A Wall Street Journal article
(subscription required) points out an interesting side benefit of the latest e-discovery tools: reduction of low-value work for law firms. That is, not a benefit to the law firms, but to their clients.
First, some background. E-Discovery refers to the production of electronic documents during the discovery phase of litigation. As more and more corporate records are managed in electronic format, it becomes increasingly important to be able to search and produce these records in a timely fashion. Recent amendments
to the Federal Rules for Civil Procedure (FRCP) made major changes regarding how companies must produce such information.
To serve these needs, software providers, such as Autonomy
, as well as major vendors such as H-P, Xerox, IBM, and EMC, have been pushing e-discovery solutions that centralize information about an organization's electronic documents and facilitate search and retrieval of information when needed to support litigation.
The WSJ article points out that some law firms aren't happy about the new tools. Why? Because they allow clients to cut back on the amount of low-level billable hours that law firms assign to junior attorneys--tasks such as reading through boxes of paper documents looking for relevant information. The WSJ quotes Michael Lynch, CEO of Autonomy:
"The old-fashioned way of doing this was having a lot of lawyers doing a lot of simple things," he says. "You would literally have lawyers reading through things saying 'there was chicken for lunch.' You don't need lawyers to know it's a lunch menu."
Recent experience at Comcast is similar:
When outside lawyers working for the cable company recently requested thousands of archived documents for a court case, Genny Garrett, who is in charge of managing Comcast's records, found them by doing a search from her desktop computer.My view.
The lawyers "were surprised," she says, that "they didn't have to wander around a warehouse" looking for records, a task that once generated big legal fees.
Sound legal advice in a time of need is worth every penny. Nevertheless, a law firm's value is not in running up billable hours for clerical work that is better automated. Clients should welcome e-discovery tools as a way of focusing law firms on rendering legal advice instead of paper pushing.
On a side note, the Oracle v. SAP lawsuit
has generated document requests from both sides for many thousands of documents and terabytes of data. It's a good example of the challenge of discovery in the information age. From my reading of court documents it appears that both sides are making good use of the type of e-discovery tools discussed in the WSJ article.Related postsNew federal rules for discovery of electronically stored information (ESI)Latest on the Oracle/SAP lawsuit