Project Management And E-Discovery Cost Control

Monday, May 3, 2010 - 01:00

The Editor interviews Jacques Nack Ngue, CISA, Founder and President, eClaris Inc.

Editor: Please tell our readers about your background at eClaris.

Ngue: eClaris is a consultancy located in Los Angeles that helps law firms and corporate legal departments classify, process and review® digital evidence. We work as a consultancy meaning that we come in early to help assess risk maturity levels associated with e-discovery. We also come in when the corporation or the law firm has evidence that they need to collect, process, review or assess. Finally, we provide assistance with reviewing or assisting production from opposing counsel by checking validity or looking for flaws in the data that they had provided.

Editor: Why did you start the company?

Ngue: I started the company in 2007. After a stay at a law firm, I realized that there was a need for a service provider that could take in digital evidence from a variety of sources (such as emails, back-up contents, hard drives, handheld phones and cell phones, etc.) and then rapidly ingest that evidence in a sound and forensic way and make the information available for review to a legal team very early on.

At first our primary focus was to ingest large volumes of data and turn it over to the attorneys very quickly. In doing that we realized that with that particular type of exercise it was very difficult to run multiple jobs at the same time. (This is a common problem for any corporation, no matter how small or large.)

So, a few months after starting the company, we immediately started to look for software that would allow us to manage the e-discovery process and enable us to price and allocate cost to all the resources associated with each project exercise. Plus, since there was no similar product in the marketplace, we set out to build one to use in-house and manage our own projects. As the company's capacity for processing data has increased so have the complexities in managing those projects as reflected in the level of detail added to our project management platform.

Since 2007, the company's capacity for taking on e-discovery processing projects increased as did the number of issues that needed to be addressed in managing these projects, prompting us to immediately update our software.

As it turned out, we had built an e-discovery project management platform that could not be purchased off the shelf. We have started to build a commercially available version that we are going to make available to law firms and corporate legal departments for purchase.

Editor: How does this new software differ from that of other vendors?

Ngue: This new software is attractive because it enables corporations and law firms to identify what resources are needed in specific electronic discovery activities. Let's say document review: using the Wizard we installed, if someone who has limited experience with electronic discovery answers simple questions, the application will return project specifications and details that can be used to track and manage the project from inception to completion as well as all the changes throughout the process.

Editor: Does that also encompass early case assessment?

Ngue: Yes. As consultants there are a number of things that we noticed in the industry, one of which is that the flavor of the best software of the month changes every month - particularly processing and reviewing software. We built a vendor-neutral environment. In our next release, which we are hoping to issue around the fourth quarter of this year, we will implement connectors that will enable us to read data directly from the industry standard application for early case assessment all the way down to document production.

Editor: What is your vision for the future?

Ngue: My vision for the future is to build a platform that allows a legal participant to rapidly understand the scope of work he or she is involved in with respect to e-discovery. What I noticed here is that most law firms typically are afraid of runaway budgets. They don't understand, and this includes corporations, the scope of the project until they actually have a chance to look under the hood. We are hoping to build tools that are friendly and easy to use that connect the legal team with the digital evidence that they need to handle in order to win their cases. To achieve this we are looking at a number of ways to expand in the future by building an extended platform for managing projects and a standard platform for transferring and managing evidence across multiple platforms - and eventually to integrate the cloud as a resource within our platform.

Editor: What are your core competencies?

Ngue: The core competency at eClaris as a service provider company is our ability to rapidly ingest very large amounts of data. Working with law firms or working with corporate legal counsel we are able rapidly to get to the relevant information that they are looking for. Providing a value service is what we do. At eClaris the senior consultants are either attorneys or people who have been involved for a number of years in the e-discovery process. They can bridge the communication gap between the technical team and the legal requirements by converting very complex technical jargon into plain English.

Editor: How can corporate counsel readily access and use information?

Ngue: Corporate counsel need to know first where the data is. Then they need to prepare that information for review by their legal team, whether in-house or external counsel. The same thing goes for mitigating the risk associated with tapes and back-up contents and also the cost associated with very-large-volume document review efforts. Our hybrid approach assures users that we can utilize input from a wide range of vendors without creating additional risk.

Editor: What is the best way to prepare and manage e-discovery costs?

Ngue: If a law firm or corporation has been sued, the corporation needs to react. The best way to prepare and manage e-discovery costs is to have a proactive approach. This assures that the best information management principles are truly implemented. There needs to be an e-discovery response plan. There needs to be an e-discovery data management plan and there needs to be a clear assessment of what the capabilities of the company are. This is the first step in the effort to tame and manage e-discovery costs.

Editor: Where is in-house counsel most vulnerable when dealing with e-discovery issues?

Ngue: The most vulnerable part is actually across the board. The number of available resources and trained personnel ready to handle e-discovery is seldom sufficient. Thus, what is really important is to ensure that the corporations understand what they have under the hood.

Editor: Who should an e-discovery response team consist of?

Ngue: That depends on the size of the company and the complexity of their legal issues. The discovery team for a company like Oracle will be very different than that for a company with annual sales of $50 million annually. It is most important that there is some legal representation by a person who is very aware of all the issues facing the company. It is also a very good idea to integrate with the IT function and let them know you have to separate back-up and archives from evidence related to lawsuits as well as how to monitor and track that relevant information. It is also desirable to include those with regulatory functions, such as knowledge management and auditing.

Finally, it is always good with respect to policies, such as back-up tapes or the deletion or destruction of ESI, to have a routine interview with the actual staff to make sure that policy matches what is actually done on the ground.

Editor: How can corporate counsel work better with IT when preparing for and responding to e-discovery?

Ngue: The first thing that a legal team or a general counsel or corporate counsel can do in dealing with their IT team is to engage them very early on so that they can get a better understanding of what they will be dealing with and appropriately set their timeline. If there is an e-discovery committee, that committee should include both the legal team members as well as the IT management. The team should address all of the e-discovery-related issues from document retention policy to document destruction policies and ensure that whenever any of those policies are written that they comply with any pending legal requirements.

Editor: What tools does eClaris offer in doing what you described?

Ngue: Right now we have teamed with a number of software partners and we have built agreements with them for dealing with specific data-processing tasks, from back-up tapes to ESI data processing or hosting. The one tool that eClaris has built in-house and is promoting is our EDPM (E-discovery Process Management) platform. It is truly a project management platform that is matter centered and geared towards e-discovery projects.

Editor: What challenges do you see ahead in the marketplace when taming cost?

Ngue: The challenge that I am seeing ahead in the marketplace is data volume. Maybe just a year ago we ran into a lot fewer requests for processing multiple terabytes of data, meaning 40-60 terabytes of data, than we are seeing now.

These days we are seeing very large volumes of data being collected and being entered into the e-discovery funnel. The first thing is going to be the data volume and what comes along with that is more challenges in dealing and handling additional evidence.

The second challenge that I am seeing, which is more of a technical nature, is how corporations, law firms and even service providers can prepare to deal with the boom in social media and the cloud as well as the fact that information now no longer resides on what I would call traditional media, such as computers, phones or laptops.

Ultimately we also need to look at the fact that the corporate counsel are looking for a better way to search and look at information. The courts are challenging anew the effort made to respond and obey by the rules.

Editor: What can we expect to see from eClaris in the future?

Ngue: You can expect to see better enhancement in the primary release of a commercial version of e-discovery project management software. That is going to happen within this quarter - in two months or so. Then we are going to be adding a global reach through adoption of a cloud-based system and strategic partnerships with much larger and more deployed consulting companies to ensure that the EDPM platform is available everywhere.

Jacques Nack Ngue, CISA , is based in Los Angeles, California where he works for eClaris, Inc., an e-discovery and computer forensic consultancy and service provider dedicated to helping law firms and corporations classify, process and review electronically stored data. eClaris supports eClaris's E-Discovery Project Management ("EDPM"), a complete and defensible project management platform for electronic discovery. Mr. Ngue can be reached at 213-784-6921, jnn@eclaris. com or through www.eclaris.com.

Please email the interviewee at jnn@eclaris.com with questions about this interview.