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7 Deadly Sins of Legal Service Providers: Part 2

Last week we shared with you the first 3 Deadly Sins of Legal Service Providers. Well, we’re back at it now with part 2! Here are two more “sins” of eDiscovery service providers.

Sin #4: Not reevaluating their own processes often enough

A man once said “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”

eDiscovery is an ever-changing industry, and it’s easy to get so caught up in client needs that providers never turn their focus inward. However, it’s precisely because of that fast pace and constantly shifting nature of the industry that self-reflection and improvement is important. A workflow that made sense six months ago might not make sense now.  Maybe there’s new software improvements that could streamline processes you’re currently using multiple solutions for.

A good service provider has to be vigilant about their own processes as well as all the work they do for clients. At the end of the day, an eDiscovery vendor that isn’t taking care of itself will struggle to take care of you. Let me repeat that.

An eDiscovery vendor that isn’t taking care of itself will struggle to take care of you.

You probably wouldn’t hire a personal trainer that doesn’t take time for their own workouts. This is no different.

Another great perk to hiring eDiscovery providers who are routinely reevaluating their own processes and implementing their own improvements is that that they can apply that experience to their work for clients.

If a service provider has recently evaluated different technology and implemented it internally, they’re in a great spot to answer your questions about the pros and cons of those solutions. They know what curveballs you should anticipate through implementation. They can help you train your team on new platforms. Their first hand experience translates into valuable knowledge that benefits their clients.

At Contact, we recently decided to merge two departments into one. It’s not that it was bad or wrong to do things the way we were before, we just realized that advancements in technology allowed us to train employees in things they couldn’t do before. Sure, we still would’ve been a functional eDiscovery vendor if we had stuck to our status quo. However, training more employees in more disciplines and making it easier for them to communicate with each other will make us an even more well-oiled machine.

On that note….

Sin #5: Not cross-training your employees

A lot of eDiscovery marketers (myself included) love to talk about their “specialized expertise.” And why not? eDiscovery is a discipline all to itself, apart from the discipline of lawyers. More than that, eDiscovery is the intersection of several very different disciplines, notably technology, law, and business. For that reason, no one can truly be a “specialist” in every last part of the process.

People who make great data engineers are not necessarily well suited for managing document review, and vice versa. People who understand the litigation process inside and out may be completely clueless when it comes to implementing new information governance practices that are compliant and secure. Discovery takes a village.

Sometimes eDiscovery service providers are so dead set on hiring ”specialists” that they lose sight of this bigger picture. They have a lot of people who are great at one specific thing, but lack the knowledge to effectively communicate with their teammates and clients.  

At Contact, we’ve found the key lies somewhere in the middle: hire specialists, but also make sure team members have a firm grasp on each other’s specialties. Our team is able to understand our clients’ larger strategy and how their specialty fits into it. This allows for more collaboration between people of different backgrounds, which often leads to better-fitting solutions for clients’ challenges.

Service providers who use this philosophy are also usually able to deal with the regular (or not-so-regular) curveballs of business with fewer disruptions to service. In March 2020, when nearly every company on the planet had to completely rethink how they do business, we were able to shift to our new COVID-world model with zero disruptions to clients’ cases. That’s partially because so many of our team members understood work outside their specialty.


Curious to know what the final two sins of eDiscovery service providers? Follow us on social media for updates!

The 7 Deadly Sins of Legal Service Providers: Part 1

Ah, the wonderful world of alternative legal service providers, or ALSPs. Like it or not, they’re a necessary part of the modern legal landscape. This is especially true in areas of the law where complex matters with large sums of data are commonplace. Such areas include intellectual property, corporate law, and antitrust, just to name a few. There comes a point where lawyers just can’t do it alone.

The problem is that legal service providers can all look pretty similar on the surface. This is especially true in fields such as eDiscovery that rely heavily on technology to get the job done. They all have “cutting edge technology;” they all have the “highest standards of security” and “certified experts” doing the work.

Usually, as long as lawyers have worked with someone before and the work got done adequately in time for the deadline, they’re happy. Unfortunately, a service provider can meet these criteria and still fall short in other respects without their clients realizing it.

That’s why we’ve put together the “7 Deadly Sins of Service Providers.” If you’re an ALSP reading this, we hope this helps make you a better ALSP. If you’re a law firm or in-house team, we hope it helps you figure out if you’re really getting the most bang for your buck out of these companies.


Deadly Sin #1: An “all-or-nothing approach”

Some of the marketing buzzwords that legal service providers use for this include words like “comprehensive,” “end-to-end,” and “all-inclusive.”

It sounds great on paper, the idea of one solution or company that can solve all your eDiscovery woes. Full disclosure: I’ve written versions of this pitch for Contact’s eDiscovery Managed Services, and I fully believe such all-inclusive approaches can be right for some clients, especially if it’s what that organization actually asked for.

However, it shouldn’t be the only thing on the menu.  

Sometimes clients and potential clients aren’t in this boat. They know there are certain aspects of the EDRM they can handle just fine, either internally or with other vendors, and they’re only in the market for a specific service such as processing, hosting, or forensics. Maybe they want to license software to address specific challenges such as mobile data, but are content to do most of the work themselves and maintain 90 percent of their status quo.

Some eDiscovery providers can’t handle that. Their model is based on the idea that clients should abandon anything and everything about their existing workflows to adopt whatever new technology or services that company is selling. They don’t know how to be helpful without completely turning their clients’ worlds upside down, and sometimes that can do more harm than good.

If your vendor’s answer is ALWAYS to throw the baby out with the bathwater and buy something new, they probably don’t have your best interests at heart. 

Deadly Sin #2: Believing new automatically = better

Sometimes new is better. Sometimes it isn’t. Remember that time Coke tried to make “New Coke?” That can happen in the eDiscovery space too.

On the tech development side of the industry, it just doesn’t look good to sit on your hands and say “yup, that thing we built two years ago is still the best!” There’s a perpetual pressure to innovate, exacerbated by the fact that all the competitors are constantly launching new products as well. That can spill over into legal service providers feeling like they have to offer the latest (but maybe not greatest) tech.

New technology can be great, especially if it’s addressing other impactful changes in the law or how technology is being used. For example, a solution that can better handle data from collaboration platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams will probably prove more helpful than a platform that is simply giving a prettier interface to emails and pdfs. This innovation was spurred by other industry developments rather than the pressure to get something new on the market just because everybody else is.

Sometimes the new solution is in fact better, but comes with significant adoption challenges like migrating data from one system to another and training staff on the new system. Perhaps the benefits of “new” are still there, but not in large enough quantities to outweigh the costs and justify the switch.

Either way, good legal service providers can help you weigh the pros and cons of implementing new technology. They won’t sell you something new that you don’t need just to make a quick buck.

Deadly Sin #3: NOT evaluating what your current investments can actually do

This is somewhat of an extension of sin #2. If you believe new tech is automatically better than older tech, it can lead to underestimating the problem-solving capacity of resources you already have.

Oftentimes legal service providers and tech companies are so excited to sell their flashy new products that they fail to assess whether or not those new products are really necessary for the matter at hand.

At Contact, sometimes clients come to us looking for new technology not because they don’t have suitable technology already, but because they don’t understand what their current technology could do. Sometimes the answer isn’t new tech, but just good ol’ fashioned know-how.

Your provider should always ask in-depth questions about what tech you already have before they try to sell you something new. If there’s outside counsel with their own resources, that should be taken into account as well. Service providers should ask about your team’s specific challenges so they can figure out if the issue is truly technology limitations, or just users who haven’t learned the ropes of that technology yet.

Oftentimes, we find that just a few tweaks to the technology our clients already have can solve their problems more economically than implementing new technology.


That concludes Part 1. Curious to learn what the other about Deadly Sins of Legal Service Providers? Follow the Contact Blog for updates. Visit us on Social Media and let us know what your biggest red flags are when dealing with service providers.

Have an IP Matter? Ask These 3 Questions When Hiring a Vendor.

In the legal world, outcomes often hinge on ultra specific details that might go unnoticed to the lay person. For that reason, working with law firms and vendors who have experience specific to your case is often preferable to working with those that don’t. Such is the case with intellectual property.

IP law is not for the faint of heart. In addition to the same strong foundation of legal knowledge required of all lawyers, the best intellectual property attorneys usually need expertise in science and technology, or any other areas where they’re likely to litigate.

For all those same reasons, intellectual property lawyers and general counsel for companies where IP litigation is inevitable should look for vendors with IP-specific experience. Here are some of the questions such people should be asking potential legal tech and eDiscovery vendors before giving them an IP case.

1. Can this vendor handle my data types? 

Some data types show up over and over again regardless the case: Microsoft Word docs and Excel sheets; PDFs; jpegs. For that reason, you can probably count on any eDiscovery provider worth their salt to navigate these data types without blinking an eye.

Intellectual property cases are usually different. Crucial evidence often lies in design programs such as Solid Works, Catia, AutoCAD, Fusion360 and more. Maybe your intellectual property is thousands upon thousands of lines of computer code written in multiple programming languages. Either way, you have data outside the basic .doc and .pdf file types.

Somehow, you’re going to have to translate those off-the-beaten-path file types into user-friendly, reviewable files without wonky formatting discrepancies. Since these alternative file formats are often much larger than a typical word document, you’ll also need processing power that can handle larger files in a timely manner. Some service providers that could handle .pdfs in their sleep might still get tripped up by these more niche types of data.

Before you hire anyone to help you with a patent case, make sure they know exactly what kinds of data you have. Have they worked with those data types before? What’s their game plan? You deserve to know.

2. Does this vendor understand IP at all levels of jurisdiction?

Compared to some areas of law, IP features wider discrepancies between international, federal, state, and local policies and precedents. How do you make sure that U.S. patent will still protect you when you sell that product in Europe? Will that judge in West Texas rule differently than that other judge in Delaware? If you register that trademark in New York but someone already has a similar trademark in California, does it matter?

There aren’t easy answers to any of these questions, and no good IP-focused vendor would claim there are. A good service provider, just like a good lawyer, knows how much outcomes depend on where the case is happening.  There are great vendors located all over the globe, so you shouldn’t necessarily pick someone just because they’re near your business; what does matter is where your vendor’s caseload comes from. A California-based provider whose client base is 99% California-based companies might not be the best partner for your lawsuit in Texas.

A provider that has tried cases all over the world, and specifically one that’s tried cases in the jurisdiction where you’re facing litigation, will likely prove more suitable. The more jurisdictions they understand, they better they are able to put you in a good position for future litigations, which brings me to my next point.

3. Is this someone I can work with long term?

If you’re managing your intellectual property cases well, each one should be a little bit easier than the last. That’s because a lot of the data you need to win your current case is likely the same data you needed to win the last case. If you’re doing it right, your IP defense will get stronger and stronger each time. Maintain that consistency long enough, and you’ll probably see an overall reduction in cases. After all, who wants to sue some that keeps winning over and over again?

For that reason, your intellectual property strategy should always be bigger than one particular case. If it isn’t, that might lead you to a six-figure settlement that makes perfect sense right now, but ultimately leads to 10 more six-figure settlements over the next few years.

If you invest that money in building a strong case and maintaining that data so you can easily recall it when the next case comes along, that legal spend will pay dividends later. Settling cases usually doesn’t.

Still have more questions about IP and the role vendors play in these cases? Click here to talk to an expert.

Why Great Legal Technology Still Needs Great People

Necessity is the mother of invention. Thus, the legal technology market is full of great inventions. There’s so many that it can be intimidating, especially when everyone seems to be making the same claims that sound too good to be true.

There’s great legal tech coming from all corners of the market. Some solutions come from established names, others from up-and-coming players within the eDiscovery space. None of it does everything for everyone, but much of it can do something for someone. At Contact, we use all sorts of different platforms depending on what a given project calls for: Relativity, Nuix, Cellebrite, OpenText, CloudNine, ReadySuite, Magnet, and Metaspike, just to name a few.

As more great tech bursts onto the scene, many imagine a future where automation has significantly lessened dependence on service providers if not eliminated them altogether. It’s great that tech is empowering people with less-specialized skillsets to do more than they could before. However, those that do have more specialized skillsets in legal technology are still a necessary part of the equation.  

More Capabilities Require More Knowledge

Technological advancements usually mean that tech can now do more things than it could before. However, increased functionality can be a blessing and a curse. Oftentimes, as the list of things that tech can do gets longer, it becomes harder and harder for the average user to navigate extensive menus and solve the specific problem at hand.

For that reason, the widely prevalent and seemingly logical notion that better tech = less need for human help is actually not true. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of true. The more technology can do for us, the more it requires advanced knowledge of its capabilities. The more it can do, the further true visionaries can push it. It’s the same way that almost anyone can hop in a canoe and row around a small pond, but if you want to get on a cruise ship and travel the world, you’re going to need a staff of people who has sailed before and already knows the ropes.

The “increased functionality” that tech companies brag about doesn’t count for much if end users don’t even know it’s there. It counts for negative points if it’s cluttering an interface and making it harder to do tasks that were quite simple back when there were five options on a menu instead of 100. 

When your review platform has so many thingamabobs but you don’t know what to do with them.

One potential workaround is to simply live without those other 95 options in favor of a simpler, streamlined, but less advanced platform. Essentially, pick the canoe in a small pond instead of the cruise ship. For some organizations, that may very well be the best option. For many more, there will come a day when they need one of those other 95 options.

Legal tech specialists who work with these advanced platforms day in and day out understand the full gamut of what they can do. They can make these platforms conform to your needs. What’s more efficient, teaching every single attorney and paralegal every capability, or letting an expert evaluate your matter and coach your team on the 1-2 functions that will be most useful?

Investing in great technology means all those extra tools are still in your toolbox when you need them. Having great people means you can actually make sense of all the whozits and whatsits galore and put them to use while ignoring the ones that don’t make sense for the matter at hand.

Both the law and technology are constantly changing. People can change with them.

Rushing to a new platform in an effort to eliminate human service providers may very well work in the short term. But what happens when states pass new laws or suddenly a platform that worked great six months ago is obsolete? Even the best technologists can still only adapt to changes in the law so fast. Trust us, we like to hire the best technologists so we know better than anyone.

Meanwhile, there are always new solutions coming out from various legal tech companies. Some of it comes from real advancements, some of it is repackaging existing technology to varying degrees. Innovation is great, but “new” doesn’t automatically equate to “innovation.”

We can’t undervalue the human element because humans need to be the ones who decide what changes are actually necessary. Humans need to be the ones who balance healthy caution with innovation. Humans can become aware of legal changes as they happen and start adapting discovery strategies when technology hasn’t caught up yet.


New technology is usually designed to solve a problem that already exists. It is not designed to solve problems that might potentially exist one day in the future if not mitigated now. Humans on the other hand can imagine various scenarios where things could go wrong in order to ensure that they don’t go wrong. They can not only find ways to give attorneys what they need right now, but help attorneys make improvements so future matters run more smoothly.

It’s easy to imagine a world where AI can scan a pile of documents and find relevant information for a particular litigation or investigation. Heck, we don’t even have to imagine it, it’s here! However, it’s a lot harder to imagine a world where AI can scan a document, see a loophole that others might potentially exploit, and close that loophole years before anyone gets the chance to litigate it. It’s equally hard to imagine a world where AI tells you how much easier the next litigation will be if you make some tweaks to current information governance policies.

Technology can be a beautiful thing. When done right, it empowers attorneys to do their jobs better without having to rely on a massive team of support staff. In the future, attorneys will be more independent thanks to solutions that are being developed now. It’s not an if, it’s a when. The important thing is forming long-lasting relationships with the right kinds of experts who are there to advise and support when you need them, but don’t view your independence as a threat.

What Are eDiscovery Managed Services and Why Would I Need Them?

If you’ve been on more than a few legal technology websites, you’ve likely come across the term “Managed Services.” Everyone seems to offer them, and they usually come with enticing, yet vague claims about “simplifying discovery” and “end-to-end solutions.” 

That’s all well and good, but how do you decide if your organization is the right candidate for a Managed Services approach towards eDiscovery? Will Managed Services actually help you run your business or law firm more efficiently, or will it result in paying for things you don’t need or already have? Those are the questions we’re here to answer.

What are eDiscovery Managed Services? 

“Managed Services” is an industry term that refers to a comprehensive eDiscovery solution provided for a flat rate. The “services” in question can vary depending on the client’s needs, but the goal remains the same: make discovery more streamlined and predictable without compromising outcomes. Oftentimes, the services are some combination of data hosting, processing, project management, forensics, and eDiscovery. The exact services and price you pay depend on the deal you negotiate with your specific provider. 

Who Needs Managed Services? 

The typical Managed Services client usually comes from a field where complex investigations and litigation are fairly common, such as corporate law, financial law, and intellectual property. If you’re only involved with cases of this scale once in a blue moon, a pay-as-you-go model might make more sense. However, if such matters are business as usual for you, Managed Services is worth considering. 

Another major factor to think about is your internal discovery capabilities. If you’re already able to handle the vast majority of your discovery internally, Managed Services might result in overspending. However, few organizations are able to achieve the same economy of scale that legal service providers do. It’s quite common for the optimal discovery program to be some mix of internal and external workflows. Sometimes, that means doing most of your discovery internally and calling in reinforcements if and when you need them. However, it could also mean a Managed Services plan where you pay for data hosting and access to advanced review software, but still rely on your internal team to manage projects.

Reasons Why Organizations Switch to Managed Services 

In addition to lower prices from bundling services together, limiting how many vendors you work with usually lets you make more use of what you are paying for. Hours spent briefing newcomers about a matter are just as billable as the hours that a longstanding partner spends actually solving problems. Even if you have a few trusted vendors who know your team fairly well, it can still be inefficient if they’re working with you for a month, then not talking to you for six months, then coming back again. A Managed Services model means your team and your service provider stay in regular contact, and when workloads suddenly grow, you don’t have to spend a lot of time (and money!) helping vendors play catch up. 

Predictability

Competitive Advantage


Oftentimes, a company’s legal spending is seen as a necessary evil, but it can also help you get an edge over your competition. In the case of a law firm, it’s easier to win new clients if you’re not passing exorbitant discovery costs on to this client. Oftentimes, firms with a Managed Services plan can price themselves lower than they would have otherwise without it affecting their bottom line.

For in-house legal teams, a Managed Services model can be the difference between winning a lawsuit, and paying out settlements just because “discovery is too expensive.” Managed Services can help you mitigate matters early for relatively low costs since you’re already paying for the help. On the other hand, a pay-as-you-go model might result in neglecting matters until they’re mission critical simply because you don’t have the internal capabilities to be proactive. If you only seek outside help when litigation is on the horizon, that vendor can exploit your lack of options and costs can spin out of control. 

Minimize Risk 

Consolidating vendors usually means minimizing risk. Every time you rope a new vendor into your network, you’re increasing the number of people who could inadvertently mishandle sensitive information. A good rule of thumb for any business or law firm is to keep information on a need-to-know basis. Organizations who are using a single provider for the bulk of their legal services are almost always going to have a shorter list of “need-to-know” people than an organization who’s sending data to new vendors every other month. 

Extra Capabilities 

If you pay for Netflix, you’ve likely watched at least one movie that you wouldn’t have cared enough to see in theaters or rent on its own. Likewise, many Managed Services models bundle the services you know you need with services you never would’ve thought to buy separately, but are still nice to have. 

For example, many clients reach out to legal technology companies because they need help hosting data. They may do this after an investigation is already underway, and it becomes clear that the volume of data is too large to handle internally. However, if they had already been paying for Managed Services the whole time, they could’ve also had help with automating legal holds and preserving that data before the investigation, all at no additional cost. 


Ultimately, Managed Services isn’t for everyone. Whether or not it’s right for you can depend on a number of variables such as the size of your organization, frequency of litigation, internal capabilities, and need for scalability.

Still have questions? We’re happy to help!

Reach out today to find out if Managed Services is right for your organization.

(If it isn’t, we’ll design a custom solution that is.)

Can Legal Tech Prove Santa is Real?: A Miracle on 34th St. Case Study

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, in part because it’s the best time to watch one of the great court cases of cinematic history. I’m referring of course to Miracle on 34th Street, a film that hinges on one lawyer’s ability to prove that Santa Claus is in fact Santa Claus.  

Our story begins when Kris gets a job playing Santa Claus at the flagship Macy’s store in Times Square. When Kris insists that he is the real Santa Claus, he’s committed to a mental institution. Kris’s friend, Fred Gailey, just so happens to be a lawyer and rushes to his rescue. Fred Gailey shocks the court when he announces that his game plan is to prove Kris’s true identity as Santa Claus.  

There’s also a cute kid who wants a house in the suburbs, but she’s not as important from a litigation support perspective.  

The original film was made in 1947, with a remake made in 1994. Needless to say, our way of storing information has changed since then, and that’s reshaped the way lawyers build court cases. How would the case in Miracle on 34th Street be different if it happened today, when records are stored electronically? Would Santa use a GPS or tag his locations on Instagram? Does he have “find my iPhone” on in case he gets stuck in a chimney again? Maybe he uses Microsoft Teams and Zoom to make sure the elves are still holding down the fort at the North Pole while he’s in New York. Let’s look at some more specific examples from the movie and how this information would be managed today.  
 

Employee Records  

One of the first indications that Kris might in fact be the real Santa Claus is his employee record at Macy’s. This lists Santa’s reindeer as Kris’s next of kin and says he’s from the North Pole. 

Today, these records would live in some kind of electronic database. Legal teams not only look at these records, but also have to think critically about how they might’ve been tampered with. That’s just the nature of electronic records vs. paper records. Honestly, who wouldn’t be suspicious if they saw a record that looks like this?:  

Kris Kringle's job application in Miracle on 34th Street | Miracle on 34th  street, 34 street, Movie quotes

Who has access to those records? Who has edit permissions? Can they access those records from personal devices as well as corporate owned devices? Is there any possible way that passwords could have fallen into the wrong hands? Those are the kinds of questions that a good forensics analyst can answer.  

To verify document integrity, analysts oftentimes look at something called “metadata.” That refers to information such as “date created,” “date last modified,” and “author.” All data comes with metadata, and since it’s not as easily editable as the records themselves, it often proves crucial in digital forensics investigations.  

Analysts can look at a hard drive and figure out if data was moved to other devices, if edit histories were deleted, etc. Assuming Macy’s had good information governance practices and required everyone with edit access to use different passwords, forensics teams could also deduce which passwords were used to make any edits. In some cases, they may even testify in court to assure judges that records are what they appear to be (or maybe that they’re not what they appear).  

Letters to Santa  

The “smoking gun” of the original 1947 movie are the thousands of letters to Santa Claus delivered to the New York City courthouse. Fred Gailey argues that the post office’s decision to deliver these letters to Kris equates to government validation of his true identity: Santa Claus.   

According to the USPS, kids still send hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa every year. The USPS even has a special address they ask people to use for such letters. This system means it’s unlikely that thousands of letters would be delivered to the courthouse like in the movie, since people have been instructed to address such letters to 123 Elf Road. 

However, snail mail is just one of numerous ways to get in touch with St. Nick these days. EmailSanta.com has been on the net since 1997. However, the site’s About Us page admits that it was built not by Santa himself, but by a man named Alan Kerr. There are also numerous Santa Claus Twitter accounts, albeit none of them have a blue checkmark.  

This is perhaps where Fred Gailey would have the biggest uphill battle if he were to try this case today. The Internet has made it infinitely easier for other people to claim they are Santa. Gailey would have to prove that 1) one of the numerous online Santa platforms is the definitive way to get in touch with the real Santa and 2) That Kris was the man behind such an account.  

Let’s assume that by 2020, Santa has gotten with the times and has a proper email account for children to email him with a parent’s supervision. Gailey wants to present Kris’s emails in court. During the Meet and Confer stage of litigation, Gailey and opposing counsel would agree on a certain amount of emails to review. This way, if Kris and Fred were trying to fake letters to Santa, opposing counsel could do their own forensic analysis and figure that out.  

Of course, since Kris really is Santa, there would be a few facts on his side. The litigation support team would be able to verify that he does receive numerous letters to Santa every year. Odds are those letters would be in various languages from all over the world. Sure, that makes it harder to put together a team for review, but it also makes it virtually impossible for opposing counsel to prove that Kris is faking it.   

The best way for Gailey to build a case is similar to the way many complex litigations happen now: build a narrative from both electronically stored information and real-life events. Imagine if Gailey could prove that 1) children asked for certain gifts in emails to Kris and 2) they actually received those same gifts and 3) those gifts didn’t come from parents or other relatives “playing Santa.”  

With presumably thousands of emails to Santa to choose from, this shouldn’t be that difficult. Platforms such as Relativity help review teams search for keywords in different emails. They could search for particularly high demand toys that parents would have trouble finding on their own. After finding such emails in review, Gailey could cross-reference them with Kris’s records of which children got which gifts, because obviously Santa knows the importance of maintaining such records. Nothing gets you on the naughty list as quickly as bad information governance.  Gailey could reach out to families and get them to testify on the stand that they did not know where these gifts came from.   

Exploring these sorts of cases helps us understand how people in this space think on a day-to-day basis. Legal tech has to be about more than fast processing and aesthetically pleasing interfaces, though those certainly don’t hurt. It’s also about having the right people who understand how to build a case and know what to look for in discovery. If you were Fred Gailey, what would your discovery strategy be? How could you verify Kris’s identity and what kind of technology would make it easier? Let us know!  

A Trick-or-Treater’s Guide to the EDRM

The Electronic Discovery Reference Model, or EDRM, is a framework for dealing with documents that could be relevant to a legal investigation or litigation. Those who work within this framework on a daily basis understand it like the back of their hand. Such people are familiar with an all too common experience: having a stranger ask “What do you do?” and watching that stranger’s eyes glaze over as they try to explain the ins and outs of eDiscovery.

Luckily, the EDRM is more relatable than some might think. This time of year, many of us have fond memories of collecting something and making decisions about to do with what we collect.

That’s right. We’re going to explain the EDRM through trick-or-treating. We’re going to reflect on how the EDRM might’ve helped us make better decisions about what candy to collect and make the best kinds of candy last longer. As a quick refresher, here’s what the EDRM looks like.

A diagram of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model

Step 1: Identify 

First, legal teams have to identify potential sources of relevant electronically stored information (ESI). Miss a source, and they could miss out on valuable information that could help their case.

Trick-or-treaters need to be similarly strategic. Just like a pending court deadline, there’s only so much time to gather candy. Are you better off going to a neighborhood where the houses are closer together and you can go to more of them? But then what if that neighborhood doesn’t have as many kids, and so a lot of the houses turn their lights out and don’t give out candy? Alternatively, some neighborhoods might have bigger houses that require more walking, but then give out more candy per house. Maybe you can strike the real pay dirt of trick-or-treating: the full size candy bar. What’s the best strategy?

Well, that depends on the trick-or-treater’s objective. Maybe Sally just wants to get as many pieces of candy as possible, while her sister Susie only likes chocolate candy and wants to focus on houses that have given out chocolate in the past.

In a similar fashion, every legal case is different. Some require casting a broad net to get as much information as possible, others required a narrowly tailored approach looking for more specific details. Experienced eDiscovery practitioners know when to pick which strategy.

Step 2a: Preserve

Preservation is one of the most important parts of the EDRM. When it’s time to present in court, you need to be able to prove that any documents you present are still in their original state. While preservation is one of the earlier steps of the EDRM, these things aren’t entirely linear. Preservation needs to be a priority for every other step of the EDRM as well. As case teams dive deeper and deeper into the discovery process, they have to maintain the integrity of the original documents.

This is similar to how trick-or-treaters should not eat any candy until someone verifies that everything is sealed in its original packaging. Even as a kid, I knew not to start eating candy while out and about in the “collection” phase. Instead, I had to bring my candy in and let a parent double check to make sure that everything was what it claimed to be. If something was partially unwrapped and we couldn’t be fully confident about what it was, we threw it out. I could only start eating candy AFTER we confirmed that candy’s integrity.

Step 2b: Collect 

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This is it! The big night. Actually collecting that candy. We’ve figured out a strategy, and now we can go get all our candy. Each house is a source that gives us something slightly different. It’s also probably the most straightforward trick-or-treating to EDRM comparison so I won’t dwell on it too long.

In eDiscovery, practitioners obviously have to collect data before they can do much of anything else with it. Sometimes that means tracking down deleted data, or looking in places where other people wouldn’t think to look. Sometimes they do this collection remotely, other times onsite. Once teams have gone to all the right sources and gathered as much information as possible, they can start processing that information and help legal teams reach important conclusions.

Step 3a: Process

I mentioned earlier how when I was a kid, my parents would throw out any candy if it wasn’t fully sealed in its original packaging. Oftentimes in eDiscovery, that’s not a realistic option. There can be millions of dollars on the line, and legal teams can’t afford to simply “throw out” any evidence that has questionable integrity.

So how does a legal team reconcile this? They need defensible data, but some of the most important evidence to their case could be from deleted, edited, or corrupted files. Have no fear. Forensics and processing teams are here.

Let’s imagine that one neighbor decided to make homemade treats for trick-or-treaters. And let’s say that treat was easily THE best treat that either Sally or Susie collected in their entire stash. We’ll say it’s a chocolate cookie with a gooey caramel filling meticulously decorated to look like a unicorn. It would break Sally and Susie’s heart if they had to throw it out.

However, mom and dad are a little wary about letting Sally and Susie eat a homemade treat. There’s no ingredient label like there would be on a mass-produced piece of candy, and they don’t really know this neighbor well enough to trust them. What can they do to make sure these treats are safe?

Well if you’re my mother, you might suggest looking at the treats under a microscope to try and figure out what’s in them. Technically, there are actual food science labs that would be able to take that unicorn cookie apart and determine for sure if there’s anything suspect in it.

Data engineers in digital forensics are the eDiscovery equivalent of such a lab. Those who specialize in data processing can deduce information that lay people can’t. They can use metadata to figure out which documents are the unicorn cookie-equivalents that need to be elevated for review. If there are corrupt files, they can intervene and potentially restore documents to their original state in a defensible way. If some documents are in older file formats than many modern computers wouldn’t recognize, they can convert them into more user-friendly formats.

Such experts are able to save “treats” that an ordinary mom and dad might’ve just thrown out. More importantly, they’re able to do this in a way that preserves document integrity, and oftentimes find metadata that helps them better organize documents prior to review.

Step 3b: Review

Sure, a lot of us probably just kept our trick-or-treating haul in one big stash and ate candy whenever we felt like it. But if you wanted to be strategic, you could also introduce a “review” step into things. Remember Susie, our trick-or-treater who only cared about chocolate candy? She might decide to sort her stash into different types of candy so she wouldn’t eat all the best kinds too quickly. Maybe she’ll try to trade the non-chocolate candies she doesn’t like for chocolate.

In the EDRM, Document Review is all about going through documents and coding them as relevant or irrelevant to litigators. They can also implement issue coding to organize relevant documents based on topic, similar to sorting chocolate candy based on sub categories like caramel or peanut butter. With a review team sorting information into the appropriate buckets, litigators can focus their attention on documents that actually matter.

Step 3c: Analyze

Okay. You have your pile of candy. You know exactly how many pieces you have, and how much of each kind you have. Now you can actually start making some strategic decisions. Maybe Susie will decide to trade some of her gummy worms for chocolate. Maybe Sally will decide to ration her candy to a certain number of pieces each week so it lasts longer. (Okay, she probably won’t, but she could!)

This is similar to the analysis phase of the EDRM, when you can start making decisions with full confidence that those decisions are based on reliable data. The review stage was all about figuring out what’s relevant, but the analysis stage goes beyond that. This is where relevant documents become an actual case. Review teams work alongside litigators to find important patterns and thread documents together into narratives that can sway a judge in their favor.

Step 4: Produce

Now that we have a real plan for what kinds of candy we’re going to eat when, and where we maybe have opportunities to improve our haul, we can work with other people who ALSO have candy hauls (and maybe didn’t put as much thought into review and analysis as we did!). We can try to trade some of the candy we don’t like for candy we do like, or maybe Sally will agree to take on Susie’s chores for a week if Susie gives over all her peanut butter cups.

In the litigation process, the “production” step is all about getting the relevant documents you’ve selected ready for the final step, presentation. They have to be in whatever formats were previously agreed upon and they have to be delivered by the previously agreed upon deadlines. 

Step 5: Present

Here it is. The moment everyone’s been waiting for: actually eating the candy! After putting so much thought into collecting and organizing this candy, we actually get to reap the benefits of that hard work. We can eat our favorite kinds without going through it too quickly, and knowing all our treats are exactly what they were supposed to be. If we REALLY wanted to, we could even store data about what candy we got from what houses so we make even more informed decisions next year. (It’s never too early to start teaching your kids about the importance of information governance!)

The final stage of the EDRM is presenting. Because we took careful consideration through each of the earlier stages of the EDRM, we can present a strong case in court. We can easily defend the integrity of our documents and the process we used to obtain that information. We were efficient enough to meet our deadlines. At the same time, we also didn’t let any relevant documents slip through the cracks, so opposing counsel can’t surprise us.