Corporate leaders are under constant and mounting pressure to reduce legal expenses. In this environment, it may be tempting to approach e-discovery matters from a do-it-yourself perspective. But that can be costly in the long run. Instead, consider the value of project management as a cost-saving measure. Using an experienced project manager who knows how to apply best practices to the discovery process can reduce data processing and review expenses and ultimately lower litigation costs. Delegating e-discovery responsibilities to a project manager also maximizes the efficiency of litigation and alleviates this headache for the corporate leadership and legal team, allowing executives to focus on the core work of the company. In short, project managers employ unique knowledge, skills, tools and processes in a phased approach, ultimately helping companies achieve their legal goals.
The key to successful electronic discovery project management is the process. Project managers work closely with clients to develop a detailed project plan that outlines the major tasks, deliverables and milestones to guide the client through a successful project. This plan generally encompasses five separate phases: the scoping phase, the detailed planning phase, the startup phase, the execution phase and the closeout phase.
During the scoping phase, stakeholders, including inside and outside counsel, the e-discovery service provider, and corporate IT staff, lay the foundation for success. They confirm and align project objectives, requirements and resources. The primary goal of this phase is to ensure that team members are aware of and agree upon the project’s overarching vision and goals. In fact, failure to define the parties’ roles and responsibilities and tie goals to targeted, specific objectives is one of the most common reasons that issues can arise in a project. A skilled project manager will be able to proactively address common requirements and resource issues during the scoping phase. Addressing these issues proactively helps to limit the cost and time associated with remedying them once the project is in full swing. Additionally, the project manager ensures that the team considers any underlying assumptions and dependencies for the project. The goal of the scoping phase is to ensure the discovery plan is realistic from a time and budget perspective.
Detailed planning phase.
In the detailed planning phase, the project team develops a comprehensive plan for executing the project. The team will typically consider the following areas, among others: communication, process flow, workflow, quality control, schedule and production plans. The project team will also document the specifications for each element of the project, such as the specifications for the review database as well as data processing and production of information. Another critical element – often overlooked in the absence of a strong project management process – is planning for contingencies and prioritization of tasks. An experienced project manager foresees the issues the team must consider and adjusts the schedule to ensure the most important and foundational tasks are performed early in the process.
Next, the startup phase begins. During this phase, the project manager closely monitors data collection, culling and processing output to verify that the processes used are sound and meet the client’s objectives and budget. In addition, the project manager works with the IT and review teams to confirm that workstations are configured and ready for reviewers. The project manager is also tasked with making sure that the project team is trained on the review software and review manual and protocols, as well as any other tools involved in the project. A sample production is often created during the startup phase as well. This allows any issues with production format or database load files to be ironed out before the 11th hour. Many potential pitfalls can be identified at this stage in the process and remedied prior to full-scale execution. This is significant because in the execution phase, there may be greater costs to resolving an issue. For example, the cost of resolving a hardware or configuration issue is much greater once a full staff of contract reviewers is in place and downtime is being billed at an hourly rate. The project manager ensures that any changes that are required in the startup phase are made and documented in the project plan and communicated to the team.
The penultimate phase, the execution phase, is when the discovery plans come to fruition. In this phase, the project manager monitors timelines. Working backward from the production deadline, he or she makes sure that review is completed and production sets are finalized in time for deliverables to be created. A good project manager can provide best practice advice to assist with production and privilege log creation as well as quality control. Additionally, the project manager observes and counters any obstacles that arise during this phase. Experienced project managers bring resolutions that were successful on other projects as well as creative problem solving to the table, and they can sometimes be the heroes who save the project from failure in the 11th hour.
In the final phase, closeout, the project manager oversees the archiving and disposition of the data involved in the matter. The project manager also offers final performance metric results to the client. Often, this process includes a synopsis of any lessons learned that the client can then carry forward to future projects.
Optimization of resources.
Setting up a comprehensive plan with a project manager enables clients to choose the most cost-effective and efficient options for a particular matter. Because the clients review every element of the case and contingencies with the project manager, the project manager develops a deeper understanding of the matter. With that understanding, and based upon his or her extensive experience using various discovery solutions, the project manager can then recommend the best tools to accomplish the client’s goals.
Most lawyers are not specialists in cataloging, prioritizing, and tracking the many projects and tasks that a successful e-discovery project requires. When voluminous amounts of electronically stored information (ESI) are involved, project management can help keep your project on track and on budget by breaking the project into more manageable mini-tasks. The project manager can keep the e-discovery project from spiraling out of control or falling behind schedule.
Establishing a plan and expectations up front also helps the legal team avoid problems in quality control. With a project plan, the legal team can determine the proper adjustments in strategy to make to ensure the case stays on track.
A project manager brings guidance and best practices from prior projects to bear on the issues a client is facing in a project, helping avoid pitfalls and structure defensible solutions. Project management gives clients a repeatable and reliable process. It also allows clients to gather data and develop best practices for future matters. And, because project managers bring a proven process to a project, they can help clients predict the cost and schedule of discovery, avoiding the need to reinvent the wheel in subsequent litigation.
While most lawyers and executives are focused on macro-level goals, project managers can manage the minutiae of the discovery process and make sure that each phase of the project receives the attention it deserves. They can also speed the communication of any roadblocks to the best-positioned person or resource to solve the problems.
Project managers are in the ideal position to identify any risks in the discovery process early, while they can still be avoided. Based on the manager’s prior experience with discovery, the project manager can offer an estimate of the likelihood that the risk will come to fruition, what the probable outcome would be, and the contingency measures the client should take, if any, to mitigate or avoid it.
Comprehensiveness and timeliness.
Because they are attuned to every phase of the project, project managers are able to recognize gaps early in the process. For example, when a project manager coordinates the collection of information from a variety of sources, the project manager is in the best position to track the delivery of all information as well as to ensure it arrives in the required format and is complete. The project manager will not allow document custodians to overlook any other potential sources of ESI. This is a particularly important benefit of project management given the impossible – and increasing – amounts of ESI involved in litigation. Finally, with a project manager serving as a single point of contact for overseeing the calendaring of internal and court deadlines as well as the moving parts of the discovery process, it is less likely that something will fall through the cracks.
The discerning attorney or executive will realize that project managers provide a crucial layer in e-discovery projects that makes the difference between success and failure, anticipated and unanticipated costs, and staying under budget and blowing the budget. Project managers are an indispensable member of any e-discovery project team in this era of prolific electronic data.
Kelli Clark is the Vice President of solutions and services at Applied Discovery. In this role, Ms. Clark oversees the design of solutions and services to clients in a value-added, consultative manner and supervises delivery by the company’s industry-leading project managers, business analysts, and solution managers.
Ms. Clark is an industry veteran who has overseen hundreds of large-scale e-discovery projects and managed client-services, consulting, and technical teams. She has spoken on e-discovery topics at CLE courses and seminars throughout the United States and Europe, and she has been called upon to provide expert testimony regarding e-discovery procedures and best practices. She is also a guest lecturer in the E-Discovery Management Program at the University of Washington.