Technology has infiltrated nearly every part of the modern world, and legal departments are no exception. At this point, the question for attorneys isn’t whether to use technology, but rather what kinds of software and systems are the most valuable.
To help in-house counsel choose from the plethora of technologies available, InsideCounsel asked several experts for input on the tech tools that are essential to their organizations. In this slideshow we feature the technologies that will help lawyers function more efficiently, whether their task is as simple as remotely accessing email, or as complex as managing a large litigation.
A good matter management system is a versatile and important tool for many companies. And although it will likely be most useful for companies involved in regular litigation, Rebecca Thorkildsen, a senior director at HBR Consulting, says that the technology is scalable for just about any law department.
“Matter management, you could almost make an argument for that in a department of any size,” she says. “Even if there’s only a handful of attorneys, at the end of the day, they’re still generating information about their matters and need someplace to keep it.”
So what should companies look for in a matter management system? Judy Selby, head of BakerHostetler’s e-discovery and technology practice group, says that her team had a list of requirements when helping to develop the firm’s system. First, the program had to allow for easy calendaring, so that attorneys could track dates of upcoming discovery deadlines, expert reports, hearings and more.
Selby says it was also essential that the system provided “one-stop shopping” for attorneys hunting down documents related to a specific case. Consolidating all of the documents on one page allows lawyers to easily find complaints, discovery requests and other information on any matter.
Other benefits of an effective matter management system are consistency across cases and more efficient discovery, particularly if the program allows a legal department to issue code discovery requests. “If you get a discovery request in one case and you make your production…and you get a similar request in a similar case, you should make sure you’re answering in a similar way,” Selby says. “So if you have a good case management/matter management system, it helps you to track all these things, to make sure that you’re being consistent with multiple litigations.”
Around the early 90s, when e-billing systems were first coming into prominence, they mostly served as a tool to whittle down the stacks of paper dominating attorneys’ desks and to more accurately audit invoices.
While those are both still admirable goals, today’s e-billing systems have evolved to become essential analytic tools for legal departments. They analyze incoming invoices and provide reports full of detailed data on outside counsel activities and billing rates.
“What e-billing can do is unbundle all of the information that comes from traditional legal bills so that you have the ability to compare over a long period of time, from timekeeper to timekeeper or from firm to firm,” says Pamela Woldow, general counsel at Edge International Inc.
“It ultimately comes down to the pressure that a lot of law departments are under to cut costs and become more efficient,” adds HBR Consulting Senior Director Rebecca Thorkildsen. And reports from e-billing systems can show general counsel where they are able to trim the fat a bit.
E-billing systems tend to come part and parcel with matter management, and while you can implement matter management without e-billing, Thorkildsen says, you have to have at least a little matter management to implement e-billing. If the e-billing is what you’re primarily after, though, you can get a low-cost bare-bones matter management system.
In order to figure out if e-billing is a good value for your legal department, Thorkildsen recommends the following calculation: If 2 percent to 3 percent of your company’s annual outside counsel spend would cover the cost of implementing e-billing, it’s probably a good investment. The cost of these systems ranges from $25,000 on the low end, to several million dollars on the high end, depending on the size of a department and the amount of customization it wants.
Digital data makes discovery infinitely more complicated. Luckily, where technology is the problem, it can also be the solution.
Companies of any size should strongly consider adopting a legal hold system that can automate the preservation and destruction of documents, making it easier to prove in court that your company has a uniform policy. When litigation strikes, the software can issue a hold and track compliance.
“Companies that don’t have a legal hold system in place are putting themselves at risk,” says John Resnick, managing director of Huron Consulting Group. “The risk of not having one in place is essentially the same for whatever size you are.”
On the other hand, predictive coding, as much as it is talked about, is not necessarily for everyone. Predictive coding is software that takes a sample of documents sorted by humans for relevancy and uses it to code the rest of the data and determine what’s relevant. It’s a useful tool for large legal departments that face a lot of litigation and that handle e-discovery in-house.
“Drastically reducing the amount of documents that ultimately have to be reviewed is one of the most urgent mandates for most corporations right now, because that’s where the cost sits,” Resnick says. “Corporations are truly starting to embrace it.” And so are courts, as evidenced by a couple of recent cases that recognize the software’s legitimacy.
But Edge International Inc. General Counsel Pamela Woldow cautions that legal departments first need to analyze whether they’re ready to commit to doing e-discovery internally before buying any software.
“There are companies that just really don’t have huge document matters,” she says. “So for them, it just doesn’t make sense to invest in any kind of a permanent, costly system. I think that legal departments really have to assess their own risk profile before they go buy software. It is such a knee-jerk reaction to buy software, and a lot of times you don’t need it.”
For those departments that decide predictive coding is the way to go, Woldow recommends having a document management system in place first. “If…you don’t have any organization around documents to begin with, you’re kind of screwed when it comes to e-discovery,” she says.
Resnick adds that companies should get a professional to help them implement the system. “Work with a consultant that has implemented systems for [your] peer in-house legal departments and don’t just purchase a system or a piece of software from a salesperson who walks away.”
In this day and age, companies have a plethora of software and devices to choose from, but legal departments shouldn’t forget about the basics, namely technology that facilitates connectivity and collaboration.
That could be as simple as investing in quality videoconferencing software to better communicate with clients and out-of-office colleagues, or technology that allows remote access to email inboxes and computer desktops. James Kunick, chair of Much Shelist’s intellectual property and technology group, says both technologies are especially important given the increase in non-traditional working arrangements.
“I think these days more and more young attorneys are working from home or working remotely, and you need something that is easy to access and is comparable in speed to the access you have in the office,” he says.
Ideally, increased connectivity will result in increased collaboration, by helping employees who work in multiple offices or multiple time zones to better coordinate their efforts, says Judy Selby, a BakerHostetler partner who also heads the firm’s e-discovery and technology practice group.
“Let’s just say you have a law firm in a different country or you’re dealing with people in different parts of the world,” she says. “[Technology] makes communication much easier because you don’t have to worry about time zones or Fed-ex-ing that takes three days.”
Collaboration software can also help to cut down on redundant versions of the same document. “If you’re working on a living document, it also eliminates the problem of different drafts being floated around,” Selby says. “It tends to help streamline that so everybody’s working on the same thing at the same time.”
In today’s increasingly connected world, clients and coworkers alike expect legal departments to be available at a moment’s notice, and basic tools for collaboration and connectivity can help to ensure that every law department, no matter the size, can effectively streamline its efforts. “[Connectivity technology ] is the only way to be responsive, frankly, to get things turned so that you’re not running back and forth to the office, you aren’t having someone email you a document and then having to email it back.”