to figure out that a team of the right people with the right technology can adapt quicker than large companies can, and that leads to positive outcomes. They’re choosing quality over quantity and it’s paying off.”
As the legal technology market becomes more decentralized, you can expect to see smaller companies that specialize in different steps of the EDRM or different types of technology to gain market share. This model empowers businesses to only pay for what they can’t internalize and make sure they’re getting the absolute best version of it. The internet also makes it easier than ever for clients to seek these partners out for themselves rather than trusting a larger law firm to make all the tech decisions for them.
What challenges are you facing in the present? Where do you think the future of legal tech is going? Let us know in the comments!