Some firms bring an army to litigation, other a platoon. Smaller firms rely on strategy, experience and skill to win the day against larger opponents. But how can they compete against Big Law firms in ediscovery? The rapid growth of ESI seems to favor the side with numbers, but technology can be a great leveler, according to Lloyd Liu, an associate at the DC firm (and Everlaw customer) Coburn & Greenbaum. We talked to Liu about using the power of the cloud to scale up, build a winning strategy and go toe-to-toe with the largest firms.
Tell me a bit about Coburn & Greenbaum.
We’re a boutique that specializes in complex litigation, both government and civil. We have seven attorneys from a range of backgrounds, from former federal prosecutors to attorneys from large firms. A typical client would be a smaller company or an executive facing a criminal investigation, often actions brought by the DOJ or US attorney’s offices. It’s not uncommon for us to represent companies that are in the crosshairs of an investigative subpoena seeking everything and anything.
How would you describe your approach to ediscovery?
Everyone gets involved. We assemble a team at the start of a case, assign roles and go through our ediscovery checklist: what sources of data do we have, what are we looking for, what’s important, where can we get more data, how will we process and review it, who will be the point person for producing it.
How do you handle ediscovery when you’re up against a larger firm?
You have to prepare for the difference in resources. A lot of large firms are quite competent at the technical aspects of production, and have a lot of money to throw at it. By our nature, we don’t keep legions of attorneys on hand. We don’t have dedicated in-house forensics and review teams. But we have certain advantages on our side, namely experience, know-how and strategic skill. The question is how you drive those advantages home. We can’t just throw a dozen attorneys at a task the way they can. That’s where technology can help achieve parity.
What’s the most important thing an ediscovery platform does for you?
At its best, it helps us understand our case and craft our arguments. We like to think of ourselves as litigators who come at things a bit differently. We try to push the envelope and develop theories that are both challenging and persuasive. To do that, we need to get the lay of the land early on. And these days, with all the data communication out there, the landscape is broad and deep. You need technology to organize all the data and make it retrievable in a meaningful way, so you can understand what you have, what the strengths of your story are and what your narrative needs to looks like. Maybe you’re building it around a particular time period or a series of conversations. You need to test different theories and ground them in the evidence as fast as possible. That’s why speed and ease of use are so critical to us, and why cloud is important too, because it helps us scale up fast.
What ediscovery software had you used in the past?
We used platforms like Relativity before Everlaw. These platforms were fine, but noticeably slower, and because they were controlled through the vendor, it wound up being more expensive, especially when it came to recurring costs and licensing.
What inspired the shift to a cloud-based solution?
People here liked Everlaw’s speed and the pricing structure, how there were no additional fees per user. You can have as many users as you want, which is fantastic, because as a small firm, when things get heavy, you often bring more people on board, whether they’re contract attorneys or other people at the office pitching in. With Everlaw we could onboard a whole team of reviewers without paying an arm and a leg just to give them access to the database. We can also upload data ourselves, which gives us a better sense for how to control costs. And since it’s completely cloud-based, we can use it from anywhere and not worry about compatibility issues. It really gave us flexibility and independence.
How important is user experience for a small firm?
Very important. To me the difference between other ediscovery platforms and Everlaw is like the difference between Windows and OS X. Both get the job done, but one does it better. Everlaw is intuitive not only because it’s quick, but well-designed. When I’m tagging records, I can quickly scroll through them and mark what’s hot, and what’s important, without the lag you get in other products. You can make notes and share them really easily, and quickly customize hot keys. It’s a lot of small time savings that make a big difference when you put them all together.
Have you used predictive coding?
We plan to use it in a case we have going on now, where we’re dealing with tons of email, multiple custodians of information, from time periods that span almost a decade. Going through it all doc by doc would be impossible, and search terms can only get you so far. Given the amount of data we’re dealing with, predictive coding will be critical.
How much do you rely on outside reviewers?
It depends on the size of the case. If we have a ton of documents, we’ll bring in reviewers. If it’s something manageable, we’ll do it in-house. We’ve done both with Everlaw, and it works really well. The times we’ve had to onboard reviewers, the process was seamless. Training time was practically non-existent. We went from zero to up and running almost overnight. Everlaw’s price structure made it easy. We can add a dozen or more reviewers and Everlaw doesn’t charge additional licensing fees. Others charge $100 per month or more per user.
Are you seeing a trend toward doing ediscovery in-house?
I think it’s becoming essential. No firm handling complex litigation can go into a case without the ability to do ediscovery in-house. The proliferation of ESI has created reams of data that you need to sift through, partly because of email but even more so because of cloud-based storage, Google, Dropbox, smartphones and apps. You can get more hands-on with the data in-house and be much more cost-effective. The outside vendors we’ve used have been fine, but if we can squeeze more value out of a case we’re always going to do that.
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