Before purchasing a new e-discovery platform, there are a number of different questions law firms should ask, including the true cost of the platform, whether current firm hardware can handle the platform, and what to do about the platform’s data security. However, that article linked above does not address one key query that should take place before these questions are asked: Should the firm purchase an e-discovery platform at all, or should it move to make the entire process in-house?
The benefits for purchasing an e-discovery platform have been touted by many vendors, firms they work with, and others for years. Since e-discovery is all they do, many companies argue, they retain the specific market expertise and technology know-how to drive efficiencies through the latest industry trends. Selecting a vendor with strong security controls, meanwhile, can help keep data safe and secure, as well as offload some headache for the firm.
But there is a flip side to the argument. Geoffrey Vance, firm-wide chair of the e-discovery services and strategy practice at Perkins Coie, argued to Legaltech News that modern-day law firms should actually be going the other direction. By bringing e-discovery services in-house, Vance said, firms may see savings up to 85 percent for both themselves and their clients, while still maintaining quality.
“Our decision to assemble a full-service electronic discovery center rather than outsource parts of the e-discovery process results in a win-win-win: cost-effective services for our clients; a high level quality of services provided to those clients; and an ability to generate revenue for the firm,” Vance told Legaltech News.
At Perkins Coie, Vance said that his team now features roughly 100 reviewers that have become a trusted resource for the firm’s clients. And focusing on this practice, he explained, has allowed Perkins Coie to differentiate itself in a few key ways.
“Bringing advanced e-discovery technology in-house, either through a managed services arrangement or creating a dedicated data center, allows our clients and law firm case teams access to state-of-the-art technology at much more affordable pricing,” he noted. “Not only are we more than willing to provide bottom-basement pricing on the technology itself, but our use of the technology will result in less information to review and a faster pace by which we review it, in turn substantially reducing a client’s legal spend.”
And, of course, there is the added benefit for the firm that all e-discovery expenditures stay in-house as well. “Assembling an in-house end-to-end e-discovery service provider also has the collateral benefit of allowing my law firm to realize revenue (albeit through cheaper pricing than our competitors) that we can reinvest in additional technology tools and use to continually upgrade our talent,” Vance explained.
But while saving costs is well and good, it would mean nothing if the quality of discovery dipped. However, Vance said that his firm has found that the opposite is true, as every reviewer using technology to look over documents is approaching the matter with a lawyers’ training and an inherent case knowledge background.
He also added, “Having a one-stop e-discovery shop also allows us to improve what are already high-quality services by virtue of reducing the numbers of companies involved in the process (to one) and then leveraging the technology to monitor progress and decision-making such that mistakes are caught, fixed and never made again.”
At this point, attorneys at smaller law firms may be saying, “Well, that’s well and good if you have 100 reviewers.” And it’s a valid argument, considering that Perkins Coie features more than 1,000 lawyers and brought in $710 million in revenue in 2014.
However, Vance said that the same principles can apply to smaller firms as well, if they approach the situation smartly. In fact, he added, adding an e-discovery expert or developing in-house e-discovery principles may be even more important in order to re-allocate funds that can go a long way.
“Historically, law firms were hesitant to create full-service e-discovery centers because of the large capital expenditures associated with the purchase of hardware and software licenses,” Vance said. “Cloud computing now allows us to be scalable at a moment’s notice, without having to spend a lot of money on advanced technology and equipment.”
The idea of bringing e-discovery in-house is nothing new. For example, Steven Ashbacher, vice president of product management for litigation solutions at LexisNexis, wrote for Legaltech News in December that one of the major changes in e-discovery in 2016 will be a focus on early case assessment, with a movement towards in-house discovery playing a major role.
“The new generation of early case assessment software tools are powered by advanced search engines and analytics that are designed specifically for the rigors of e-discovery, enabling litigation teams to receive instant feedback on their search criteria and better filter their results. This is important because it means that in-house legal departments who insource early case assessment are better equipped to handle cases that require large volumes of e-discovery,” Ashbacher wrote.
He later added, “Moreover, in-house litigation teams have told us that certain e-discovery tools can provide internal processing power that analyzes data without having to engage an outside firm—and without having to hire more staff member to support a full e-discovery suite. With the right tools, work product can be transferred directly to a vendor when it comes time for a more formal review or production.”