Lee Meyrick, Director of Information Management at Nuix, explains how legal services providers can standardise and automate their workflows to complete larger volumes of work faster and with fewer errors.

This increasing volume and complexity of data involved in eDiscovery is making it harder for law firms and litigation support vendors to deliver timely, error-free and profitable services. The complex realities of the eDiscovery marketplace are pushing up costs for legal services firms but their clients are looking to pay less. But, can legal services providers change this equation by standardising and automating their workflows?

Why eDiscovery is Getting Harder

In eDiscovery, every case has idiosyncrasies. There are few agreed standards other than the guidelines in each jurisdiction governing how to exchange evidence with the opposing side. Litigants are free to choose the methods that suit them to get to that point, while facing the possibility that the court or the other side will challenge those methods.

In addition, a broader range of evidence types is becoming discoverable. Data types which courts and legal teams once viewed as too hard are now commonplace. As a result, the tools used by legal services providers for eDiscovery are becoming more complex.

Achieving accurate, timely and defensible results requires the services of highly skilled professionals, who often have broader information technology skills as well as legal knowledge. People who have these skills are in very high demand, throughout the industry and within the companies they work for. These skilled professionals must often complete large volumes of what they consider to be repetitive, low-value ‘grunt’ work. They may feel frustrated because they cannot provide value higher up the chain.

At the same time, clients are increasingly cost conscious about their legal services. To meet deadlines and budgets, people may cut corners or try to find ‘creative’ solutions to problems without ensuring this process is documented and repeatable. This increases the probability of errors, which can have dire consequences like having to redo the work, not being paid for the work or court sanctions, if a judge believes the error was a deliberate attempt to hide evidence.

Why Opt for Standardised Workflows?

Many businesses across any number of disciplines have recognised that standardising workflows and automating them is a good way to minimise costs. In our experience of the eDiscovery market, approximately one fifth of firms have documented their best practices and built them into workflows that all their staff could follow and repeat consistently.

A smaller number have gone a step further and automated these workflows, using off-the-shelf or custom-developed applications to guide human operators through each step in the eDiscovery process.

This approach can provide a repeatable series of steps so that staff do not have to reinvent the wheel with each new project, synchronise processes across multiple projects, teams or office locations, reduce the opportunities for staff to cut corners and most importantly, achieve more consistent outcomes with fewer errors.

Experiences with Workflows and Automation

Case Study: A multinational law firm

A multinational law firm with offices across the Asia-Pacific region and Europe conducted a holistic review of its eDiscovery processes in 2011, to make sure it had in place a best-practice, defensible and efficient model that was also flexible so it could meet the changing needs of clients.

By going back to basics and documenting all the steps and decision points it was easier to work out what was the best practice and the most efficient way of doing things. Documenting the processes also revealed considerable variations in procedures between the company’s offices.

The firm took around three months to create a series of standardised workflows that were documented and defensible, clearly outlining the steps to take at each stage of the process. Over the following months, the firm worked with an external consultant to create a series of automation scripts for parts of the workflows.

While the firm put considerable resources and time into standardising its workflows and automation, it has seen tangible benefits since implementing them. It has boosted efficiency through streamlined work processes, increased confidence in the defensibility of results and enabled offices to share work by standardising processes.

Case Study: Lighthouse eDiscovery

Lighthouse eDiscovery – a leading provider of technology-enabled discovery services to Fortune 100 corporations across the United States – sought to develop a comprehensive workflow system when it started using Nuix software in 2011.

“We addressed the end-to-end workflow: ingesting, various techniques for culling and filtering, optical character recognition for PDFs and exporting,” explained Chris Dahl, Senior Director of Solutions and Technology at Lighthouse eDiscovery. “We already had workflows but this re-energised the push to create scalability, predictability and efficiency and to reduce errors.”

The firm is now developing an integrated process automation system to link all these workflows together.

“In building a business case, we showed the amount of time it would take to process data in a reactionary mode with a ‘willy nilly’ workflow and then how long it would take with an established workflow that could be executed by a junior tech,” said Dahl. “Part of that was a case study showing that the work we did in automating and streamlining workflows allowed us to handle twice as many cases and twice the data for the same cost.”

Another part of justifying the expense of the workflow project was rigorously tracking errors before and after its implementation. “When we started tracking in earnest over three years ago, we were seeing an initial error rate of about 5% – now we’ve effectively got that down to zero,” said Dahl.

Key Benefits of Workflows and Automation

Many businesses across any number of disciplines have recognised that standardising workflows and automating them is a good way to minimise costs.

However, for firms of any size, by standardising and automating eDiscovery workflows, they will also see significant benefits such as: delivering higher throughput and greater certainty around project timeframes at a lower cost, reducing staffing and training costs by empowering analysts and technicians to complete complex eDiscovery tasks, minimising errors by standardising settings and providing a clear set of steps to follow at each stage of the process and can ensure outputs are more defensible by documenting each step taken to achieve the result.