Comment: Moving to a New Model of Search and Discovery

by Haley O’Brien, ‎Legal Product & Partner Manager, Encompass Corporation

‘Search and discovery’ lays the foundation of many legal cases with firms often spending days manually sifting through information from multiple sources to identify companies, people, properties and other assets of interest and then mapping how these inter-relate. The facts they uncover build their understanding of the case and shape their strategy. While search and discovery is an essential process it can be complex, costly and time-consuming creating delays of serious concern for any legal practice. Being slow to the facts inevitably means being slow to respond to client requests – slow turnarounds strain client relationships.

Manual search is risky. It’s difficult to read through multiple files, cross-checking and analysing, and then documenting the facts. Errors arise when re-keying data during the iterative search processes – in some cases we have seen error rates as high as 20%.

Searching through material manually is also an inefficient use of highly-skilled employees. Occupying legal staff in dull and error-prone processes while they could be freed from this routine work to deliver greater value to the firm and achieve higher levels of job satisfaction makes little sense.

Given that the quality of advice a firm provides directly relates to its revenue-earning capabilities it is no surprise that forward-thinking practices are looking to improve the accuracy of their search and discovery processes.

Finding an Answer

So, what’s the answer? A realistic first step is to automate paper-driven manual processes. Automation streamlines delivery of clerical support to more complex legal work by increasing the speed and thoroughness of search and review. For example, using software to re-apply the same company number derived directly from a Companies House report to drive a follow-on search on Land Registry or The Gazette reduces data entry errors and time wasted retrieving irrelevant information.

Combining automation with visualisation increases the value. Information which in the past national registries and commercial bureaus stored on paper today is digitised, freeing it to flow across geographic and organisational boundaries. Once information is in a digital format, practices can utilise the power of visualisation to communicate complex situations clearly to support accurate decision-making.

An early application of this technology among legal practices is in insolvency cases. Increasing competition for historically low volumes of work and legislation introducing capped fees brings urgency to the need to rapidly access and analyse information and make fast commercial decisions. The technology, however, brings benefit to a range of other legal projects.

In client on-boarding, for example, it’s vital that firms quickly assess the credibility and integrity of the client to gauge whether they are being presented with a fact-based case that they can prosecute successfully. Visualising information from multiple sources helps practices quickly understand a prospective client’s situation.

Throughout any case, visual information management technology keeps lawyers informed of with the current facts, freeing them to accurately interpret any situation and provide the timely and insightful services that clients value.

In the Clouds

The use of cloud-based technology adds further value to the potent blend of visualisation and automation outlined above. With the help of cloud, stakeholders can access critical information relating to a specific case regardless of location. Cloud typically supports faster implementation times and more predictable budgeting than on-premise technologies. Equally, customers can always access the latest release of software. Cloud also offers flexibility: enabling users to ‘try before they buy’, and vendors to respond with agility to clients’ requests for new functionality.

Consuming visual information management from the cloud helps firms to achieve immediate value – they get up and running instantly with just an Internet connection and a browser, with no protracted hardware installations or expensive maintenance contracts.

While cloud eliminates the worry of constant upgrading and maintenance, visualisation allows professionals to find relevant information fast and reduce errors. An interactive solution capable of teasing out connections and turning complex data into simple pictures brings multiple benefits to legal practices.

Distilling Data

Technological innovation, in the form of cloud-based visualisation, is a boon to the modern legal practice. Visualisation allows professionals to find relevant information fast and reduce errors. An interactive solution capable of teasing out connections turns complex data into simple pictures that can be communicated within a legal practice, and beyond. Cloud technology eliminates the costs of upgrades and maintenance. As I would suggest is evidenced by Encompass Verify for Law from my own company, solutions that do all of this are commercially available to law firms today.