Law Firm Saves with e-Discovery
As legal firms grapple with the escalating costs of e-mail review and analysis, software applications such as Clearwell's E-mail Intelligence Platform are expected to grow in popularity, saving law firms and their clients both time and money. Users such as law firm Pooley & Oliver LLP are already reaping tremendous benefits and gaining competitive advantage from the platform.
"Depending on the particular case, we expect to save our clients between 20 and 80 percent of the cost for e-mail review by using the E-mail Intelligence Platform," says Scott Oliver, partner at Palo Alto, Calif.-based Pooley & Oliver. The law firm specializes in the litigation and trial of patent, copyright and complex technology-related cases.
As the submission of e-mails as material evidence in law cases grows, traditional methods of reviewing e-mails, primarily as paper files, weigh down a process that is often critical to the outcome of a legal case.
In fact, a few years ago, The National Law Journal reported that the cost of e-discovery preservation, collection and production in U.S. commercial litigation was projected to increase more than 150 percent, up from $700 million in 2004 to $1.8 billion in 2006. Additionally, not retrieving all relevant e-mails can result in millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages.
Searching for a Solution
According to Oliver, a tech savvy specialist in intellectual property litigation, reviewing e-mails without sophisticated software tools is akin to manual methods of reviewing paper files.
"We'd make copies of the e-mails, put them into boxes, put them in an office and sit and go through them," he says. That process often took excessive amounts of time and money, he said, and is further constrained by the need to complete the e-mail review within a specified timeframe.
Experience has taught lawyers that using traditional methods to review e-mails results in filters, or selection of relevant e-mails, not being applied consistently; difficulty sequencing e-mails, such as knowing who knew what when; difficulty knowing whether specific e-mails had already been seen and reviewed; and the large teams of associates that are required to do the reading and sorting.
In fact, it's not uncommon for law firms to outsource the e-mail review process to an offshore company to save internal personnel resources and money and to help expedite the process.
However, the option to outsource is still not the answer to improving the process of e-discovery. "These outsource firms still may not capture relevant information and are unable to recreate threads," Oliver says.
E-mail correspondence as opposed to paper correspondence has advantages for sifting and sorting, such as the fact that it's in chronological order, and can speed up discovering native threads, which can be very important in a legal case. But, says Oliver, the tools to make the process more efficient have not been available.
In fact, he says that he's been on the lookout for an e-discovery solution for some time. "There are many e-discovery aids out there, but many don't really improve the process," he says.
Oliver said some products marketed for e-discovery are nothing more than an electronic database that help keep track of documents, while others provide electronic imaging of documents. "There's no advantage to putting an e-mail into a viewable file if the search tools are limited and there's still no threading capability," he says.
That all changed about six months ago when Oliver came across information on Clearwell's E-mail Intelligence Platform in a computer industry publication. "To say the least, I was skeptical," he says.
The lawyer followed up with Clearwell, and Pooley & Oliver soon had a test unit at its facility. The Clearwell E-mail Intelligence Platform is a software application that is pre-installed on a 2U rack-mountable appliance, according to the vendor.
The law firm used PST files from a case it tried over a year ago to test the capabilities of the product. "We knew the issues that were involved in the case, so we asked the software to do certain things such as searching key words and creating threads," says Oliver.
The end result? "We concluded that the results we got were good," he says.
For example, Oliver says his team was able to build timelines for the e-mails, create privileged logs, and create searches for the most relevant documents.
Selling the solution to an existing client was easy. With 150,000 raw documents to sort through and legal fees that run between $300-$500 per hour, a client can easily spend upwards of $100,000 for e-mail review.
"Tens of thousands of dollars versus about $20,000 for the Clearwell product? Just looking at it financially, the purchase is a good idea," says Oliver.
The law firm's client gave the go-ahead to purchase the product, and before long the system kicked out 45,000 duplicate e-mails from the raw data. Before running the product in production, the legal team strips out certain information, such as duplicates and privileged client-attorney e-mails. Once a full data set is ready to run, it takes a day or less to run the e-mails through the system and get the processed information.
"Once we decide on the relevant e-mail, we burn it on a DVD or print it. We can send attorneys on the other side a DVD versus sending over 25 boxes of printed e-mails like we've done in the past," says Oliver.
The feature of the Clearwell E-mail Intelligence Platform that's most valued by Pooley & Oliver is the thread and search of static data sets. According to Clearwell, discussion threads provide a chronology of entire e-mail discussions, including all replies, carbon copies and forwards, enabling users to identify all participants and who knew what when.
Oliver expects other clients to see the value of the E-mail Intelligence Platform. "I expect that it will be an easy sell," he says. "Not only will clients save money, but we'll be better armed as we represent their case."
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