Cloud-Based Discovery: The Agile Litigator’s Best Friend

By Aaron Crockett posted 09-13-2018 12:23


Aaron Crockett, JD, in Portland, OR

Oregon is on the cutting edge of beer, cannabis, and hipster-ism (it’s a thing).  But when it comes to electronic discovery, Oregon can feel like the land that time forgot.  Print-to-PDF is still the predominant method of collecting and producing email and relatively few attorneys, particularly in the older generation, have a solid grasp of metadata or why it is important and useful.  Oregon’s antiquated discovery rules are certainly no help. But we are still in the modern world and the impact of the data wave crashing into the legal industry is felt even here, however remote we may seem.

Just like everywhere else, the volume of data that lawyers here need to handle is increasing exponentially while revenues are shifting, or even shrinking.  The legal market is changing, and small firms in particular need agility to adapt.  Reducing overhead and capital expenditures are no longer just good ideas, but inescapable market imperatives. So an agile firm needs a document review tool that is (1) secure, (2) flexible, (3) readily useable, and (4) minimizes overhead and capital expenditure.  Cloud solutions offer the best fit for these needs.

The cloud is more secure than you think.

Data security is not just a nice thing to have; keeping clients’ confidences is a lawyer’s stock and trade.  Massive data breaches like Equifax dominate headlines, so ever-cautious attorneys are quick to turtle-up with their clients’ data in on-premises solutions because they feel more secure.  If you are a small firm, this solution is likely housed in server closet at the back of your office and maintained by the same guy who fixes the phones.  This may sound counter-intuitive, but your clients’ data is likely safer in the cloud than it is in that closet. 

Remember that the “cloud” we are talking about is an actual place, and in most cases it is a state-of-the-art, high-security datacenter staffed 24/7 by actual data security experts.  The data it holds only touches your devices through an encrypted connection and resides only in volatile memory, vanishing as soon as the browser window closes. The data living in your server closet, or in your laptop, will never be that safe without extensive effort and serious inconvenience.  Data convenience is the key to agility.

Cloud-based tools can readily scale to handle as much, or as little, data as you need and make it available anywhere.

Moving to cloud-based discovery infrastructure allows you to access data anywhere with any device.  Suddenly BYOD policies can work without compromising security and telecommuting becomes practical. Cloud platforms can readily scale from tiny matters with just a few documents to huge matters with millions, so a small firm with a roster of contract attorneys can take on document review in that new big case that just hit a key client. The reviewers don’t even need to be in the office; they can login from anywhere using their own hardware, further enhancing your flexibility. Not only does the client relationship stay in your firm, so does the revenue that would have gone to vendor-middlemen or a larger competitor. The menu of logistical options is nearly limitless for small firms that embrace the power of cloud-based tools.

Selecting a tool your firm will actually use is critical to successfully embracing what the cloud has to offer.

Litigation is about facts, and facts live in documents.  So the document review tool is to an attorney what a hammer is to a carpenter, and therein lies a key lesson about utility.  If you go to the tool section of the home improvement center and look at the hammers, you will see an entire wall of different hammer choices and a remarkable array of features.  Yet they all have metal heads; they all fall into one weight class or another; and they all drive nails.  The key difference between the hammer a hobbyist buys to drive a single nail every few weeks and the hammer a carpenter buys to drive nails all day long is in the handle; i.e. the user interface.

Every platform provider will try to sell you on whatever features they perceive to be driving the value of their intellectual property at the moment, but don’t be distracted. If what you really need is a workhorse that can process, search, and review email and office documents quickly and efficiently, you are in luck.  Literally every platform can do that.  So focus on the user interface. 

Remember that this is the Web; finding and tagging documents should be as easy as buying things you don’t need and liking cat videos, because that is how you will get your people to actually use an unfamiliar tool to do familiar work better and faster.  Your document review tool’s user interface needs be clean, intuitive, and free of rarely-used power-user features and other extraneous clutter. Every vendor will tell you that their interface is “intuitive,” but talk them into letting you actually use the system before giving them any money.  With a great interface, basic review should require no more training to get up and running than would an ill-advised shopping spree.

Cloud-based infrastructure reduces the need for skilled in-house IT support and converts fixed capital expenditures into recurring costs that are more readily passed on to the client.

Moving your discovery operation to the cloud changes some the fundamental calculus for a law firm.  One major shift is that data storage, or at least storage of active evidence data, becomes a usage-based recurring cost of doing business rather than a one-time capital expenditure on a pile of new hardware.  The cloud may therefore appear more expensive over time, but remember that on-premises solutions often present a false economy.  On premises storage requires on-premises support, and skilled IT labor is neither free, nor readily passed on to a client. But costs for hosting your client’s evidence in a cloud-based review platform generally can be.

Also Read Chris Hunt's Blog & John Sawyer's Blog