“Custom” can be a scary word in legal tech.
It sounds expensive.
It sounds hard to implement.
It sounds like there will be longer turnaround times compared to ready-made solutions.
It sounds untested, and unproven. (We all know how much lawyers love unnecessary risk!)
It sounds that way because well… a lot of times it’s true.
For these reasons, it’s understandable that a lot of people shopping for legal technology just don’t want anything “custom.” There’s peace of mind in knowing that other people are already using the same solution and getting great results.
At Contact, we tout our custom software development capabilities a lot, but we still understand and sympathize with this line of thinking. Unfortunately, it often leads to another line of thinking that can be dangerous:
“I don’t need custom software development, so it doesn’t matter if my vendor can do it or not.”
Sure, there are definitely service providers who can do great work without building custom software. Buyers also need to be wary of vendors of the other end of the spectrum. That is, the service provider who’s constantly trying to sell custom solutions to people who don’t need them.
However, we truly believe in our heart of hearts that our ability to build custom software benefits all our clients… even the ones who have no interest in having us build custom software. Here’s why.
Open Communication Between Specialties = More Knowledgeable Team
The eDiscovery industry is dependent on many different professionals, but a lot of them fall into one of two broad categories. In one group, we have developers who build new technology that moves the industry forward. In the other, we have project managers and ops professionals who work on real cases with real teams every day. They have enough working knowledge to get the job done, but not necessarily the skillset it takes to reinvent how work gets done.
The best service providers create a harmonious relationship between these two groups. Some have software development staff internally. Others have trusted vendors that can that do development work as needed and good communication between those vendors and their internal project managers. This symbiotic relationship means technological advances are informed by practical knowledge of real-world challenges. It also means end users aren’t limited to commonplace solutions that might not be the right fit.
On the flip side, if there are too many degrees of separation between developers and the end-users, it’s easy for things to get lost in translation. Sometimes well-meaning developers reinvent a wheel that was working just fine while neglecting bigger pain points.
Even if your vendor isn’t doing any kind of custom build for you, project managers that are dipping a toe into development world semi-regularly often prove more helpful than those who aren’t. They understand what’s “on the menu” when it comes to technology, and tend to be good at communicating it to less tech-savvy personnel. They usually can troubleshoot issues faster, and if they can’t then the people who can are just a short phone call away.
A Company That’s Customizing Regularly Is Learning Things That Others Aren’t.
Believe it or not, you are not your vendor’s only client (mind blowing, isn’t it?) However, this can be a feature, not a bug. Every time your vendor solves a problem for someone else, they’re in a better position to solve a similar problem for you. That can be an enticing prospect for any client that’s scared to be the guinea pig for a new piece of technology.
The kinds of problems that your vendor solves for their other clients inevitably affect the way they’ll approach yours. If most of your vendor’s other matters can be serviced with old standby methods and technology, they’ll probably be more likely to apply those same tried-and-true solutions to your matters.
That’s not necessarily bad. As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, there’s a difference between choosing more traditional techniques because you’ve made an informed decision that they’re your best option, and choosing them because your vendor doesn’t have a very big comfort zone. Too often, the vendors that are clinging to obsolete methods aren’t choosing that path because they’re simply bad service providers; instead, it’s because their client base isn’t challenging that vendor to take on newer obstacles that require updated solutions.
If you want to work with someone who has lots of experience tackling large, intricate, uniquely challenging matters, ask yourself where clients are likely to take those kinds of matters. Odds are they’re going somewhere that has software development on the menu. Even if your case doesn’t fit that bill, teams that are working on those kinds of projects are learning things they can apply to more “by-the-book” matters.
We like to think we have the best staff in the business, but as knowledgeable as they are they still learn new things with every new project. The more outside-the-box that matter is, the more they learn. The more they learn, the better equipped they are to deal with the next client who brings us a similar challenge.
Custom Doesn’t Always Mean What You Think It Means
Customization isn’t a binary so much as a spectrum. The question at hand should never be “do I need custom software?” so much as “to what extent does my software need to be customized?”
On one extreme you have fully pre-made. This is more like a pre-made sandwich you get from the grab-n-go section of a convenience store. Taking ingredients away or adding other ones isn’t really an option. On the plus side, your sandwich is already made, no wait times.
On the next wrung of the customization ladder, let’s imagine a sandwich shop that has a set menu, but still makes their sandwiches to order. It’s relatively easy to say “hey can you hold the tomato?” or “can you swap that swiss cheese for cheddar?” However, you’re still mostly bound to the menu as written. There’s only so many modifications you can make to your chosen menu item before it just isn’t that practical anymore.
On the next step in line, you have the assembly-line sandwich place. It’s relatively painless to go down the line and specify what ingredients you want and which ones you don’t. That’s a much better experience than saying you want X menu item and then listing 10 different modifications you want to make. However, you’re still limited to the ingredients that shop has on hand.
Finally, you have the most customizable option of all: making your own sandwich at home. You get to use your favorite ingredients that you purchased from whatever store you like. However, it’s more time and effort on your part. Sometimes you’re in a rush and you just want the convenience of someone else making a sandwich for you.
eDiscovery works in a similar way. Sometimes “custom” means building something new from the ground up. It can also mean making relatively minor tweaks to an existing product. Think of a program like Excel. It can work magic if configured the right way for the purpose at hand, but that configuration might not be immediately obvious to a novice user. Such is the case with the most advanced eDiscovery platforms.
In our experience, clients are often pleasantly surprised by how far they can get with a little bit of customization to solutions they already have. Sometimes clients that think they need to invest in new tech learn that they don’t have to. On the other side of things, clients that were initially intimidated by the idea of a “custom solution” learn that it doesn’t have to be as cumbersome of a process as they feared.
When you hire a company that is used to customizing on a regular basis, they’ll understand these nuances. They might be able to present slight adaptations to current workflows that are much more workable than the big scary “Custom Solution” you were trying to avoid.
Even if your matter doesn’t require custom software development (and many don’t), it’s a good option to have in your back pocket in case things ever change. Perhaps even more importantly, the teams that are capable of custom software development can take a more holistic approach to any challenge. That’s good for everyone.