Watson Takes on E-Discovery

Watson Takes on E-Discovery

By now you've likely seen the NY Times article about computers and e-discovery.

For folks in the legal field, the content of the article isn't news, I trust: Computer analysis is making huge inroads in e-discovery and is in many cases replacing attorneys (and their jobs).

Think about the change-adoption curve (technically, the innovation-diffusion curve).

For example:

  • Cell phones are way over on the right - almost everyone over the age of, say, 14 who can afford one has one.
  • Flat-screen TVs are in the middle - most people think they're good things (if they aren't opposed to TV in general), and maybe half the people who want one have one.
  • Tablet PCs such as the iPad are somewhere in the early-adopter range.
  • 3D TVs are way over on the left, with the bleeding-edge enthusiasts who really come even before the innovators.

So when mainstream publications such as the NY Times write about trends? Usually as innovators give way to early adopters.2

Just because the "paper of record" says something doesn't make it so, of course. But it does mean that every GC and Litigation DGC/AGC in America (and likely Canada) now has this trend on their radar. And they can no longer pretend otherwise... because they know their CFO, COO, and CEO have all read this article.

Thus it's now officially on the radar of every BigLaw and not-so-BigLaw firm.

The message is this: inefficiency and high billing rates for e-discovery will no longer be acceptable.

Yes, people have been talking about this for a few years at least. Still, there have been many corporations that haven't yet "put the hammer down," are still accepting the old ways. I don't see that continuing, because I don't see a CFO putting up with it anymore. When the GC goes in to discuss budget, the CFO's going to ask, "What are we spending on this e-discovery stuff?" and "It's all being done by computer now, right?" The GC is likely to have to spend time explaining why it's not all being done by computer - there are certain aspects of review that still require human strategic and even tactical judgment. The GC will have to justify that work but will get enormous pushback on other human-led aspects of e-discovery.

Here's Where LPM Comes In

Efficiency in e-discovery is becoming required. Efficiency requires project management. You may not call it project management, you may not use what professional project managers think of as the traditional tools of project management, but nonetheless, e-discovery is a project that must be managed efficaciously.

As it happens, e-discovery is one of the aspects of the legal world where some traditional project management approaches can work. The core parameters are known and well understood - how long it takes to process a document, what the range of size and complexity of a "document" is, what effect adding another keyword or concept will have on throughput and the number of "hits," false-positive ratios, and so on. I suspect the Integreon or Ryley Carlock gurus could rattle off these numbers - and they and their peers aren't alone in their ability to do so.

Indeed, I know that these two organizations are using project management throughout their e-discovery work. Paul Easton is leading a similar charge in Asia. It's happening.

The NY Times is sending a message that efficiency is now part of the baseline set of "features" in choosing an e-discovery supplier, whether vendor or law firm. They're sending that message to CFOs everywhere. It won't take long for that message to flow down to any GCs that have been doing things "the old way."

It's a step forward.

Maybe next year the NY Times will have an article about Legal Project Management - efficiency in areas other than e-discovery - on the front page.

But whether or not the NY Times validates the trend in print, the practice of Legal Project Management - not just the talk, not the occasional training classes, but day-to-day practice - is finally poised to move past the innovators and into the early adopters.

Read the rest on the Lexician Blog.