By Tim Rollins
In an EDRM webinar on “How to Evaluate and Improve Your E-Discovery Process,” three experts offered their thoughts on processes and tools for self-assessment, getting buy-in for change, and understanding what mature e-discovery operations look like. In this blog post, I’ll be boiling that informative hour down into seven great tips that you can use to figure out where your e-discovery processes are up to par and where they need improvement.
All too often teams don’t take a proactive approach to evaluating their e-discovery processes. They end up learning it the hard way. Tiana Van Dyk, Manager of E-Discovery and Litigation Support for Brunet, Duckworth & Palmer, LLP, recalls that “typically, clients evaluate their e-discovery process after something has gone wrong, either a litigation event or something else that triggers their understanding of the risks that are involved if there were to be a litigation event.”
Of course, if you’re reading this article, chances are you don’t want to end up learning your e-discovery process is lacking in a crisis situation. So what can you do to get out ahead of curve? Here are seven recommendations.
- Reassess your process regularly. Tara Jones, Legal Services Manager of E-Discovery at Oath, reassesses their e-discovery process twice a year. “As often as e-discovery changes, and as often as our company changes, we have to know that we’re not missing anything.”
- Embrace a philosophy of continuous improvement. Kevin Clark, Esq., Litigation Support Manager at Thomson & Knight, urges legal professionals to look for opportunities to improve at all times. “Process improvement is going to be key for any department trying to get better. It’s a core operating principle that every department should have; they should always be looking to improve their processes, similar to continuing training or continuing education.”
- Get everyone involved. If someone has a role in e-discovery, they should participate in the evaluation. “When we decided to evaluate our process, we tried to get everybody that was involved at all with our process around the table at one time,” Jones explains. “We announced it to our IT people, attorneys, litigation support, and paralegals.”
- Map the process. Jones continues, “We put our last finalized whiteboard data [process] on the whiteboard at the beginning of the meeting, and we go from the beginning to the end of the diagram to explain, ‘yes, this is working,’ and ‘no, this isn’t.’”
- Understand your data. You can’t access your data when you need it if you don’t understand your organization’s information governance policies. Kevin Clark explains, “The key issues are how the organization intakes data, creates data, stores data. How is it structured? Who has access to it? How does it deal with old data?”
- Technology helps, but it’s not everything. “Tools are half the battle,” says Van Dyk. “You can buy the most expensive tools in the world, but if you don’t have people who know how to use them, you’re taking on unnecessary risk and may be missing the most important benefits of the technology. Make sure you have the right people in place.”
- Define roles and responsibilities. Skilled people working with the right tools can help ensure that your e-discovery process is efficient and defensible, but the last key component is the process. Do they know what they’re supposed to do and when? Van Dyk urges legal teams to “determine the different tasks and processes you have, and pinpoint the person who’s responsible for each of them. If you can’t right out of the gate, you have a lack of maturity there.”
Even with these tips—and they are certainly good ones—it can be daunting to evaluate your e-discovery process. Thankfully, there is now a simple way to get started on that evaluation. Exterro, in partnership with EDRM at Duke Law, has developed the E-Discovery Maturity Quiz. Based on EDRM’s E-Discovery Maturity Self-Assessment Test (eMSAT-1), the quiz takes the expertise of leading e-discovery practitioners (including both Tiana Van Dyk and Kevin Clark) and distills it into 20 multiple choice questions that allow e-discovery and other legal professionals to easily and quickly benchmark their e-discovery process maturity and identify improvement strategies in just 10 minutes.