Most of us saw the headline in Forbes at the beginning of this year about the record increase with organizations investing in eDiscovery and other legal technology for 2018. “713% Growth,” it proclaimed. Which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been following the trends over the last several years. I can imagine the industry evangelists all nodding their heads assuredly: “Told you so.” And according to the recently released Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition 2019 survey, it’s not just the legal tech folks, but law firm leaders as well, who “agree almost unanimously (96 percent) that a focus on improved practice efficiency is a permanent trend in the profession.”
But just because law firms agree, doesn’t mean they’re changing anytime soon. Why? The top four reasons given in the survey are:
- Law firm partners resisted most change efforts (69 percent up from 44 percent in 2015)
- Law firms experienced insufficient economic pain to motivate change (66 percent)
- Most partners were unaware of what they might do differently (60 percent)
- Clients weren’t asking for it (59 percent)
It’s not really an unfamiliar story. In fact, much of the growth over the past several years has been with corporate legal teams bringing eDiscovery in-house. But if you rewind the clock to 2015, many of them were giving similar reasons for putting off investment in legal tech, until enough corporate legal departments realized the benefits – namely by becoming educated on new tools and processes and how adapting them could affect significant cost savings. Those same driving forces can also apply to law firms.
Clients aren’t likely to drive the change. If you’re in the middle of litigation and need to send large data sets to outside counsel for processing and review, you probably aren’t going to push the law firm to invest in new technology. You simply want the job done correctly so that a resolution can be reached.
Which is why it’s up to technology vendors and forward-thinking law firms to move the needle and push the industry beyond its entrenched views. Law firm leaders might ask, Why change when things are going well? Two reasons: Because efficiencies gained through technology investment can make what is going well go even better, and an economy that is up will eventually go down.
In fact, 62 percent of respondents in the Altman Weil survey indicated in-house legal teams doing more of their own eDiscovery was currently taking business from them. So, if technology can help in-house teams increase their effectiveness, increase the defensibility of their processes, and cut costs, then it stands to reason that law firms can do the same by streamlining their processes and increasing their investment in technology.
The most difficult and expensive stage in eDiscovery is related to the right-side of the EDRM (processing and review). Most corporate legal teams are using technology to help with the left-side (information governance, preservation, and collection). Yes, there are some who do everything in-house, but this requires an extremely mature in-house eDiscovery process, with all of the stakeholders (Legal, IT, and Business Units) working together seamlessly, as well as a robust technology solution.
Which means, when litigation arises involving large data sets, complexities with file types, and complicated search needs, those in-house teams are still going to want to utilize law firms or service providers that specialize in elite eDiscovery. Which in turn means, the 31% of law firms who aren’t resistant to investing in technology are going to be able to take on bigger cases and more of them, while recouping their costs.
As Nicole Black said in a recent Above the Law article, “Large law firms are happily winning at checkers, while the rest of the world has long since moved on to chess.” As the ubiquity of electronic evidence in both civil and criminal cases is becoming more and more inevitable, law firms would do well to become game-changers instead of being left on the sidelines.