Blog Legal eDiscovery
August 2nd

How to Buy Legal Discovery Software Like a Pro

George Socha
George Socha

How to Buy Legal Discovery Software Like a Pro

Committing to an eDiscovery platform for the first time? Considering switching platforms? Contemplating augmenting your existing set of tools?

Whatever your motivation, when it comes time to buy electronic discovery software you want to make sure you select a platform and a platform provider that align well with your goals and the legal process of your organization.

While there is no one right way to determine which eDiscovery solution best matches your needs, there are some key considerations to keep in mind. We'll focus on three sets of considerations today: The three questions; support for your initiative; and vetting platform and provider.

Ask the Three Questions

To do a good job of selecting appropriate eDiscovery tools, you first need a solid understanding of what you seek to accomplish. For that, start at the 30,000 foot level. One effective way to kick off the buying process is to ask yourself three critically important questions:

1. Where Are We Now?

Unless you know where you are, it is impossible to figure out where you might want to be instead.

Find out what tools currently are in use, who uses them, how much they use them, and what they do with them. Probe to learn how those tools work well for your organization as well as where they fall  short.

Gather information about your commitments with respect to those tools: contracts in place, contract renewal dates, likely changes in contractual terms, but also workflows developed around those tools, training undertaking in connection with them, and use of those tools by others outside your organization such as your own clients.

2. Where Do We Want to Be, At the End of the Process?

If you don't have an end in mind, any attempt at selecting a new platform will be, essentially, random.

First, pull together internal thoughts. Talk with stakeholders, individually and in groups. Conduct brainstorming sessions with them, with a focus that includes what they like and do not like about what they have now, what they wish they could do but currently are unable to, what they would like to be able to do if there were no technological or financial limitations. If your organization has tracked issues with the current platform - for example with a ticketing system - then go to that content. If anyone in your organization has conducted earlier brainstorming sessions, pull in that information.

Next, gather ideas from the outside. Talk with clients and customers. Talk with your counterparts at other organizations in your industry. Take advantage of the wealth of information on the web, everything from content available through industry associations to blog posts, white papers, webinars, and more.

Ask providers for their suggestions on what you might want you end game to be. Using open-ended questions, get them talking about what they think their systems could do for you that tools from others might not be able to achieve.

Ask about platform, of course, but you want the big pictures so also cover eDiscovery processes and related eDiscovery services.

Finally, analyze, synthesize, and put together you own picture of where you want to be done you have selected, implemented, and begun to use a new platform. 

3. How Can We Get from (1) Where We Are Now to (2) Where We Want to Be?

Once you have a handle on where you are today and a sense of where you would like to be tomorrow, start mapping out the steps it will take for you to get from the former to the latter.

This will be where the heavy lifting takes place. It also is where you go from 30,000 feet and deep into the weeds. More on that later in this post.

Get Support from All the Right People

There is little point in setting out to buy legal discovery software if, in the end, the purchase will not get approved or, if approved, does not actually help you get from where you are now to where you want to be in the future.

Start at the Top

First and foremost, you need support from the top. The top might mean the board of directors, it could be the CEO or president, it might be the head of your group. Support from the top should be open, so that others in the organization are aware of it. If the support comes in some form of "behind closed doors" situation, that is a strong signal that the support is not real and won't actually be there when you need it.

Call on Key Stakeholders

Second, you want support from key stakeholders. These are the people, generally in-house, whose functions and teams are most likely to use, or be affected by the use of, any new eDiscovery platform.

At law firms, key stakeholders usually are some combination of:

  • Practicing attorneys, typically litigators and trial lawyers but potentially also lawyers working in other areas;
  • eDiscovery and litigation support professionals;
  • Paralegals and legal assistants;
  • IT personnel; and
  • Business staff, from CIO or CTO on down.

When corporations, governmental bodies, legal service providers, and similar organizations are the purchasers, key stakeholders for the selection of legal discovery software look much like those seen in the information governance arena:

  • Legal;
  • IT;
  • Privacy;
  • Risk;
  • Security; and
  • Business.

Often, selection of eDiscovery software is driven by some combination of personnel from legal teams and IT departments. They typically are the people with the greatest interest and need as well as the ones whose budgets, personnel, and processes will be affected the most.

Other stakeholders who may want or need to be involved, such as procurement or human resources; in some situations, their involvement can be essential.

Then Do The Heavy Lifting

You've got support from the top. You've met, at least initially, with key stakeholders. You've started asking the three questions and analyzing the data you've gathered. But you still have much of the heavy lifting to do.

As you start to focus on potential contenders, you will need to check them out, look at their platforms, and see how well what they have to offer matches what you need and want.

Check Out the Providers

As you begin to look at eDiscovery platform providers, check out the providers' track record. Find out how long each provider has been in business, and how long it has been in the eDiscovery business in particular.

Look for past signs of success - and failure. For failures, in particular, it can be instructive to know not just what went wrong but more importantly what the provider did to recover, make things right for customers, and learn from the experience.

Look at the development of the platform over time, at how it has evolved, what capabilities is has added, which ones it has removed.

Look, as well, at personnel. Find out who runs the organization, and how they go about running the business. Check up on personnel longevity; do folks tend to stay a long time, is there a constant churn, are other patterns detectible.

Because relationships with eDiscovery platform providers often are for the long haul, you want to get a solid understanding of where the provider is planning on going in the future. Gather information about the provider's plans, under NDA if necessary.

Remember that while product roadmaps are important, they almost always change. If they don't that is its own reason to be concerned.

Check Out the Platforms

A significant part of your decision-making process necessarily will focus on what the current and contending platforms can do today.

Part of what you can do is ask questions. You might start with a written request for proposal. You might do something less formal. Whatever route you follow, some of the key areas to cover are:

  • Access rights. Control matters. The platform should have a rich set of administrative capabilities, so that users can be given the access they need while being restricted for going into - or even knowing about - areas and content that you don't want them knowing about.
  • Capabilities. Part of what you will examine will be the capabilities the platform offers. If, for example, you are looking at data processing capabilities, you will want to know how to get electronically stored information into the system, what the platform does to process that ESI, and what it does with the processed data. You will want to know how many file types it can process, what it does when it runs into data it can't process properly, how it tracks the steps it has taken.

    For eDiscovery systems, determine how much of the EDRM functionality the platform addresses. Does it include data collection, data processing, early case assessment tools, predictive coding? Does it support deduplication, indexing, OCR? Can you use it to review documents? Does it have tools that assist in internal investigations and legal holds? Does it help you address GDPR requirement or other data privacy regulations?

    Find out how it handles not just the routine electronic documents but content in multiple languages, audio, video, and images such as pictures and photographs. Ask about redaction capabilities as well as functions such as imaging on the fly.

    Figure out how the system addresses email threading; deduplication and near-deduplication; concept identification, clustering, and searching; and predictive coding.

    Look at its visual analytics and dig into its use of artificial intelligence. For the latter, explore how, where, and in what ways it deploys both supervised and unsupervised machine learning as well as deep learning. See whether it makes use of AI models, whether its models can be re-used, mixed, and matched, and what security it uses in connection with those models.

    Make sure it can meet your document production needs, and help you do so easily. Look at the production options it makes available. See whether it has safety mechanisms built in to reduce the chances that you inadvertently produce documents you meant to hold back or confidential information that should not be disclosed.
  • Capacity. In addition to capabilities, you should look at capacity. You will want to find out how much data the platform can handle, how it handles metadata, how quickly data sets move through the platform, and how many people can use the platform simultaneously. Find out, as well, what it takes to increase capacity: what hardware you might need to add or licenses obtain, how quickly changes can be made, and what implications there may be for what you pay to the provider.
  • Deployment options. Learn what deployment options are available. Some systems might run only in a cloud of the provider's choice. Others may only operate locally. For maximum versatility and flexibility, look for a system that can be deployed in the provider's cloud, a cloud of your choosing, a data center of your choice, your server room, on a mobile appliance, or any combination of the those options.
  • Implementation. Some tools are simple to use, but many others, especially more powerful ones, can require many steps and quite some time to implement. If the platform you are looking at falls into that latter category, find out what assistance the provider offers to make sure its software can be properly deployed. Ask whether it has a team of people available to ensure successful implementation. Find out what process the provider follows, what checkpoints it establishes. Learn how it gathers information and provisions systems, if that is necessary; what training it provides; how it helps customers validate and test the system; what measures it has put in place to allows for evaluate, feedback, and refinement of the implementation. Evaluate whether there's an effort to streamline the process so even the more powerful platforms don't feel disjointed.
  • Pricing. As well all know, none of this comes for free. Don't just ask for pricing. Look for approaches to pricing that fit your circumstances. You might be better off paying on a per-GB per-month basis, but it could be that one annual all-in fee better suits your needs. Try to get a full picture of any additional charges you may need to pay, such as per-user fees, burst pricing, or additional licenses for needed third-party software. 
  • Support. Sooner or later, no matter how good the platform, you are going to need help. Now is the time to figure out what support the provider makes available. 
  • Training. The more powerful the platform, the more important it becomes to learn how to take full advantage of the platform's capabilities. Ways providers help users make better use of their software vary, of course, but options include [...]
  • UI. User interface matters, and assessing how well the user interface works for you is important. You want something that you and those who use the platform for you find to be easy to use. They should be able to navigate the system without difficulty. Controls should be obvious, and where you expect them to be.
  • Updates. Get information about how frequently updates are performed, how they are delivered, and what sort of disruption updating might cause. If the platform can be deployed in more than way, such as SaaS and on-premise, determine whether there are differences in updating depending on deployment model used.
  • Users. Ask what intended users look like. Is this a platform meant for legal departments? Is it designed primarily for service providers? Does it have features specifically aimed at government agencies? How well crafted is it for use by law firms?

Legal professionals should go beyond just posing questions to the provider. Additional steps include:

  • Take the tool for a spin. Take the platform out for a spin. See if the provider will set up a test or demo environment for you, let you load you own data to the platform and use that for testing, or do a proof of concept. If you encounter difficulties, bring them to the provider's attention; the problem might be with the software but it also could be the all too common user error. 
  • Check references. Get references from the provider and check them, of course, but don't expect much of use. Any reference named by a provider ought to say positive things about the platform.
  • Check beyond references. As any references named by a provider ought to be saying good things about that provider and its platform, take the next step and find your own "references", people or organizations that currently use the platform, others that used to use it and don't anymore, maybe even other people considering using it. Then talk with them.
  • Learn about and from customers. Gather information about the provider's customer base and talk with a sampling of those customers. Look at customer demographics such as how many there are, how large they are, what type of customer they are, and in what industries. Look for historical information as well, so you can map out changes in the customer base over time.

    Get names of individuals at current, former, and prospective customers and contact them, asking about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Ask those customers how they use the provider's eDiscovery platform, what they can - and cannot - do with it, and how well both provider and platform meet their needs. Find out how hard they push the provider and how the provider responds. Ask what they like the most about the platform, what they like least, and where the provider itself shone or came up short.
  • Continued improvement of platform. To remain viable, eDiscovery platforms need to keep changing. If you can, get information about a provider's product roadmap. Remember, however, that of necessity product roadmaps change frequently, and so keep that in mind.

Ready to Talk About Buying eDiscovery Software?

If your organization is interested in learning more about Reveal's Reveal's AI-powered end-to-end document review platform, what it has to offer, and how it can get you to your tomorrow, contact us to learn more.