Evolving Software Landscape
The e-discovery software market has evolved greatly since its inception over 15 years ago. In the early days of e-discovery, software products were largely task-specific. This model reflected the fact that many e-discovery processes were outsourced to a variety of third parties, including law firms and service providers, who focused on specific phases of e-discovery projects and needed software that served a singular purpose.
You might see an in-house team using one piece of software for legal holds, then shipping ESI out to a law firm or LSP to review using an entirely different product. Today, that makes less sense for a number of reasons.
First, many corporate law departments are looking to insource e-discovery activities to reduce costs. The logical desire for increased efficiency and multi-purpose tools has compelled software vendors to rethink the traditional model and develop more comprehensive e-discovery software. Organizations that in the past may have outsourced document review now achieve costs savings, improved efficiency, and greater data security by conducting review in-house.
Advances in data science have also given rise to powerful analytics capabilities allowing software developers to provide users with greater insight into data sets much earlier in the e-discovery process, during the early case assessment (ECA) phase. Organizations using ECA can greatly reduce the volume of ESI they need to review, as well as make better informed case strategy decisions based on an early look at the data involved in a legal matter.
There is also growing acceptance among the legal community that e-discovery is a standard business process that should be managed, measured, and optimized. Exterro places a much greater emphasis on workflow, as evidenced by our commitment to offering project management software that streamlines workflows and increases legal team efficiency.
There are a variety of different types of e-discovery software applications that span the entire EDRM. Products that serve a very specific function are known as point tools. An example of an e-discovery point tool would be a collection application that's sole purpose is to extract data from a given system.
Products that are designed for broader functionality and that allow users to build out specific capabilities as needed are called platforms. These systems function as engines, or portals, atop which internal applications and other third-party technologies can be integrated. E-Discovery platforms are organically designed, meaning they're technologically agnostic and capable of ingesting information from almost any source.
While platforms tend be more expensive than point tools and involve lengthier and more complex deployments, there are some significant advantages to investing in a platform product solution over a point tool. For starters, platforms offer a high degree of flexibility. A true e-discovery platform is designed with an open architecture to integrate with a variety of systems and fit any IT environment. This allows your organization to expand on a single system rather than continually purchase and replace products to meet evolving demands.
Another benefit of a platform product is the flow of information and data from one stage of the e-discovery process to the next. A platform may include a variety of distinct modules that perform specific functions, but they are built on the same technical framework and can therefore exchange data seamlessly. It can be difficult to achieve that level of cohesiveness with point tools which aren't necessarily designed to work with other products. Even when point tools are connected together, the integrations tend to be somewhat unwieldy and unpredictable. Some technologists refer to these haphazard bundles of disparate technologies as "Frankenstacks."
In addition to inefficiencies, they also introduce more risk into the e-discovery process, especially through the possibility of data loss or breach. Organizations face serious consequences, both financial and reputational, when confidential or sensitive data is stolen or lost, so any additional risk exposure in this area must be seriously considered when choosing e-discovery solutions.
E-Discovery Collection Software
Traditionally-outsourced steps in the e-discovery process, such as data collection and processing, have been earmarked by legal departments as areas for potential cost savings and improved operational efficiency by legal departments. By bringing e-discovery data collection and processing software in-house, they can get more control over when they can access and analyze potentially relevant document, empowering them to make strategic case decisions sooner. While collection may seem more "mechanical" as a task than document review or legal hold, it is vitally important for organizations to use the right e-discovery collection software for their technology stack and their strategy.
In order to ensure that collection is taking place across all enterprise data sources, the software must be able to integrate/connect with and connect to all areas in which data might be transferred or stored. This should include seamless collection capabilities from commonly used data sources like email, team-wide communication and collaboration tools like Slack, file shares, and other data repositories.
Put simply, a collection tool does little good if it can’t perform collection from all sources in which responsive data might be stored. Integrations will allow collection to take place across the entire enterprise, which is especially important for organizations that have multiple physical offices, server banks, and/or other disparate data sources. Manually collecting across dozens, hundreds, or perhaps thousands of different data sources makes it nearly impossible to ensure that all potentially responsive data was collected.
Speedy collection can help organizations manage their budgets and timelines more effectively. Perhaps the biggest immediate benefit of bringing collection and processing in-house is that the timeframe for gathering datasets drops drastically. Whether it’s collecting data in-house through an IT team (which puts a strain on organizational resources) or outsourcing collection to a third-party, seeking a software solution that legal teams can use themselves empowers legal professionals get to the facts of a matter more quickly.
E-Discovery Analytics Software
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.
Reducing management guru Peter Drucker’s insights down to a pithy quote like this one may not do justice to the depth of his insight into business and management. But love them or hate them, short maxims like this have become so engrained in business culture because they say something true. For legal professionals, the way to ensure repeatability, defensibility, and efficiency of your e-discovery process is to treat it as a business process. And that means identifying metrics, tracking them, and managing with the goal of optimizing them.
To assist in this process, e-discovery software must offer legal teams quantitative, measurements that they can evaluate over time and move towards their goals, whatever they may be--lower per case costs, faster timelines, or perhaps better case outcomes. Analytics are at play from the start of the e-discovery process, during legal hold, through the very end of document review and production. Software should be able to help teams understand questions like:
- How many of my custodians are acknowledging legal holds?
- How much data is involved in a given matter? How many documents?
- How does that volume of data translate into costs and timelines?
- Does an initial look at the data reveal additional custodians or keywords?
- How much ESI in a given collection is responsive?
- How long will document review take?
- Who are the most accurate reviewers?
Researching E-Discovery Software
As is the case with much of today's connected consumer world, buyers have a variety of ways to research e-discovery software products prior to actually engaging with a specific vendor. Some common activities associated with researching the e-discovery software market include:
E-Discovery Software Checklist
Besides specific capabilities, there are some fundamental e-discovery software characteristics that should be part of your assessment process. These include:
E-Discovery Software Characteristics to Look For
Ease of Use
There is a temptation to get caught up in the advanced capabilities and features of a software application, but nothing is more important than the overall user experience. For any software solution to be effective, it has to be intuitive and reflect the way people work. You won't have to go far to hear stories of companies that invested in an expensive tool only to find it be overly complicated and unwieldy. Look for software that doesn't require a lot of training to get up and running, and one that gives you the ability to configure the look and feel.
As discussed earlier, integrations have become an increasingly important e-discovery software consideration. E-Discovery is a dynamic process, and the software systems that support it have to be able to leverage other technologies. Integrations with enterprise data sources and other IT investments, such as HR systems, greatly improve the exchange of up-to-date information and eliminate the risk of human error. Make sure to evaluate e-discovery software on the basis of its technology integrations.
The emergence of cloud computing and other technological innovations has revolutionized how organizations deploy and manage enterprise software. E-Discovery software must be flexible enough to support your organization's current and future IT environment. The benefits of cloud deployment extend beyond deployment. Users of cloud technology receive security and functionality updates automatically and are able to rely on external, rather than in-house, resources for technical support.
Client Support and Services
It's important to go beyond the technology itself and look at the level of support a vendor is willing to deliver. Ideally, you will partner with a company that's engaged before, during, and after the actual purchase of the software. E-Discovery software deployments, especially those involving integrations, can be complex. You want to work with a vendor who is committed to making the deployment a success and applies a systematic approach to project execution. Beyond the actual implementation, it's important that your software vendor is responsive when issues arise and is willing to work collaboratively to ensure you get the most out of your investment.
For more on these and other e-discovery software considerations, download Exterro's E-Book, "Top 8 Critical Considerations for Legal and Compliance Software."
We hope this section of the Beginner's Guide to E-Discovery will be a useful resource as you navigate the e-discovery software market. If you are interested in seeing how Exterro's software works, you can sign up for a software demo here.