Modern life surrounds us with a blizzard of documents and digital data: Emails, text messages, word processing documents, and more.
And while that data might make our businesses run more efficiently and allow us to communicate more quickly, it has produced new challenges for litigators and other attorneys.
Electronic discovery — usually called e-discovery — involves using software and other technology tools to access, organize, and evaluate all that data. In some cases, it may involve taking tens of thousands of emails turned over during discovery and de-duplicating, sorting, indexing and putting them in a database to help attorneys hone in on the most important messages more quickly.
In other cases, it may involve accessing data from the various digital devices that have become a part of everyday life: smartphones and smartwatches, GPS devices, specialized data from business systems or other technology, and more.
The ability to access information in electronic documents and other technology is often crucial to pursue a claim or defend a client in litigation. E-discovery is also starting to play a bigger role in non-litigation matters, too, including employment law, intellectual property, family law, and matters involving financial services clients, among others.
E-discovery Boosts Productivity and Quality
Attorneys who make full use of e-discovery can work faster than their paperbound colleagues, as the software tools will allow them to search and review large bodies of documents and more quickly zero in on critical information and records. This reduces billable hours and can lower the cost of discovery for clients.
Just as important as efficiency, though, is how e-discovery can improve the quality of legal work. If an attorney is looking for evidence to back up a claim, for example, both e-discovery and paper-based discovery might turn up multiple documents or other evidence to support the argument. But e-discovery allows lawyers to more quickly find the strongest evidence for the point they’re arguing.
And in some cases, e-discovery has the potential to give lawyers access to evidence and information that might be impossible to find otherwise. For example, GPS data or text messages can tell a different story about the circumstances of a particular event than conventional documents might. This can be a powerful weapon in a lawsuit or settlement negotiation.
Clients choosing an attorney to represent them in litigation should consider whether their case might involve a large number of documents or other kinds of electronic records or digital information. If so, e-discovery capabilities could be a factor.
Tilted Playing Field
Despite the power and potential of e-discovery, it is still not evenly adopted across all law firms. Ward and Smith invests in its information technology staff. They stay up-to-date on advances in e-discovery through their participation in the International Legal Technology Association and by annually attending the Georgetown Law Advanced eDiscovery Institute each year.
The e-discovery team is led by Vicki Spillane, a Certified e-Discovery Specialist and one of three finalists for the 2017 Litigation Support Professional of the Year, an honor given each year by the International Legal Technology Associations.
Beyond the Ward and Smith’s in-house team, the firm also maintains relationships with a range of technical specialists, such as software vendors and forensic engineers, for when additional skills are needed.
Corporate counsel sometimes engages Ward and Smith’s e-discovery specialists, as do other firms (when there’s no conflict of interest), because of the firm’s depth of experience and knowledge in e-discovery.