Corporate legal departments increasingly recognize that, as more and more information is maintained in electronic form, the need to manage resources dedicated to addressing e-discovery requirements becomes ever more critical. This is leading general counsel to seek better ways to prepare for and staff e-discovery projects.
Robert Half Legal’s newly released research report, Future Law Office: Best Practices for a New Era in the Legal Profession, identifies the following strategies as some of the key ways law firms and corporate legal departments are striving to better manage these complex projects:
1. Planning for what’s to come. Due to the continued vigilance of courts in holding companies accountable for how they handle both paper and electronic documents subject to legal discovery, corporate legal departments and law firms are likewise becoming more attentive in ensuring their companies or clients understand the importance of good records management. Businesses that fail to be proactive in managing the data they’re required to keep will usually face higher “downstream” costs.
Whether they are accessed internally or externally, e-discovery experts help companies identify what information or data a company has, where it’s stored, who has custody of it and whether or not it needs to be kept. This requires corporate legal departments to work closely with their information technology departments and others to ensure IT professionals understand data retention requirements from a legal perspective. Close coordination will prevent unpleasant surprises later on if certain information is needed for legal purposes.
2. Staffing in new ways. Companies today have a number of options for managing e-discovery projects. These include in-house resources, project lawyers, third-party service providers, outside counsel or a combination of these.
Unless a legal department is large enough to have an in-house expert, the best solution is often to partner with a third party firm with the necessary expertise. This may range from hiring a single consultant who can guide a company throughout the course of a project to outsourcing certain items off of a discovery “menu.” For example, more companies are using third parties for aspects of discovery such as gathering documents from custodians, processing documents for review and actual document reviewing.
Another alternative, especially for discovery initiatives that require large numbers of lawyers, is for corporate legal departments to assemble their own teams of project lawyers and paralegals to assist them with aspects of e-discovery or ask their outside counsel to assemble these teams. This is most often accomplished with the assistance of a firm specializing in e-discovery projects and staffing.
In selecting an option, organizations should start by evaluating where they are in the process, how much data they need to review, how they’re going to cull information down to a manageable level and, finally, how they’ll review the information in a timely and effective manner.
3. Asking outside firms for better pricing. As e-discovery options expand, companies that choose to work through their outside counsel are asking these law firms for better pricing models. Reminiscent of using a third-party firm’s menu, companies frequently are breaking the discovery process into smaller pieces and asking for rates on an a la carte basis. Companies might request a reduced rate for document reviews, for example, while expecting to pay more for high-end legal analysis and advice.
To meet these pricing requests, law firms also are engaging teams of project lawyers and paralegals to assist with document reviews and other aspects of e-discovery on behalf of their clients. In deciding how to staff such matters, law firms need to evaluate all options and consider the preferences of the client. Rather than paying for a group of associates to handle a review of documents, a client might prefer using a team of specialized project lawyers with the oversight of outside counsel.
4. Designating in-house discovery experts. Although this trend is not yet commonplace, a growing number of law firms and corporations are adding e-discovery positions. These roles may be filled by lawyers or litigation support professionals, such as specialized paralegals, who possess a combination of legal and technology expertise. Their responsibilities often entail overseeing internal e-discovery initiatives, including identifying a process for sorting through voluminous electronic data and identifying information relevant to legal proceedings. This area of law is expected to see strong growth in the years ahead.
For more information on how firms are managing e-discovery projects and other trends affecting the profession, or to download a copy of the report, please visit www.futurelawoffice.com.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.