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Time Management Does Not Work

Time ManagementAs part of a training series within his organization, a good friend recently asked me to speak to up-and-coming leaders about time management. I begin to research the issue and I keep coming across materials suggesting that teaching time management is a waste of time. The fact is –and I guess I already knew this and my research merely confirms it– that teaching time management really doesn’t work.

Some may think it peculiar that the first thing a speaker on time management says is “time management doesn’t work.” Stay with me. By the end of this, you’ll realize that time management is not the problem at all. No, the fact is that we are our own worst enemies when it comes to getting things done. And time is not the problem. Time doesn’t care–it is going to keep moving no matter what we do. Time does not stop.

A Constant State of Reaction

Anyone who cares at all about their work rises each day and, at some point, considers what their day looks like. Then they get to work, their Inbox is blowing up, the phone is ringing, and their manager is standing in the door wondering how some project did a face-plant. The plan for the day is up-ended. The tension builds as time starts slipping away and planned tasks are slowly pushed back into the day, even to the next day.

As a result, we are in a constant state of perpetual reaction, jumping from project to project, task to task, and none of them are done particularly well. Everyone knows how this plays out.

This is no way to work; no way to make a living. We’re supposed to like our job, enjoy it, and have fun. It’s not possible when there’s nagging pressure to perform and stress. Under these circumstances, mistakes are made and we compromise quality. In addition, the stress leads to unhappiness and a lack of fulfillment on the job, and eventually, to burn-out.

The good news is there are a few things you can do to remedy the problem. Think of it like going to the doctor when you have the flu – there’s no cure for the flu; they simply treat the symptoms.

Today, we treat the symptoms of poor time management.

Symptom #1 – Lack of Clarity on Your Role

First, clearly understand exactly what your role is. If you don’t fully understand what your organization expects, you cannot perform. It’s like a road trip without a destination and no map. Read and understand your job description. Even on specific projects, if your responsibilities are not clear, lay it out for stakeholders.

Second, set expectations.  Let people know what you can and cannot do, and empower others to make use of alternative resources. If something is not within your role, delegate or ask for help.

Third, don’t try to take on everything. Learn to say “no.” This is tricky. When you work in a service industry, saying no is antithetical to providing good service. Do it with tact. Don’t just say “No” and walk away. Tell them “I need to get back to you on that” and figure out how to make it work. Remember, we’re all problem solvers.

Symptom #2 – Failure to Prioritize

As part of the clarity you need to do your job, management should be emphasizing what is important to the organization. With guidance from leadership you can then effectively prioritize things.

Prioritizing is not making a list of things to do; it’s making a list of IMPORTANT things to do. Each day take the first 10 minutes to schedule your day. Ten minutes of planning will save you an hour in execution—that’s what they teach in project management school. If it’s important, schedule it on your calendar. If it takes more than 30 minutes, schedule it. Use your calendar to block out time to complete the important things. In the end, it’s all about discipline. Have the discipline to set a schedule and stick to it.

A word of caution: do not underestimate how quickly you can get something done. We all do it. We think something will take 20 minutes, so it doesn’t get on the calendar. When we get to it, 20 minutes becomes 45 minutes to an hour, and now scheduled tasks are out of whack. Double the of time it will take to complete something and schedule it. Worst case, you finish early and grab a coffee.

The point is, when employees understand the most important aspects of their jobs, it’s easier to prioritize. Identifying and staying focused on the company mission and how you serve it highlights the important objectives. If your organization is not revealing what’s important, ask those questions.

Symptom #3 – Inability to Manage Distractions

Information inundates us all day long. Email, texts, social media, phone calls. We encounter distractions all day long. Consider the biggest distraction: multitasking. The research shows that while multitasking makes us seem more productive, the empirical evidence shows otherwise. Multitasking suggests you are perpetually reactive. When you multitask, you are playing defense; juggling a bunch of balls at once. Eventually, you will add one too many and drop them all. Quality work is not done this way.

The notion of attention management teaches how to control distractions. It trades single-tasking for multitasking, producing higher-quality results, and encouraging sustained, focused attention on singular tasks. A work environment focusing on and valuing single-tasking is healthier and prevents bad habits from taking root in the first place.

Next, consider email management. Email and social media sites are huge distractions. They are also a tremendous time-suck. Notifications all day disrupt our train of thought. Turn off the notifications on your computer and your phone. If social media and email are that important, schedule them into your day.

Email also ruins conversations. Have you ever been talking to someone who repeatedly looks at their computer screen or at their phone. It’s not only rude, it reflects poor listening skills and eats up time. If you’re talking face to face, give the person your undivided attention. That’s what good leaders do.

A few other email management tips: First, organize email so that you are able to quickly find messages in your Inbox. Create folders according to how your organization manages business records. There is no reason not to organize important communications, regardless of the work that you do or the industry in which you work.

Second, if email is a constant distraction, choose times throughout the day to read and respond to email. Otherwise, close your email. You don’t come in every day and open Word or Excel in anticipation of working in those applications, why do it for email?

And finally, unclutter the rest of your life as well. Do you have papers, folders, notes, case files, everywhere in your office? Clutter and general disorganization are a distraction. Get organized, file things and store things where they need to be. “Everything in its place and a place for everything,” my grandma always said.

SYMPTOM #4 – Lack of Workflow

Most employees manage their workload in their head. But one can only truly manage what they see, and you cannot see inside people’s heads. To manage something it must be tangible, centralized, actionable, and trackable. Workflow management skills are not taught in school and, as a result, workers are often left to their own devices with mixed results. This leaves productivity to chance.

Few individuals will come up with an effective workflow solution on their own; it’s easier to form habits. Identify the most productive people in your organization and review with them what they are doing to succeed. You may be surprised by some responses; but turn them into a workflow. Sure, there will be outliers who defy conventional work practices, but we are trying to improve the workflow of the masses, not the unicorns.

Complex work requires a methodology that enables people to be intentional, proactive, and thorough. The basis of a useful workflow management methodology is the ability to make tasks and responsibilities easy to organize, track, and act upon. A workflow methodology allows individuals to regain control, feel less scattered, and experience less stress. In addition to individual productivity benefits, when staff use workflow management, it offers other benefits to the organization, such as resource allocation, documented experience, and the ability to project, budget and track productivity.

CONCLUSION

As can be seen, the symptoms of poor time management are overcome by being proactive in all that you do. The cure is to start by:

  • Planning your day
  • Setting expectations
  • Scheduling activities
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Adopting a sound workflow

Each of these proactive steps can treat the time management woes that ail you. They will help identify the important things, increase focus and attention to detail, and yes, even improve time management.

________________________

Michael Quartararo is the firm-wide Director of Litigation Support Services at New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and the author of the 2016 book Project Management in Electronic Discovery, published by eDiscoveryPM.com, LLC. He is a graduate of the State University of New York and he studied law in the UK. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS). Mike frequently speaks and writes on topics related to project management, e-discovery and legal support services.

The Truth Matters in E-Discovery

Lady justice, blind and weighing the truthThe truth definitely matters. We’ve all read horror stories from the criminal courts. Unqualified experts, bad identification evidence, perjured testimony, tainted DNA, corrupt cops, less than candid prosecutors–all these things lead to unreliable outcomes in the mostly analog world of criminal jurisprudence. It’s no different in civil litigation when it comes to the use of electronic evidence. Information that companies possess and control can be manipulated, altered, corrupted, or deleted—inadvertently or deliberately. In most instances, there’s nothing nefarious going on, but occasionally parties and lawyers are sanctioned for wrongdoing in civil litigation as well.

Regardless of the forum, the expectation is that the information put before judicial factfinders, hearing officers, and others, is complete and accurate. One would like to think that good, accurate information leads to the “truth and justice” in our system of jurisprudence. Because, at the end of the day, the truth matters in both civil and criminal cases and fact-finders simply cannot get to the truth if the information presented is bad.

Information is Everywhere

But the fact is that the pursuit of truth is more complex today because we live in a world in which almost everyone is surrounded by vast amounts of electronically stored information (ESI). The Radicati Group estimates that the business world accounts for more than 108 billion emails sent and received per day. They estimate that number will to grow to 140 billion by 2018.[1]

And there is more information created in the world in the last few years than exists throughout all of humankind in the thousands of years prior. Ubiquitous computer devices transmit and store information. Our locations, up-to-the-minute news, sound bites, email, texts, and social media feeds, not to mention “Alexa,” new doorbells, and smartphone-controlled appliances. All this information may play a role in the truth-seeking process. It can help litigants to investigate events and tell their stories in court.

Information is now everywhere and nearly everything we do today is dependent upon electronic devices that store information. These machines are integral to daily life and they supplement the shortages of mere mortal memories. Indeed, computers now perform some functions that previously only humans performed. And computers are now smarter with technologies like Watson’s augmented intelligence and machine learning.

Still, there is work to be done.

The E-Discovery Market

In the United States, which is 80% of the global market, electronic discovery is a growing and thriving field. The market worth of the global e-discovery industry doubled since 2010 and the projection is it will quadruple by 2020. Driven by the massive increase of ESI and the need to manage that information for civil litigation, the market, including services and software, grew to over $7 billion in 2015.[2] One report projects 16% compound annual growth rate for services and software through 2022, increasing the market to more than $20 billion.[3] A Gartner report similarly projects double-digit year-over-year growth in e-discovery software.[4]

At the same time, due to the recession and slow economic recovery, the legal services industry is undergoing considerable change. Consider that law firms are folding and merging or reducing personnel to stay afloat. Corporate legal departments face pressure to reduce legal expenses. One need not have an MBA or a law degree to conclude that the current business model at many firms may not be sustainable in the long term. To survive, lawyers and legal support staff need to change the way they practice and deliver legal services.

By far, the most costly and time consuming aspect of litigation is the discovery process. The Rand Corporation reports that 75% of expenditures in litigation are attributable to discovery costs.[5] It used to be that junior lawyers would sit in rooms filled with boxes to review documents. Discovery is no longer about boxes of paper; instead, it is about terabytes of data. And discovery costs are higher not because of inflation or because attorney hourly rates have risen. In fact, e-discovery costs are considerably lower today than 15 years ago. No, discovery is more expensive now because there is so much more information and the higher volume of ESI drives that cost.Truth and justice at the Supreme Court The tsunami of information that has washed over the practices of the world’s largest organizations is not receding.

The Federal civil rules, adopted in 1934 and infrequently revised since then, have been amended twice since 2006 specifically to address ESI. The number of reported cases relating to e-discovery has skyrocketed recently and continues to grow. There are now e-discovery professional organizations and a multi-billion dollar e-discovery software and service provider industry capitalizing on the changes in legal practice and the deluge of ESI. Recruiters and headhunters now specialize in placing project managers, technical analysts, e-discovery specialists, and yes, e-discovery attorneys.

Going from Good to Great

So, the question becomes how to distinguish between organizations that are managing e-discovery projects well and those who are not. The solution, I propose, lies in identifying those organizations that have a consistently structured process for managing e-discovery more effectively and efficiently. I’m talking, of course, about organizations that apply project management principles to discovery projects.

There has been considerable discussion regarding the applicability of project management in a legal setting. Driving the debate is the need of law firms and corporate legal departments to find efficiencies and reduce legal expenses. Law firms, which rely upon corporations for a slice of the $300 billion legal services market, have begun to listen. Firms are adjusting rates, staffing leanly, or entering unique and tailored billing agreements. Few firms, however, are dramatically changing the ways in which lawyers work. And fewer still have adopted project management principles into their business model.

Applying project management methodologies to e-discovery projects is one tool that will differentiate great firms from good firms. And it will provide the efficiency and sustainability needed in a legal market that is very different today.

Bringing Order to Chaos

Project management brings structure and common business sense to law firms, which traditionally do not operate like a business. To the majority of people in the world –even the legal business—the words “electronic discovery” have little or no meaning. But “project management” is intuitive and people understand it to mean leading people, marshaling resources, and managing processes that lead to a desired outcome.

Most people have an inherent if not instinctive desire to be organized and efficient. It is why we categorize almost everything; it is frankly how the human mind works. Some people do it better than others, for sure. But in the end, we all want to get from point A to point B by the most direct route. And this means completing a task in the most efficient manner possible.

The use of planning, budgeting, and scheduling techniques, if executed correctly, can only enhance the discovery process. Ultimately, this aids the delivery of professional legal services. Monitoring and controlling e-discovery processes are critical as well. To maintain quality and effectively manage changes in scope, timing or cost, it is necessary to monitor each phase of an e-discovery project. And closing a discovery project is equally important. Performing a post-project review, archiving project documentation, and recording important metrics serve to prove a defensible process. They also provide much needed information for estimating The gavel of wtruth and justicefuture analogous projects.

The use of project management in electronic discovery can end the self-inflicted wound the legal industry imposed upon itself. Just like the record industry missed the boat on digital content, much of the legal industry missed the e-discovery boat. In many cases, it sailed right by.

Project management simply brings order to the chaos and puts the focus on sound, defensible processes. With project management, parties to litigation have reasonable assurance that managing their ESI is consistent with winning strategies. And this can help parties present their case in court. Quite apart from the cost, if missteps occur in the process it may be difficult to present good, accurate and complete information to the fact-finder. Following a consistent, structured process can only enhance a litigant’s chance of success.

Conclusion

Discovery of the truth is a foundational principle of our civil and criminal justice systems. When courts render judgment in a legal proceeding we want to believe that the truth has enlightened the path to justice. The judicial truth-seeking process, however, is only as good as the information presented as evidence. If you present unreliable information, the truth is compromised. It has now become clear that using project management principles can and will serve law firms and their clients well. An added bonus is the improvement of the truth-seeking process.


[1] The Radicati Group, Email Statistics Report 2014-2018.

[2] E-Discovery Market by Solution, Service, Deployment, Industry, & Region—Global Forecast to 2020 (Research and Markets, July 2015). http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/zhg5cn/ediscovery  (global e-discovery software and services market expected to grow from $7.01 billion in 2015 to $14.2 billion in 2020—CAGR of 15.3%).

[3] eDiscovery Market–Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2014-2022 (Transparency Market Research, 2015), http://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/ediscovery-market.html.

[4] , Zhang & Landers, Magic Quadrant for E-Discovery Software, Market Overview (Gartner, 2015), http://www.gartner.com/technology/reprints.do?id=1-2G57ESF&ct=150519&st=sb (e-discovery software market grew to $1.8 billion in 2014 and estimating five year CAGR of 12% with growth to more than $3 billion by 2019).

[5] Where the Money Goes: Understanding Litigant Expenditures for Producing Electronic Discovery (Rand Corporation, Institute for Civil Justice 2014).


Michael Quartararo is the firm-wide Director of Litigation Support Services at New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and the author of the book Project Management in Electronic Discovery, published in June 2016 by eDiscoveryPM.com, LLC. He is a graduate of the State University of New York and he studied law in the UK. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS). This article is adapted from content first published in Project Management in Electronic Discovery.

Correcting the Record: Searching Attachments in Outlook

This brief post goes out to Michael Berman, a partner at Rifkin Weiner Livingston, LLC in Baltimore, Maryland.

Shortly after the release of Project Management in Electronic Discovery, Michael wrote to me raising a question. Others have also asked the question, so I decided to address the issue here.

Michael first praised Project Management in Electronic Discovery as “an excellent book.”  Then he said, “I have one question:  You indicate (in the book) that Outlook’s search function does not search attachments –I have a specific option in Outlook 2013 to search attachments (of course, assuming that they are searchable).  May I impose on you to explain?”

Over the ensuing weeks Michael and I exchanged a few emails on the subject. I explained that certainly earlier versions of Outlook Exchange did not provide for searching of attachments. “One problem with writing a book about technology is that the technology changes faster than you can write a book,” I wrote.

Nonetheless, I promised Michael I would look into the issue. And here we are. It took a little longer than I anticipated, but I think we have an answer.

Of course, when I began writing the book over 4 years ago, I was not using a version of Outlook that searched attachments. Indeed, my experience with earlier versions of Outlook taught me it is not possible to search attachments in Outlook. We’ve since learned, though, that starting with Outlook 2013 it is in fact possible to search the text of attachments. Later versions of Outlook do index attachments and allow for searching (assuming there is text in the attachment that can be indexed). The image below from Michael shows the search functionality.Searching attachments in Outlook

As a result of the exchange with Michael, I have updated the text of Project Management in Electronic Discovery. The book now states that later versions of Outlook do index attachments and allow for searching attachments.

Thanks, Michael (and others) for raising the issue and giving me the opportunity to correct the record.

There is a comment section below if you would like to chime in on the issue.

Alternative Facts and Artificial Intelligence

A few months back, a post here began by asking “Who Put the ‘Artificial’ in Artificial Intelligence?” At the time, I was sort of complaining about low adoption rates for technology tools in legal. I suggested that good marketing and “shiny object syndrome” are responsible for the rise of new technologies in legal. In the end, I question whether it’s appropriate to describe technology tools in the legal business as “artificial intelligence” tools.

Generally, I hardly think of myself as an “I told you so” type of person. If I’m being honest, though, I do think I told you so more than I articulate I told you so. (I like to think I’ve learned something tactful over the years). But an interview on Fortune.com got me to thinking.

IBM Logo Artificial IntelligenceFortune spoke to David Kenny, leader of the Watson Group at IBM. I thought while reading the interview that if anyone has a good grasp of artificial intelligence it’s IBM, right? Well, I have news: the word “artificial” really has no place in the technology tools that are in use in the legal industry—at least not the ones in use in e-discovery.

It’s Elementary My Dear Watson

To distinguish between the many AI terms out there, David Kenny said,

“Deep learning uses more advanced things like convolutional neural networks, which basically means you can look at things more deeply in more layers. Machine learning could work, for example, when it came to reading text. Deep learning was needed when we wanted to read an X-ray. And all of that has led to this concept of artificial intelligence—though at IBM, we tend to say, in many cases, that it’s not artificial as much as it’s augmented. So, it’s a system between machine computing and humans interpreting, and we call those machine-human interactions cognitive systems.”

“As for what we would call unsupervised learning—which is to say, we’re not training it to process but it’s beginning to learn on its own—that is moving more in the direction of what some consider true artificial intelligence, or even AGI: artificial general intelligence. I would say we’re at the early stages of that.”

Explaining how Watson is able to ingest the text of 26 million medical and scientific articles to help doctors find clinical trials for cancer patients, Mr. Kenny said:

“. . . it starts with knowledge extraction: reading documents, finding common phrases, associating those together. It does the same with paragraphs. Then it has to get corrected. The human annotation is critical here: Out of the gate there’s no way that I would trust the system to do unsupervised learning and just find the patterns on its own. You literally tell Watson, “Yes, that meant this, yes those go together. Yes, you have that right, or, no, you don’t.”

“And when you tell the system the “no’s,” it re-weights its algorithms until it gets to a point where it would have produced the correct answer. And it gets better over time.”

True Artificial Intelligence: Who’s Supervising Who

There you have it, folks. That is machine learning, hands down. And it’s precisely how the technology applies in e-discovery. It’s not a stretch, then, to say that what we are currently doing in e-discovery is not artificial intelligence. Additionally, what many now refer to as artificial intelligence is actually machine learning. Or, for the marketing folks out there, augmented intelligence (it’s still “AI” but not quite as sexy, right?)

To call it anything else, I think, is irresponsible and misleading. Lest we forget –and unless I missed something—the TAR, predictive and analytic programs in use in legal are algorithmic tools that require some level of human input. That’s not AI, as Kenny points out, because true AI is not supervised.

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because I think it’s not accurate. The reason it is “augmented” and not “artificial” in its application in the legal business is fairly obvious. But in addition, as far as I know, there are no lawyers –none who want to keep their licenses anyway—who are making important decisions, giving advice to clients, or reviewing and producing documents based on true artificial intelligence. No one plugs documents into a computer and spits them out without lawyers being involved (at least I hope not). Seems to me that there’s always a human to some degree augmenting the process.

Now, I’m not a scientist or a linguist. Heck, I barely qualify as a writer. It’s troubling, though, that in an industry in which facts and a search for the truth are paramount too much time and money goes to promoting products and ideas that are, how should I say, “artificial.”

I think it was the first celebrity law enforcement officer, Joe Friday, who said “Just the facts Ma’am.” So, let’s just stick to the facts in e-discovery and try not to promote tools that promise the stars and regrettably fall short. Ultimately, I think doing so will help foster adoption of technology in the legal industry.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue, especially those of the scientists out there.

Information Governance: The Foundation of E-Discovery Projects

Sound information governance practices are easily the foundation upon which successful electronic discovery projects are built. I know this because I have lived it. Without question, projects run more smoothly when the client has strong information governance practices in place.

Records Management Reinvented

Information governance involves managing the creation, use, storage, and disposition of data, records, and information maintained by an organization. It encompasses ideas, concepts, and practices involving but not exclusively relating to electronic discovery. And it involves managing not only paper and electronic records, but all information maintained by an organization. It also implicates compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to records retention, information security, and the privacy and confidentiality of information.

Thought of another way, consider that the records or any electronically stored information may potentially be evidence in a lawsuit or investigation. Information governance, then, becomes critically important because the records of an organization provide insight into the past and sometimes future activities of that organization. The information may be needed to tell a story.

Long before we had e-discovery, we had records management. ARMA International, the largest records and information management organization in the world, has been around for 60+ years. Now we have this more holistic view of the value and the efficient, collaborative use of records and information, particularly as it relates to legal matters. Information governance is not a technology or a tool; it is not just policies and practices; or managing risks or costs; it is an enterprise-wide undertaking designed to organize information for the benefit of the organization. It’s the new records management – on steroids.

What’s a project manager to do?

Many people ask “what are the information governance responsibilities of a project manager in e-discovery?” For starters, it is essential for the PM to understand information governance, records and information management generally. A PM needs to have basic knowledge of information technology infrastructure and data management systems. And although it is ultimately the client’s responsibility to implement effective IG policies, there may be situations in which an organization does not have IG policies. A PM may need to guide the client or at least refer the client to resources that may help to structure sound IG policies.

One objective of information governance is for organizations to prepare for litigation. Being “litigation ready” means that an organization knows (or can easily determine) what information it has, where that information resides, and what needs to be done to preserve it for discovery when necessary. So, at the outset of a discovery project, the PM and attorneys should consider the client’s information governance maturity. If formal policies exist, what is the nature and substance of the policies? What is the extent of compliance with the policies? If no policies exist, how does that impact the preservation of information in discovery? Project managers need to help attorneys and their clients understand information governance and its importance to the discovery process.

Regardless of whether the client has policies in place, as a PM, it is important to understand how the client creates, stores, and disposes of ESI. It is necessary to learn the types of hardware, software, data processing and storage devices the client uses. This includes the client’s network configuration, operating systems, workstations, laptops, file and email servers, and backup systems. A data map or even a simple network diagram is helpful in learning about an organization’s systems and helps to visualize and identify the locations of the different types of electronic records maintained.

Figure 1:  Simple Network Diagram

Information Governance Server Diagram

Ask Questions (lots of them)!

Ideally, attorneys and the PM should confer with the client’s in-house counsel and IT and records personnel. A good practice is to use a questionnaire or checklist to ask about the client’s systems and identify assets that may contain potentially relevant information. Doing so not only provides a record of the conversation, but also enables attorneys to make informed decisions regarding the best course of action for preserving and later collecting the documents. A good questionnaire or checklist might make inquiry about the following:

  • Network configuration, storage, and operating systems in use
  • Types and number of file servers in use and the contents of each
  • Email applications, number of servers, mail store size and retention
  • Software applications, databases, or proprietary applications in use
  • Types of workstations and/or laptops in use
  • Remote access, home use, and personal and smartphone device polices
  • Backup systems in use; backup policies, frequency, and retention
  • Legacy or retired systems no longer in use
  • Policies on former employees, retention and disposition
  • External media, hard drives, CDs or DVDs, and flash drives
  • Internal or external websites, intranets, shared drives, and social media pages
  • Text messaging programs and unified voicemail systems

A client’s adoption of and consistent adherence to sound IG policies can demonstrate reasonable and good faith compliance with discovery obligations. If, for instance, documents or ESI are no longer available because they were disposed of pursuant to a formal policy before any obligation arose to retain them, then an organization should in theory be freed of the obligation to preserve and collect or produce that information. Defensible deletion like this will ultimately reduce the volume of ESI collected and can result in huge savings on e-discovery projects. It is not improper to dispose of ESI if there is no legal or other obligation to retain it.

Good IG policies can result in more efficient and cost-effective discovery projects. When an organization knows the information it has, where it is, and how best to preserve or collect it, the early stages of the e-discovery process will be more efficient. Likewise, an organization with sound IG practices is less likely to over-collect ESI in discovery, which further reduces cost.

Conclusion

The information governance stage of a discovery project—learning how a client creates, stores and manages its documents and ESI—provides the foundational underpinnings for many decisions that will be made later in the case. While the responsibilities associated with information governance rest for the most part with the client organization, it is important that the project manager and attorneys who advocate for the client know and understand the client’s IG policies and practices.


Links to additional resources on Information Governance:

Project Management: Holiday Edition

A project management christmas treeThis may come as a surprise to some, but if you think about it we apply project management to many of the things we do during the holiday season. Shopping for gifts involves initiating, planning, execution and closing. First, we consider how much money we’ve got to spend on gifts. Then we make a list (even if it’s just a mental list). During execution we run from store to store to find and buy the gifts. And finally, we close the project by wrapping them up nice and neat. Heck, we even get a little post-project review and feedback when folks open the gifts.

Decorating? Same deal. We plan where the tree will go and then systematically apply lights, garland, ornaments, etc. Dependencies are important here. You cannot, for instance, put the ornaments on and then the lights. And anyone lighting a menorah knows that there’s an order and timing to the lighting of the candles and certain rituals that take place each day.

And of course anyone who grew up in an Italian-American home like mine knows that the holidays mean massive amounts of food at various family gatherings. Well, guess what? Mothers and grandmothers all over the world are using project management to put these culinary festivities together. Consider that all sorts of planning goes into a holiday meal. Where will it be? Who’s coming? How many people? Which china to use? What will the courses be? There might even be a budget. In homes that were fortunate enough, there’s pasta, fish, meat, side dishes, salads, dessert. Fuhgetaboutit. You leave one of these meals wondering if you should visit a cardiologist or just swear off food for six months.

An Italian Christmas Dinner Table - Montreal Times

Whoever plans and then prepares the food most certainly puts a lot of thought into it. In most –I would think nearly all– families there may even be a whole team of people involved.

And then there’s execution. There’s most surely a shopping list. But think about the preparation. It might start a day or two before when vegetables are cut, things are pre-cooked or baked. And talk about dependencies. I mean, it’s necessary to prepare and cook all these things and bring the food to the table in the right order, at the right time, and at the right temperature. Meal planning and execution can be quite an undertaking if you think about it.

Uh, hello? What about quality control. Well, you can bet that all along the way that food is being tasted and snatched from serving dishes perched on the stove top while “Get out of the kitchen” is murmured with a variety of undertones by the cook.

Finally, you herd the cats into the dining room. The deliverables are on the table. Everyone eats, drinks, and is merry. You get instant feedback on this – no need for a post-project review. If yours is anything like mine, the entire family begins expressing right away how they feel about the food.

What about closing? That’s dessert.

So, as we sit down with family and friends this year, or we run from store to store, or you’re just trimming the tree, consider that it is project management –consciously or not—that on some level enables us to enjoy the holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Mike Drop!eDiscoveryPM.com logo with tagline

 

Can 650,000 Emails Be Reviewed In Eight Days?

workflowheaderIn the email debacle that engulfed the presidential election this past week, the question arose whether the government could possibly review 650,000 emails in eight days. With today’s technology, not only is it possible, but those who work in the litigation/practice support business know full well how it might be done. What surprises me I guess is that more people don’t realize that it’s possible.

My friend Eric Mandel recently wrote on LinkedIn about what could be learned in just 72 hours about the new emails. And I commented that I don’t understand how we in the industry could understand this, but the government does not. Well, apologies to the government – apparently they were doing (had to be doing) what we suspected all along –using technology to churn through the emails to determine whether there was anything of substance there.

We Have the Technology

For the uninitiated, using technology available today –technology, by the way that has been available for a long time— the government could not only parse through the email on that laptop in no time at all, they could also gain some real insight into the substance of the documents. To conclude otherwise, would be to deny science (and that’s not something politicians do, is it?).

How did they do this? As Eric pointed out, the initial question is whether this new tranche of emails contains anything new. One might start by doing some basic filtering and culling. Eliminate junk email, parse the messages by domain names, filter or sort by date, or author and recipient. And of course set aside duplicates and any messages that have already been reviewed. I mean, deduplication is something we in the industry do every day on millions and millions of electronic documents. Applying a file hash algorithm, the digital equivalent of the file’s fingerprint, to each message file and then comparing the hash values would reveal any duplicate files. Heck, near-deduplication technology could even show the slight differences between very similar files and group similar documents together or highlight the differences. Deduplication tools are particularly useful on email message files because these files typically contain a unique message ID that helps identify related messages.

The truth is that it’s fairly easy with the right software to get through 650,000 emails. Processing software extracts the header, message body, and fields of metadata (the To, From, Date, etc.) associated with each email message and within hours all that information can be loaded to a fully searchable database or document review platform. From there it take minutes to search, sort, and filter to narrow the files down to those that are relevant.

Not Without Limitations

Obviously, this is a high-level overview of the process, and to be sure, the volume of emails dictates how long it takes to process the files, but even 650,000 emails would be considered a small- to medium-sized project that could be handled in just a few days. Law firms, corporate legal departments and service providers in our industry do this every single day of the week. It should not come as a surprise that the government can do it too.

My guess would be that the laptop in this case contained a high volume of duplicate emails and email messages that that the government had already seen. So, what was reported as 650,000 emails was probably quickly reduced to a more manageable number. From there, the documents could easily be reviewed in a linear manner one by one, or additional machine learning, predictive analytic tools, or conceptual search tools could have been used to reduce the volume even further or focus on particular concepts of particular relevance.

But the short answer is, yes, it is possible to review 650,000 emails in eight days.

Who Put the “Artificial” in Artificial Intelligence

ai_1Okay, so there’s no way this does not come off as a complete rant. But bear with me; it’s just a question.

Why do we use the term artificial intelligence when referring to tools built on IBM’s Watson or other “cognitive” or machine learning technology? As far as I know, there’s nothing artificial about these tools. I mean, sure, they are artificial in that they are man-made, as opposed to a natural occurrence, but make no mistake, there’s nothing artificial about the math and science. Computing technology at its core involves ones and zeros, right? Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple, but the point is made.

Do you make artificial business decisions?

I’m no rocket scientist, but even to a person of limited legal, business, and/or technical ability it should seem odd to rely on something “artificial” to deliver sound, defensible results and outcomes that need to be, well, something more than artificial. I won’t speak for anyone else, but if I were making important legal or business decisions and the person or persons providing the technology that solves my problem told me the tool to be used was “artificial,” this quite frankly raises red flags for me.

To TAR or not to TAR

Recently, I’ve had several conversations about why the so-called TAR or predictive coding tools have not taken off in ways that many envisioned. TAR came in with a bang. Everyone rushed to check it out, and then . . . well, not much. I’d say the bottom fell out, but the truth is it never really filled the void, did it? Surveys reveal TAR-type products are employed in a very low percentage of cases. It simply has not seen broad adoption.

Well, I have a theory. And a prediction. First, TAR and predictive coding-type products did not take off because to some degree their usefulness in the legal business has been over-stated.  This does not mean they do not work. Others can debate the science of the technology. No, what is meant by usefulness is merely the frequency of application. TAR is not for every case. I guess theoretically it could be; but the point is that that is not the way it has been sold. Rather, it has been marketed as the next shiny thing to take the legal world by storm, promising to up-end the way lawyers work, and save millions of dollars and time in document review. And you know what? All of that is true –but only on a handful of cases.

Shiny objects are not sound processes

And this leads to my theory. I’m no marketing genius, but I am a pretty savvy consumer and I know that I consistently look for certain qualities when making purchasing decisions. I’m usually pretty good at looking past the marketing fluff and seeing a product for what it is. But I see a pattern in the legal technology industry. We keep coming up with the next shiny object and everyone, in what stock pickers call a “herd mentality,” migrates towards these objects, only to find out that the excitement is short-lived, that the product was not all that, or worse.

And now for the dangerous part –the prediction. It’s always dangerous to attempt to predict the future. But at this point I feel like the pattern may make it easier. Quite apart from the shiny object theory above, I predict that artificial intelligence in the legal business will underwhelm at best. I make this prediction because I’ve seen in the past –recall ECA, TAR and predictive coding—that smart, strong marketing pushed these tools to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, but then they fade away. It’s like a new stock IPO –everyone is on-board day one, but when the novelty wears off someone is left holding the bag. Maybe this is why law firms are loathe to be first at things. But once a single high-profile firm weighs in, boy do the rest fall in line.

ai_0

This is all very cynical, I know, but to paraphrase something Pete Townsend once said: “It’s not that I am more cynical; it’s just that as I get older I have more evidence to support my cynicism.” As a long-time advocate for technology in the legal industry, I really hope that I am wrong about this.

 Back to the future (reality)

Putting aside all the shiny new objects and marketing campaigns, what is clear to me overall is the legal business needs change and in lieu of change it needs sound process. Yes, disruption is sometimes good and forges change. But it’s like the definition of insanity – if you keep doing the same things, how can you expect to achieve different results? What is needed in legal technology is a fresh, new attitude. Not one driven by profits, or that is designed to meet investor targets. No, I think it has to be an attitude of complete transparency, guided by principles of solving problems first. Every bit of business sense in my soul tells me that if you do good things, good things will come to you.

And in lieu of that, I always fall back on the notion that you need good processes. No amount of software in the world –no matter how “smart” it may be– is going to help fix a flawed process.  Before buying software in an attempt to make things more efficient, make sure you first identify the process that is in need of improvement.

Communication: The Root of All E-Discovery Problems?

Throughout all of recorded human history –indeed, even before we recorded it—communication has been an issue. Early humans made carvings in cave walls to allow others to know things. I’m sure that some among them thought that such carvings were quite radical at the time. And today, many people find the current scriveners—those who incessantly post their thoughts, meals, pets, children, and activities all over the Internet—are just as radical, if not outright crazy. No judgment. In the end, it’s all communication, right? Facebook is the modern day equivalent of the cave wall. Literally.

Communication BreakdownCommunication breakdown

Communication is something we attempt, but frequently fail to achieve. It seems to me that communication is the root of many of the world’s problems. From the relationship squabble to cultural and religious disputes around the globe. If people were more open minded, less judgmental and more tolerant of change and differences, boy, would many of the world’s problems evaporate quickly. Is this going to happen any time soon? Probably not in my lifetime. But it does –and you’ll forgive the massive segue– beg the question: Is communication the root of all e-discovery problems?

A few examples come to mind.

When parties don’t cooperate in discovery, it is essentially a communication problem. If case team or stakeholder expectations are not met, that’s a communication problem. When seemingly ad-hoc decisions are made in a vacuum and projects go sideways, that’s a communication problem. If faulty instructions for completing a task are given, that too is a communication problem. There are any number of examples that may be cited and readers will know them well.

So, what should we do when we perceive that communication is the root of the problem?

A Pillar of Successful Project Management

Well, there’s a reason that Communication Management is a pillar of project management. The goal, of course, is to be proactive and consider the communication needs of a project during the planning stage. Ideally, all stakeholders –anyone who has any interest in the project—will participate in a kick-off meeting to get everyone on the same page and then schedule regular meetings or calls to report on the status of the project and any changes or anticipated issues.

But all too often, we take communication for granted, put on the back burner, or sacrifice it in the name of expediency. We assume, for instance, that stakeholders understand when we inform them that a problem was encountered while processing ESI. If the problem impacts the scope, timing or cost of a project, there’s a good chance they won’t fully understand. This can lead to a lack of confidence in a project manager and sometimes results in a complete meltdown. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Intersection of Communication, Quality and Risk Management

Part of managing communication on a project involves consideration during the planning stage of the risks to project outcomes – what could go wrong on this project? Evaluating those risks at the outset of the project and preparing a contingency plan at that time will lessen the impact of the problem. Likewise, itemizing the points at which quality checks are performed suggests that proactive thought has been given to potential problem areas and preparations have been made in the event issues arise.

Project Mansgement in Electronic DiscoveryNone of this will immediately resolve an unexpected issue that arises mid-project. Such circumstances can test a project manager’s communication skills. Successful project managers will possess –and those who don’t will need to learn to adopt—better than average communication skills.

“One of the strengths of a successful project manager is the ability to communicate clearly, succinctly, and without interference. Knowing what to say, to whom, when, and how is essential to successful communication on a project. Understanding the personalities and agendas of stakeholders and keeping in mind the culture, hierarchy, and politics of the project organization are all integral to effective communication. The communication process provides the critical links among people and information necessary for successful projects. Project managers spend a lot of time communicating with the project team, stakeholders, vendors, customers, and sponsors. Everyone involved in a project should understand how communications affect the project as a whole.” (Project Management in Electronic Discovery, p. 57)

Successful project managers in a legal setting also have people skills. They are articulate as much as they are able to listen and they persuade and make suggestions when implementing solutions. PMs display empathy, have coping skills, and great patience. They are also tactful and possess the temperament to deal with a wide array of people and personalities. The best thing a project manager can do is be honest and transparent in their communication. Nothing much more; nothing less.

Conclusion

One of the things that sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to communicate. The irony, I suppose, is that given this unique human ability one would think we would have it down by now. It’s a wonder why humans still mess it up so frequently. I don’t know if better communication is going to solve the world’s problems entirely. I’m an optimist and so I’d like to think it will, particularly as the world becomes more interconnected. I am, however, pretty certain that better communication can solve many of the issues that arise in e-discovery projects. Keep this in mind as you start your next project.

Selecting E-Discovery Vendors: Cost vs. Process

In many cases, preparing for an e-discovery project also means selecting e-discovery vendors. Whether you are in-house or at a law firm, you will at some point to engage a service provider or consultant to provide or supplement resources for some aspect of or even an entire project.

I had the privilege of presenting on a panel recently at the Master’s Conference in New York City, and the discussion revolved around selecting e-discovery vendors. Here’s a short digest.

First Things First . . .

The first good idea in my view is to empower project managers to handle the vendor selection and oversight process. This removes from the attorneys or the client the burden of managing e-discovery vendors. A good project manager will outline the scope of work, help prepare cost and time estimates, and oversee the work of the vendor while reporting the status to the legal team throughout the project.

But before engaging a vendor it is also prudent to consider several safeguards. First, e-discovery vendors should sign a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement before performing any services. This protects the confidentiality of client information. Second, perform a conflict check to ensure that the vendor is not currently engaged in work that is adverse to the client.

The Cost Factor . . .

Let’s get the cost factor out of the way early because the fact is that cost is rarely determines whether an e-discovery project moves forward. Costs are driven by a variety of factors, including the volume of ESI involved, the time it takes to complete a task, and the people and the tools involved in the project. Market forces and advances in technology have dramatically changed e-discovery costs. Years ago processing cost $2,500 per gigabyte. Today, processing costs are at least 90% cheaper. But keep in mind, too, that the best way to control the costs on a project is to in the first instance collect only the ESI that is needed and take steps during processing to reduce the volume of ESI.

But cost should not control the fate of a project. Each case and project turns on its own facts and while anyone involved in an e-discovery project will consider cost, at the same time they also understand that you mostly get what you pay for. Having competitive pricing models is sufficient.

In the end, stakeholders are concerned about the cost of e-discovery vendors and every effort should be made to control the costs; but there are criteria more important than cost.

Vendor Selection Criteria . . .

When engaging vendors, it is important to focus on the needs of the case and the client. We discussed some of these factors during our session at the Masters. Today, vendors need:

  • Capacity: Be staffed with a sufficient number of trained and experienced project management, technical, and support personnel and have the processes, software and infrastructure needed to support project needs;
  • Security: Have acceptable security protocols and processes in place, including safeguards to ensure not just physical security, but also the integrity and security of client’s ESI, both at rest and in transit;
  • Quality: Have standardized processes in place to check, validate and measure the quality of their services and all deliverables;
  • Service: A range of services and experiences, but not necessarily a one-stop-shop; and a consistent commitment to responsiveness, communication, change management, and problem solving;
  • Stability: Demonstrate a continuity of service and personnel and a level of financial security for the company as a whole;

These criteria are not laid out here in any particular order; nor should they be. Each should have roughly equal weight in the decision-making process. In the end, those who engage the services of vendors need to trust that the vendor is committed to each of these criteria.

Additionally, remember that sales people are not project managers. Some sales folks are talkative and at times pushy, but the fact is that most salespeople are not in the trenches doing the work and they probably should not be relied upon to discuss project specifics and deliverables. Instead, the sales representatives should hand the project off to a project manager who will manage the necessary tasks and processes to complete the project. Also, notwithstanding recent reports to the contrary, no one who values their job is making vendor selection decisions based on the number of coffees, dinners, or event tickets provided by the vendor.

Lastly, good e-discovery vendors provide a statement of work and a cost and time estimate that details the nature and scope of the work to be performed during the course of the project.

Conclusion

Selecting e-discovery vendors is a necessary component of projects today. It need not be an unpleasant experience. Of course, sometimes things go wrong on projects. If there were one criterion for selecting vendors, having solid processes would trump cost every time. The ability to execute, to monitor and measure, and adjust to change, fix errors, and build a solid partnership are some of the hallmarks of a quality service provider. Consider some of the guidelines above and the vendor selection process will be a little easier.