We have frequently written about how computer technology is a two-edged sword that can offer cost-efficient advantages to the law firm that leverages it, or can be the death knell to the law firm that does not keep pace.
Nowhere was this duality been better illustrated than in a recent story in The New York Times. Its headline alone should give any member of the profession pause: “Armies of Expensive Lawyers Replaced by Cheaper Software.”
The article discussed how electronic discovery software can analyze documents required for litigation discovery in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost when compared to using lawyers for the task. It cited the example of one discovery software company that recently helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000.
Some programs not only find documents with relevant terms at high speed, they also can extract relevant concepts and deduce patterns that would have eluded lawyers examining paper copies. One lawyer put the result this way: “From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out.”
This is not a change that has happened overnight.
Since 2006, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require producing not just paper but all electronic documents and data for trial. Defendants and their counsel must carry out this duty to preserve and provide electronically stored information (ESI), or face penalties from the court.
ESI can encompass a huge number of documents. One gigabyte of ESI can equal up to 75,000 hard-copy pages, and the largest lawsuits may require production of up to one terabyte (1,000 gigabytes) of material, or 500 million pages of paper – approximately equal to the height of 58 Empire State Buildings.
This information must be produced quickly. The Rules of Civil Procedure allow only a 120-day window after a lawsuit is filed to identify, analyze and classify relevant documents. Then the lawyers must meet to agree on the form in which the e-documents are provided (typically native, PDF or TIFF images) and agree on such logistical issues as accessibility, location and types of information, production formats and matters of privilege
Document-searching software programs are obviously a major solution, but they do not have to be the only one.
Lawyers can maintain more direct control of the process by scanning client documents as searchable PDF files in an ongoing records retention and management program. Scanned documents can also be searched for key terms, and if documents are already scanned, they can be produced and analyzed faster in the discovery process.
The electronic files are just as valid as paper ones, and much easier to access and manage. Having all key documents scanned to comply with a records retention policy can be a major advantage in litigation and settlement as a simpler way to save substantial amounts in discovery costs.
And if a client or firm is never sued, scanning documents in keeping with a retention policy creates a file database that is easily searchable, saving both time and money and greatly reducing the paper copy document burden.
Where there is change, there is also opportunity.
Editor’s note: Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management, a national law firm practice-management consultancy based in Venice, Calif. For more information, visit www.lawbiz.com.