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In the fall of 2001, visions of paper began dancing in Robert Sutis’ head. The general and antitrust litigation manager at Hewlett-Packard Co. had just heard that HP had finalized its agreement to merge with Compaq Computer Corp. Sutis feared the antitrust review process would bury him in e-mail printouts, spreadsheets, and memoranda. “This was a merger between competitors,” he says. “So I knew immediately that the government was going to ask for a lot of documents.” In Sutis’ mind, there was only one way to avoid creating an unscalable mountain of paper: by cutting the dead trees out altogether. He knew it was possible, at least theoretically. HP isn’t E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.; it hasn’t spent the last decade putting its electronic house in order. But it had experience with sophisticated electronic discovery tools: In two recent big litigations, HP produced chunks of documents via CD-ROM. And Sutis knew that the bulk of documents the government would want lived as bits and bytes on HP’s employees’ computer hard drives. So he floated the idea of sending the Federal Trade Commission everything in electronic form. After just one discussion, the FTC signed off on the idea. But some of Sutis’ superiors outside the legal department worried that tech glitches might delay the process. “No one liked the prospect of having to tell [HP chief executive Carly Fiorina] that the merger was dragging because we couldn’t get the technology right,” says Sutis. FORAGING FOR FILES His plan — ultimately approved by HP brass — was hatched for one reason: to facilitate a merger. But the tale reveals a lot more about the advantages of using electronic data discovery tools. Used properly, these devices can help in-house departments slash their reliance on outside counsel and reduce the niggling expenses of big litigation productions, like copying and shipping costs. (Even so, HP spent a few million dollars on the process.) The tools also help lawyers pinpoint key documents quickly. This way, they have more time to think about how to showcase the good stuff and explain away the bad. “This definitely reflects the wave of the future,” says Jonathan Redgrave, of counsel in the Washington, D.C., office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue and a member of the firm’s electronic discovery committee. “In high-volume cases where they’re used correctly, electronic document management tools can make big productions comparatively less expensive, faster, more accurate, and more manageable.” Of course, smooth electronic discovery projects require prep work. Months before the merger was announced, HP hired a consultant, San Francisco’s SV Technology, to help the computer giant take stock of its electronic data. But HP still had to collect the documents and put them in one place. So SV and HP painstakingly interviewed hundreds of employees most likely to have data the FTC would want to see. Then HP brought in Daticon Inc., a Gales Ferry, Conn.-based electronic discovery vendor. First, Daticon obtained over 4 million pages from close to 200 HP desktop computers. Then the vendor brought all the data back to Connecticut and created a massive database of the documents, which it posted to a secure Web site. TWO MONTHS OF SORTING From there, HP’s outside lawyers took over. Denise Diaz, a senior associate at Palo Alto, Calif.’s Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, led the process of picking the documents to send to the FTC. Diaz’s team didn’t have to review the documents the old-fashioned way, page by page. A Daticon software product called Virtual Partner let the Wilson Sonsini attorneys search for relevant and privileged documents by keyword. “It was unbelievable,” says Diaz. The team was able to separate the wheat from the chaff in around 60 days: “The technology made the review process much more efficient.” When they were done, there was no need to call FedEx. The team simply e-mailed the FTC a Web address. After punching in a password, FTC officials could scroll through a database containing nearly 3 million documents. Staff attorneys at the FTC wouldn’t comment on whether they used the search functions or, for that matter, say much about the HP/Compaq merger at all. “But the deal was approved,” says Diaz. “And that, at the end of the day, is all that matters.” HP paid SV and Daticon a combined “low seven-figure sum” to handle the work, according to Sutis. But the electronic data system added up to close to an “eight-figure savings.” Says Sutis: “Of course, we saved on outside litigation fees, but that was only the beginning. You get rid of the costs of printing, stamping, copying and boxing the pages up, and you’re blown away by what you save yourself.” Not to mention all those paper cuts.

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