Recent Industry reports have emphasized the issue of law firms claiming higher volumes of eDiscovery case workload and larger raw data sets. The underlying theme is that attorneys and support staff are undoubtedly and increasingly stressed by this situation.
This information has made me consider why this is occurring and what does this trend portend for corporate clients, law firms and litigation support vendors?
To address the first point, these trends are likely correlated to the improvement in the US business environment, low interest rates, and the ever increasing volume of data creation and retention.
I have heard from many industry participants that towards the middle of this year the pace of litigation began to significantly increase. Some of this activity was due to increased corporate budgets for discretionary litigation (especially in the IP area) and an additional bump was derived from the flurry of M & A activity resulting from extremely low interest rates and the ability to finance acquisitions on favorable terms (i.e.: lots of cash sitting around earning nothing).
These combined factors have enhanced the competitive position of law firms and their support teams that can properly handle and manage these complex data collections in an accurate and timely manner. The life cycle timeframe for many of these cases is often quite truncated. What has changed is the raw size of the data collection, and the complexity and diversity of the data formats (i.e.: cell phone, text and social media originations). And, believe it or not, we are seeing the same trend with Lotus Notes databases, which still gives many data processor’s headaches.
So it is no wonder that the workload has increased for law firms and their vendors. Today law firms are challenged greatly by not only more work, but finding a way to do that work with the same amount (or fewer) staff. Unit pricing has declined significantly over the past two years, but demand for a high level of client service and support has not. With the music playing much faster now, it will be interesting to see who can dance at these speeds. People expertise, efficient work- flow, and a scalable technology platform (that you own, can control and customize for specific solutions) will be more crucial than ever for success. Clients will not be very tolerant of missed deadlines, data processing errors and a declining level of client service and support.
So in sum, what advice would I offer those firms that are facing the new paradigm of much larger (and complex) raw data sets, tighter timelines, and financial pressures to reduce (or not increase) the net costs of discovery? Whether or not you decide to bring the entire process in-house or outsource to a third party vendor, the key issues are the same. Does your staff have the expertise, technology platform and work-flow than can quickly and accurately identify, process, search and produce large volumes of complex data? Is the system flexible (i.e.: can it quickly incorporate new types of information) and is it scalable, so that ever increasing volumes of data can be managed without slowing down the process, thereby failing to meet deadlines? And most importantly , can you provide a high level of on-going project management while unit pricing for all of these functions continues to face market pressures?
It could get interesting, very soon.