For most litigators, “litigation technology” is synonymous with e-discovery and predictive coding. Yet while these technologies can play an important role in the litigation process, they focus on a limited (though critical) problem space: helping find usable evidence. Litigation collaboration picks up where e-discovery and predictive coding leave off. Rather than enhancing the analysis of written records, litigation collaboration focuses on turbocharging the human interactions between litigators, experts and clients to produce the most effective insights from the information uncovered by e-discovery.
When attorneys hear the term “litigation collaboration,” few know what to think. Most would automatically finish the sentence in their minds with “mediation.” But in today’s world, collaboration as a technology is poised to supersede collaboration as a means of dispute resolution.
The concept of litigation collaboration technology has been around for more than a decade, but with little progress. One of the first links that came up after a recent Google search for “litigation collaboration,” was a single page on LegalTech.com that had last been updated in May 2001. Most of the products listed on that page no longer exist.
What’s changing now is the rise of collaboration in the general market. The combination of software-as-a-service technology and a greater focus on sharing files and documents has made collaboration software a hot category. Jive Software Inc., a sort of “Facebook for the enterprise,” held a successful IPO last year, while Yammer, which is basically “Twitter for the enterprise” was acquired by Microsoft Corp. for $1.2 billion. The emergence of social and Web 2.0 technologies represents a more organic, user-friendly approach to collaboration, which should translate well to the realm of litigation.
Modern collaboration tools are all about enhancing how humans interact; pulling communications and file storage out of email inboxes, voice mails and shared drives, and making them searchable, accessible and shareable. All three characteristics are extremely helpful when it comes to managing litigation, especially when people from outside the firm are involved.
Litigation in general and litigation support in particular represent fertile ground for collaboration, online and offline. Discovery has long involved working with attorneys from outside the firm, such as contract attorneys who are brought in to sift through the results of discovery requests. While the rise of e-discovery helps to increase the productivity of individual attorneys, these productivity increases are more than offset by the even greater expansion of evidence to review, thanks to new communications media such as email, instant messaging and texting. From the beginning of human civilization to 2003, the human race produced 5 billion gigabytes of data. In 2013 we’ll generate that much data every 10 minutes.
And even if your e-discovery firm is simply a service bureau that accepts raw document dumps and returns the most likely files, you still need a way to share those documents with your litigation team. Meanwhile, a host of other service providers and contractors need to be brought into the overall collaboration — these might include vendors providing presentation materials, video and other courtroom technologies. Throw in the increasingly prevalent practice of co-counsel involvement and the need for search and sharing technology has never been greater.
Attorneys who are early adopters have a wide variety of options for collaboration tools, thanks to what analysts call the consumerization of IT. Need to access documents from your iPad? Dropbox synchronizes your tablet with the cloud, and it’s free — at least to start. But using consumer-grade services for critical litigation matters is unlikely to be popular with clients. Deanne Katz warned in FindLaw, “The fact that [Dropbox] folders can be so easily shared also means it’s easy to forget who can see those files.”
As collaboration technology continues to mature, expect vendors to customize collaboration tools for litigation support needs.
Ultimately, the goal of litigation collaboration is simple: To win cases. Simply adopting new technologies for the sake of being on the cutting edge is a luxury that few firms can afford these days. But as e-discovery and predictive coding continue to spread (and turn up more documents and files that need to be read, discussed and incorporated into the litigation process), the increasing challenge of managing the knowledge that results will make litigation a key component of the litigator’s toolkit.
Chris Yeh is the vice president of marketing at PBworks, a company that provides its Legal Hub collaboration tool to law firms ranging in size from the Am Law 100 to solo practitioners.