April 13, 2017 Mike

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.

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