There’s an App for that: How the Digital Trinity is shaking up eDiscovery

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For the legal profession, February means it’s that time of year again: LegalTech 2015 is about to begin and along with it will come new insights, old friends, and no small amount of hyperbole about this earth-shattering new technology or that ground-breaking case. The eDiscovery industry continues to grow, continues to mature, and continues to respond to external changes at a pace far greater than the legal profession is accustomed. Indeed, compared to the normal pace of life as a litigator, judge or regulator eDiscovery moves like a heavily-caffeinated road runner!

In the lead-up to this year’s event, I spoke with a number of colleagues about what they expected this year. Universally, people said they were expecting the same old, same old, only more so. They expected the same industry pundits and experts staking the same claims as before; the same people taking the same sides on the same old issues with little change in stance or argument. They expected the same old vendors selling the same old solutions; dressed in new clothes perhaps, but otherwise familiar.

As stated by Robert Owen, Partner-In-Charge for the New York office of Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan LLP and chairman of the eDiscovery Institute, “I think the mindset that Legal Tech NY (2015) will just be more of the same is the product of people not understanding how exciting things are around the corner.”

A late winter’s rut?

I found most people weren’t too excited about this year’s prospects. This really surprised me, because this is completely the opposite of what I’m finding in every other field of business that I support. Nearly every segment of society is experiencing huge disruption and change from what I term the Digital Trinity:

  1. Mobility
  2. Cloud
  3. Analytics

These three technologies are combining to enable new organizations, such as Uber or AirBnB, to create entirely new ways of delivering customer value, and generate massive disruption in their respective markets. Indeed, I expect a significant number of people will use one or both of these two services during their attendance at LegalTech, much to the chagrin of the city’s taxi companies and hoteliers.

If these technologies are causing such enormous disruption outside of the legal field, why isn’t this being reflected within? Perhaps it is and we simply haven’t acknowledged the elephant in the room (and no, it’s NOT named Hadoop!). The law is one of the fundamental underpinnings of American society. Love it or hate it, our legal system is fairly unique and it is the bedrock upon which our country has been built. We need the predictability and order that a stable legal system provides so that business and government can operate effectively. Hence, the legal field moves fairly slowly, and changes sometimes come at a snail’s pace.

The times they are a-changin’

eDiscovery in the Cloud.jpgHowever, these outside forces, powered by the Digital Trinity, are relentless, pervasive and accelerating. As competitors of Simple Bank, Bonobos or SpaceX have learned the hard way, change is coming: fast. I expect that LegalTech will show that these changes ARE coming to the eDiscovery industry, whether or not we are prepared for them. Between the upcoming changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the ever-increasing number of Millennials entering the profession and the adoption of the Digital Trinity, I believe that 2015 will be a year of major shifts in the eDiscovery industry. Robert adds, “The rules are changing in December, and that will bring change no matter what the naysayers think.”

Top amongst these shifts will be the explosive growth of cloud-based eDiscovery services. For at least a decade, the eDiscovery industry has been dominated by the 1980s and 1990s mentality of IT: “Buy, build, and run” has been the name of the game. Organizations bought software to support their needs. They bought hardware to support the software, and they hired staff to run the whole resulting fur ball. By following this outdated, do-it-yourself approach organizations necessarily got into the eDiscovery business, whether or not that was their intent. Like the present FRCP Rule 37, their intent was irrelevant; it is what they did that mattered!

Flash forward to 2015, people are starting to recognize that this model just no longer makes sense. The Digital Trinity allows organizations to spin up new capabilities almost overnight, deploy them seamlessly to customers by the hundreds or tens of thousands, and afford those customers access to advanced analytic capabilities where ever they are in the world. By now our collective addiction to smartphones and apps is permanently rooted in our society, and all of us simply expect our needs to be met instantaneously, upon demand, anywhere and any when that we might find ourselves.

Indeed, we are so wedded to these devices, so “Appified” as I call it, that if we must wait more than 30 seconds for our needs to be met, we simply move on to another source to fulfill our needs. This trend means that the bell is tolling for organizations tied to the old ways of delivering solutions. People no longer want products, services, or solutions.

In an appified world, people want results, period. Fix my problem, here and now, or you just don’t matter to me. Give me the result I need right now, at low cost, high quality and minimal fuss. Do all of that and make it so that I don’t have to worry about how it’s done… that’s appification. Customers now want everything to be like electricity; you plug it in and it just works.

The Digital Trinity in eDiscovery

This trend towards appification is working its way into eDiscovery at a rapid pace. Lawyers want to be lawyers again, not computer scientists. They want the results from advanced technologies without the headaches of buy-build-run IT. I forecast that at LegalTech this year you will see an explosion of cloud-based, mobile, analytics-rich eDiscovery solutions that will be sold as a service. These services will provide users with everything they require to effectively manage all aspects of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), and will do so at surprisingly-low price points.

These services will deliver results, and will abstract customers away from all of the technical whiz-bang that makes it possible. In this way, the eDiscovery industry will be forced to catch up with the rest of society, in terms of technology adoption and peoples’ relentless expectations of instant gratification and operational perfection. If you want to remain relevant in this world, adopting the Digital Trinity simply isn’t optional.

Robert echoed this sentiment by sharing, “The technology is evolving, or jerking [to use my term], and the new features will become apparent soon. Then people will realize that the apparent smoothness at the surface of things masks the changes that are on the horizon.”

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