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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.)

What Contact Loves About eDiscovery

Part of why the Contact team is so good at what we do is because we’re passionate about what we do. eDiscovery has its challenges, but our team can’t help falling in love with solving them. We surveyed our team to see what they loved most about their jobs. Here’s what they said!

  • “Working from Home!” — Julie, Senior Project Manager


  • “Whether that’s troubleshooting an issue or putting the pieces together for a project, I love when it feels like we’re solving a puzzle.” — Zack, Director of Project Management


  • “I love the tough problems that need solving.” — James, Associate Director of Digital Forensics


  • “I love the challenge of new situations on a daily basis and the problem solving that comes with that. It is also nice to be in a niche industry.” — Josh, Director of Business Development


  • “Helping attorneys manage cases that make a global impact.” — Krista, Senior Director of Business Development


  • “Solving the unique challenges that come every day. I love working with structured data!” — Scott, Director of eDiscovery Operations


  • “eDiscovery was foreign to me before I joined Contact. Just getting to know about the products/services offered is really interesting to me.” — Safira, Accounting & HR Manager


  • “The freedom to accomplish the same task in a variety of different approaches!” — Justin, eDiscovery Data Engineer


  • “There’s so many things that go into a legal case that I never thought about before I had this job. We hear about complex litigation all the time in the news, movies, and tv and it’s fascinating to see what goes on behind the curtain.” — Anne, Digital Brand Specialist


  • “There’s lots of opportunity for innovation” — Sam, Senior Project Manager

  • “The complex problems with data. It’s like a puzzle.” Mike, Associate Director of Project Management


  • “The variety of information, and data processing challenges.” — Sean, Lead Software Architect


  • “Being surrounded by knowledgeable people and having multiple ways to tackle scenarios and get the same results.” — Ty, eDiscovery Data Engineer


  • “Being involved in a constantly evolving industry.” — Anthony, Lead eDiscovery Data Engineer


  • “The chaos. Weirdly enough a regular job just seems boring.” — Scott, Chief Operating Officer


  • “Feeling like you can make a difference and bring stability to an inherently challenging and stressful process.” — Dave, Chief Executive Officer


  • “The constant change and high stakes.” —Rich, Chief Business Officer

  • “Helping clients solve complex problems.” — Ashleigh, Director of Business Development


  • “Helping solve the things that keep friends of mine in the legal community up at night.” — Shayna, Director of Business Development

Capitol Breach Investigations are Changing eDiscovery

On January 6, supporters of then-President Donald Trump breached the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to prevent Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. As authorities look into who is responsible and what kinds of repercussions perpetrators should face, they’ll have over 140,000 pieces of digital media to aid their efforts. Throughout the Capitol Breach investigations, officials will be reliant on something much of the world knows nothing about: eDiscovery.

eDiscovery is the art and science of sorting through digital data to find the relevant pieces needed to build a legal case. 5-10 years ago, much of this data came in the form of emails and their attachments. However, many of the arrests relating to the Capitol riots cite digital evidence uploaded to social media sites.

One Connecticut man was charged because of a YouTube video. Two Massachusetts citizens were arrested because of photos on Twitter. A New Mexico County Commissioner was connected to the riots in part because of videos he posted on a “Cowboys for Trump” Facebook page. A man from Texas was arrested in part due to his posts on Parler. One such post allegedly included a threat to return to Washington, D.C. on January 19 armed and ready for insurrection: “We will come in numbers that no standing army or police agency can match,” the post allegedly states. 

That shift away from email-exclusive discovery strategies was already happening, but the Capitol riots may expedite it. Investigators are still sorting through digital data, and we likely haven’t seen the last of arrests related to this incident. Many cases will hinge on whether or not eDiscovery professionals can connect individuals to the scene and whether or not there’s digital evidence that reveals offenders’ true intentions. Either way, the Capitol breach investigations shed a light on what kind of technology is available and how law enforcement is using it. Depending on the outcomes of these cases, we may see social media-based data integrated into discovery on a much larger scale.

The Value of Geolocation

Ordinary people probably know that investigators can find incriminating things people have published on the internet. However, they might be surprised to learn just how easy it is to figure out which electronic devices were actually at the Capitol on the day of the attack. Geolocation, or more specifically “geofencing”  involves drawing a virtual boundary around a specific location, and then using technology such as GPS or Bluetooth to find devices within that boundary.

“Right now, law enforcement can pull social media information from a geolocation at will or with relatively few roadblocks,” says James Whitehead, Contact Discovery’s Associate Director of Digital Forensics. “Law enforcement agencies can capture wireless communications and pull packets off wires. This technology/capability is expanding among law enforcement departments at a rapid pace.”

This is important because many people have said hyperbolic things on the internet, and that in and of itself isn’t a crime. One of the challenges facing investigators is separating those who simply wrote inflammatory messages from those who acted on their intent. With geolocation, investigators can prove that someone who published violent threats online was actually at the Capitol at the time of the attack.

An offender’s sentence could also vary quite a bit if prosecutors can use social media posts to prove there was prior intent to attack the Capitol. That’s a very different scenario from someone who showed up for what they thought was a peaceful protest, got caught in the moment, and then showed remorse after the fact.

Social media companies are also aiding law enforcement in matching locations to other parts of a user’s profile.

“At one point Facebook had 100+ metadata fields for its site,” Whitehead says. “This includes user names, likes, names of the likers, time of the likes and/or shares, and then most if not everything is geolocated. Often these metadata records include associations to the authoring/viewing device’s unique identifiers including IP address, which further aids in geolocating.”

In the case of Twitter, investigators can collect tweets in a geolocated fence and by hashtag.

“I could essentially drill down to the Capitol and then to hashtags of interest,” says Whitehead. “If I expanded my resources, I could cross-reference known individuals and pull all their tweets and anyone who shared or viewed them within a geofenced area.”

That combination of what people said online and their whereabouts at the time of the Capitol attacks gives investigators added insight. Suddenly they’re able to comprehend not only the “what” but the “who,” “where,” and “why” as well. Geolocation could also play an important role in providing alibis to those who published inflammatory statements, but were not physically present at the Capitol at the time of the attack.

Constructing Larger Narratives

Not only can law enforcement use social media data to pinpoint where suspects were the day of the attacks, they can also use it to show what kinds of things suspects were writing weeks before. This helps investigators tell a more complete story.

One suspect, Brendan Hunt, allegedly called for the murder of elected officials on an online video platform called BitChute. However, the charges against him also mention a Facebook post on or from approximately December 6, 2020, a whole month before the Capitol breach. According to the affidavit, this post called for “revenge on Democrats” and a “public execution” of Senator Chuck Schumer and Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“If you [Trump] don’t do it, the citizenry will,” says Hunt’s post.

Another case revolves around a Utah man named John Earle Sullivan. Sullivan handed over 50 minutes of video footage to authorities. He’s also uploaded large amounts of video content regarding the riots to YouTube under the name JaydenX. The criminal complaint against Sullivan claims his voice can be heard on the tape saying celebratory things like “We accomplished this s**t. We did this together.”

At the time of this writing, JaydenX’s YouTube channel not only features footage of the Capitol riots on January 6, but other MAGA, Proud Boys, and Black Lives Matter protests dating back to June 1, 2020. If you’re the defense, you might argue this YouTube account proves that Sullivan is just an independent video journalist, attending and recording any protest he thinks will be of interest regardless of the cause. If you’re the prosecution, you might use it to establish that Sullivan is a dangerous agent of chaos and has been for some time. Either way, it’s hard to imagine that legal teams will look at what’s likely hundreds of hours of political protest footage from the last six months and think that only the January 6 footage is relevant.

General Awareness of ESI in Law Enforcement

Perhaps most importantly of all, the riots have made the general public more aware of how digital data can be helpful to law enforcement. Sometimes, public ignorance can aid investigators. People incriminate themselves largely because they don’t know their messages can be found later. The events at the Capitol have created large scale awareness of the role that social media posts and other electronic messages can play in investigations.  

That awareness is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it could drive bad actors to alternative platforms where they’re harder to find. On a more optimistic note, well-intentioned people are more likely to be on the lookout for digital evidence in their day-to-day lives. Heck, one Twitter user even mentioned using dating apps as a way of getting perpetrators to volunteer evidence against themselves:

Only time will tell how this case shakes up the world of eDiscovery. What won’t change is the critical role that legal technology plays in finding the truth.

Subscribe to the Contact Blog to receive more updates on all things eDiscovery.


The Ghosts of Discovery Past, Present, and Future

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.  

“The right people with the right technology can adapt quicker than large companies can, and that leads to positive outcomes.”  

– Rich Albright, Contact Discovery CBO

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!  

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!  

No Mom, I’m Not a Spy.

It’s that time of year again. Yes, the holidays definitely look a little bit different this year, but certain things never change. For people in litigation technology, one of those eternal challenges is finding a concise way to answer that pesky question:

“What do you do?’

Don’t get us wrong, we love our families. Their hearts are in the right place when they innocently ask “So.. how has work been?” None of them asked us to go into the wonderful world of eDiscovery, a field that blends the jargon of information technology and legal proceedings into an ever-evolving maze of intrigue. Okay, so maybe “ever-evolving maze of intrigue” isn’t the term our families use… but I repeat, we still love them.

Here at Contact, we’re always looking for ways to help people. In that spirit, we polled our own team members to see how they explain their jobs vs. how their families describe their job. Hopefully it’ll give other legal tech professionals some inspiration on how to navigate this conversation. Let us know your tips for explaining your job!

Mike, Associate Director of Project Management

How Mike Describes His Job To His Family:
“I work with law firms and legal departments at corporations helping them manage the discovery phase during litigation and investigations. The best analogy I can think of is when the FBI comes in and starts seizing computers in the movies but less hostile (sometimes). We perform forensic analysis, process data to extract information and convert it to a format that is easy for the attorneys to review the data.”

How Mike Thinks His Family Describes His Job:
“They probably think I’m a transponster”

For reference:
“Originating on a “Friends” episode, Rachel incorrectly names Chandler’s data processing job as a “transponster”. Transponster is now commonly used to describe an office job not clearly defined as one role/responsibility, but a combination of data entry and analysis. This sort of role is difficult for the employee to describe to friends or family, often sounding boring, confusing or both to those outside the office environment.” – Urban Dictionary

Ty, eDiscovery Data Engineer

“I usually say something like ‘I work on the tech side of a litigation support company.’ I think they usually just say my job title. I am unsure.”

Zack, Director of Project Management

How Zack Describes His Job To His Family:
“It usually goes something like: I work in the legal technology world, specifically in eDiscovery which is a subset of the legal industry. In litigations and other types of investigations, there’s a lot of data that can come from all different sources so we’re here to help lawyers and legal teams gather and make sense of the data so they can perform their investigations and produce documents to opposing parties.”

How Zack Thinks His Family Describes His Job:
“Probably something like: computer stuff for lawyers.”

James, Associate Director of Digital Forensics

We help attorneys and clients collect, examine and manage digital information for investigations and legal proceedings. I don’t know how they describe it to other people.”

Anthony, Lead eDiscovery Data Engineer


How Anthony Describes His Job To His Family:
“I’m part of a team that collects people’s data from cell phones, email, computers, etc. and process that data to make everything searchable by the text content of the data and the associated metadata such as dates/author/file location etc.”

How Anthony Thinks His Family Describes His Job:
“My son secretly works for the CIA and hacks into high profile criminal’s computers to bust them.”

Josh, Director of Business Development

“In short terms I tell them we support both law firms and corporations in all forms of digital evidence, such as email, cell phone, servers, and IoT devices.”

Rashida, Project Manager

“I manage projects related to software development, solutions architecture, and software/solutions implementation. They say I work in IT. ”

David, eDiscovery Data Engineer

How David Describes His Job To His Family:
“It depends on how techie they are. I often say things like the digital side of litigation’ or ‘make corporate data reviewable for an attorney’ which makes sense to most people. That, or I tell them I click on things and make things happen!”

How David Thinks His Family Describes His Job:
“They finally learned that eDiscovery is a word after like 8 years, they try that but mostly end of with “he does stuff with computers.”

Scott, Director of eDiscovery Operations

“I say I handle electronic data for court cases. They probably say I’m an IT guy or do CSI stuff.”

Rich, Chief Business Officer

How Rich Describes His Job to His Family:
I oversee sales & marketing for a company that manages the exchange of digital information in corporate lawsuits and government investigations.”

How Rich Thinks His Family Describes His Job
“Rich’s company looks at people’s text messages and emails for dirt.”

Julie, Senior Project Manager

“They tell people I get to see a lot of email and to never use work email for personal stuff.”

Safira, HR & Billing Specialist

“I say I work for an eDiscovery company managing the accounting and HR department. They just say ‘Safira does the bookkeeping and human resources for her company.”

Krista, Senior Director of Business Development

How Krista Describes Her Job to Her Family:
I sell eDiscovery services to law firms and corporations. Basically, when lawyers need to review data for litigation, we take the data, put it in a software platform where they can run searches and find what they are looking for quickly.”

How Krista Thinks Her Family Describes Her Job:
“She sells to lawyers.”

Ashleigh, Director of Business Development

“I say that I sell legal technology and help law firms prepare for litigation. They probably just say ‘something with lawyers.’”

Sam, Senior Project Manager

“I tell them I work in Legal Tech. They tell everyone I’m a paralegal.”

Jamente, Lead Forensic Analyst

“I say I get data off of smartphones and computers that people sometimes don’t want me to. They say I do CSI forensics with computers.”

Scott, Chief Operating Officer

How Scott Describes His Job to His Family:
“So basically when two big companies sue each other we go in and get the dirt and then put it in a format so lawyers can review it.”

How Scott Thinks His Family Describes His Job:
“They don’t, they just say something to do with legal court cases and data. Then they just tell people I work a lot, cause it’s 24×7.”

Shay, Director of Business Development

How Shay Describes Her Job to Her Family:
“I don’t. lol.”

How Shay Thinks Her Family Describes Her Job:
“Well I was a practicing attorney for 15 years before this so I think they likely just say I’m an attorney.”

Anne, Digital Brand Specialist

How Anne Describes Her Job to Her Family:
“We help people sue each other. Let’s say there’s 10s of thousands of emails and texts going back 10 years, we can go through that and tell the legal team ‘okay, here’s the 100 you actually have to pay attention to.'”

How Anne’s Family Describes Her Job:
“So… it’s something with the legal industry? I don’t know but she does the marketing and she writes a lot.”


Contact Welcome’s New Forensics Powerhouse James Whitehead

Contact Discovery Services is ecstatic to announce James Whitehead as new Associate Director of Digital Forensics.

James Whitehead,
Associate Director of Digital Forensics

In his own words, James has done collections “anywhere there’s a hard drive.” In September 2020, James came on board at Contact to help expand the company’s forensics offerings.

“I think the goal is to increase the visibility of our forensic offering by removing communication road blocks and solving our clients’ technical business issues,” said James. “As technologists we strive to build useful partnerships with our end clients that allow them to wield our expertise to solve problems.”

While Contact has always prided ourselves on offering end-to-end discovery services, including forensic collection, preservation, and analysis, the company believes that James’s arrival can take our Forensics department to soaring new heights.

This is particularly true in regards to testimony and depositions. In his 10+ years of experience in forensics, James has taken the stand to verify data and defend a client’s collection process. Now, Contact clients who need that service don’t need to rope in an additional vendor.

“We are very excited to have James lead our digital forensics team,” said Dave DiGiovanni, CEO at Contact. “He’s a phenomenal industry leader that really enhances Contact’s existing capability to deliver world class forensic analysis and testimony.”

James made the jump into forensics in 2009. At the time, he was working in project management for a litigation support vendor, often handling the toughest technical projects of that company.

“We got a large backup tape job and decided to handle it in house,” James said while reminiscing about the early days of his forensics career. “From there, I grew into data collections and then into full fledged forensics.”

Through his career, James has always been fascinated by the industry’s rapid pace of evolution. “The cutting edge of Forensics continues to evolve as technology evolves, creating new challenges we get to solve for our clients,” says James.

It’s precisely that passion for the end client that helps make James such a great fit for Contact, where client-centric innovations are at the center of company culture.

“From our first conversation, James and I immediately clicked,” said Scott Keeble, Director of eDiscovery Operations at Contact. “His attention to detail, attitude towards work, and ideas for innovation were immediately apparent, which enables him to quickly become an integral part of our team.”

When James is NOT using his strong inquisitive sense to find the truth in a circuit board, he loves unwinding by watching racing and learning about cars. More recently, he discovered a love for furniture building. “During COVID, everyone else got baking, I got sanding!” he joked.

Contact has yet to try out the furniture James has built, but is fully confident in his ability to help you build your case.


4 Rookie Mistakes of eDiscovery Processing

Within eDiscovery, Processing comes after collection but before review. This step is all about taking the data and extracting metadata such as who created that document, when they created it, the file format and size, etc. Such metadata helps legal teams organize a seemingly endless sea of data into the right buckets so they can make informed decisions about what to do next.

Unfortunately, there are many things that can go wrong within the processing stage that an untrained eye wouldn’t notice. Some teams load data into a program, click a few buttons, and tada! They get their coveted metadata. Without a forensics data engineer dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s, you could be missing out on mission-critical information and not even realize it until further along in the discovery process.

Data Engineers have the ability, knowledge, and understanding of how to identify, isolate, and apply various remedies to a vast variety of processing errors. Handling these errors appropriately will ensure the maximum amount of text and metadata is extracted from the source data. Keeping an eye out for these common rookie mistakes can help you mitigate them early, saving time and money.

Mistake 1: “If there was an error, I would’ve gotten an error message!”

Errors can exist in an imaging set even when the processing tool does not throw any error message. A data engineer can identify these types of documents based on fielded metadata and remedy the imaging issues using 3rd party applications. Proceeding without isolating these errors can result in incorrect OCR text or blank OCR text for documents.

Potential Fixes:

To avoid some of these mistakes, familiarize yourself with all available system fields and error messages and when to look at each. This will be a huge help in isolating incorrect imaging/OCR (optical character recognition) results.

Additionally, an experienced Data Engineer will recognize when they see the same issues on the same file types over and over again. To remedy having to manually search every time data is processed, set up saved searches by keying on metadata fields (File Type, File Description, Doc Extension, etc). That will display documents that likely have errors without needing to sift through the system fields and error messages.

Mistake 2: “Maybe I did get an error message, but the data’s still all here. I should be able to move onto review now.” 

Well…. Not exactly. ZIP files are a common format within forensics, and so extracting ZIP files in a forensically sound manner is a big part of processing. Oftentimes, there’s an exorbitant number of ZIP files in a case, so it’s easy for a few corrupt files to fall through the cracks.

Much the same way that a large haystack with a needle in it is identical to a haystack without one, the output of 10,000 perfectly converted files can look very similar to the output of 9,999 perfectly converted files plus one corrupt file. Data Engineers will know how to confirm if all of the data was actually extracted or if there are some files missing. They can also check to see if the content extracted is intact or corrupt. For a few files, this may be very obvious to even the inexperienced but when dealing with thousands of files it is easier for issues to slip by unless you know exactly what to look for.

Potential Fixes:

A good place to start is by running a “Sanity Check” by comparing the properties (File count, folder count, and file size) from within the zip file prior to extracting against the same properties of the extracted data. This comparison can either help confirm that you’ve done everything right, or shed a light on corrupt files and inconsistencies before they make it any further in the discovery process.

Mistake 3: “We’ve removed all the duplicates thanks to our metadata. Now we can throw the dupes out and move onto review.”

All eDiscovery professionals are familiar with deduping (or least the good ones are). Figuring out which documents are duplicates allows teams to better understand the scope of their review needs. How many attorneys are needed to review the necessary documents before a deadline? How costly will that be? In some cases, it may help determine if a client is better off litigating or settling out of court, so having accurate ideas of how many documents are duplicates is crucial.

However, discarding duplicates too early in the process can sometimes come back to haunt you. Some clients ask us which documents exist in the workspace that other vendors or internal team members have labeled as duplicates. Understandably so, since incorrect dededuplication can lead to drastically different decisions than what a team would make if they had the correct information.

Potential Fix:

The solution is to run custom SQL scripts that are able to scan an eDiscovery environment and find these documents that a rookie might have thrown out. We can double check this metadata to confirm whether or not these documents are in fact duplicates.

Ensuring your team is familiar with the backend SQL tables of your processing tool is an extreme benefit. The more comfortable and familiar a data engineer is with the backend, the more flexibility and time efficient custom solutions will be.

Mistake 4. “My role is eDiscovery processing. When it comes time for production, that’s someone else’s problem.”

An all-too-common issue for both legal professionals and eDiscovery professionals is not taking a holistic approach towards their discovery. They focus solely on the piece of the puzzle they’re responsible for without a strong sense of how that piece fits into a bigger picture. Data processing pros understand that it will eventually come time to produce this data, and those productions have to adhere to specific, previously-agreed-upon requirements. That could mean customized slipsheets, metadata formatting, production field creation, custom file-naming procedures and much more.

Potential Fix:

Make sure you’re communicating with the people on your team who will be handling the rest of discovery after you’re done with processing. Ask about what kind of file formats they’ll need, and learn as much as you can about the “big picture” goals of the case. Constantly learning and “getting into the weeds” on both the front end and back end of your processing tools will expand the number of tricks up your sleeve. With those tricks, data engineers are able to get the job done in a timely fashion where less experienced processing specialists may find limitations to what they’re able to achieve and spend more time than they have.

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 

No alt text provided for this image

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.