Technology Five Strategies For Collaboration On Large Cases

Monday, March 1, 2004 - 00:00

By Joe Romanowski




The Increasing Need To Collaborate

Whether it is the result of an industry-wide class action, a pending joint defense case, or simply the desire to squeeze more efficiency from a growing network of outside counsel, corporate attorneys are searching for ways to improve collaboration and reduce overall litigation costs.The need is most prevalent in the largest cases where burgeoning electronic discovery requirements and multi-party litigation projects are demanding a greater portion of an already tight legal budget.

Even if there is a joint defense agreement approved by the courts for a case, these documents do little to ensure that the parties involved capture the benefits of working together.Coordinating the efforts of in-house attorneys, outside counsel from multiple law firms, litigation support teams, scanning, coding and e-discovery vendors, and consultants is time consuming.Creating an e-discovery and litigation support system that meets the needs of these groups can quickly become an overwhelming distraction for corporate counsel.

Fortunately, there is an emerging set of best practices for legal team collaboration on large cases.From our years of experience in providing software, hosting, and case administration services to Fortune 500 corporations involved in today's largest global litigation projects, the following are some collaboration strategies we believe are crucial to successful case management.


Strategy No. One:Set The Ground Rules Up Front

Managing multiple parties and high volumes of documents in a large case is a challenge, but also represents an opportunity for major cost savings.By planning ahead, the multiple corporations and law firms involved can share a single litigation support system and a common set of services vendors.This avoids duplicated costs and helps to ensure streamlined workflows.

The largest savings are typically found in sharing the upfront costs for scanning and coding, native file review for electronic documents, online document storage, and case administration services.Choosing a litigation support software platform that will be used by all parties also helps reduce training costs and the complexity of rolling attorneys and reviewers on and off of the project.Any agreements on cost sharing should be captured in a written agreement that outlines the initial and ongoing shared costs, as well as the process for firms to follow if they have specific requests for adding new documents or running a production that will not be shared with the larger group.

A shared calendar that shows court dates, review schedules, depositions, and planned productions can ensure that things run smoothly for everyone involved.This calendar also should include a weekly strategy meeting involving all of the legal teams to discuss upcoming plans.These meetings can increase the impact of individual legal specialists on the team, and coordinating legal moves can produce greater leverage with opposing counsel and the courts.

Whenever multiple corporations and law firms are involved in a case, an independent third party can help.This team ensures that everyone has access to the documents and coordinates support for document loading and productions.Above all, a dedicated case administration team helps to raise issues to all parties on a timely basis.This keeps everyone on the same page and the project moving forward.


Strategy No. Two:Put All The Evidence In One Place, But Allow Access From Anywhere

Controlling the massive volume of documents involved in a large case begins with putting the evidence into one all-inclusive database.A single set of files ensures that documents are not copied and rescanned multiple times among an ever-changing group of law firms.This increased control greatly reduces the risk that a document tagged as privileged in Texas will not be produced three months later in a similar case in New Jersey.

A single set of electronic and imaged paper documents also permits ubiquitous access to the information.As documents are loaded into the system, all law firms involved can access the latest documents at the same time.If attorneys are unable to connect to the corporate network, they can remotely access the content through secure, encrypted connections over the Internet.The ability to access documents from home, a hotel, or even a wide area network connection in the courtroom reduces travel costs and improves case preparation.

For larger cases, corporations typically choose to have their documents hosted rather than setting up the infrastructure in-house. We have seen collections grow to well over 50 million pages in some of our largest cases, and the trend continues to move upwards.With this kind of collection volume, it is important to think ahead about scalability of the system.Hosting provides a way for firms to take advantage of the on-demand storage available at most data centers, as well as avoid many of the up-front capital expenditure costs for servers, networking, and staff.Monthly costs for technology and services can be ramped up or down depending on the size of the case over time and then divided among the parties involved based on their usage.


Strategy No. Three: Leverage E-Discovery And Litigation Support Software Tools

With corporate email users sending an estimated 3.4 billion emails every day and increased requirements for corporate records management, the volume of electronic documents involved in large cases can be overwhelming. In addition to the initial set of corporate records, new documents are created throughout the case through reviews, witness kit preparation, and productions.Getting a handle on this volume begins by integrating the e-discovery process into the litigation support system.Software tools are available that can cull out irrelevant files and flag duplicate documents so that the collections remain as small as possible without jeopardizing the case.

Even with the best up-front filtering process, it's not uncommon for a search of a large database to return millions of documents from a single query.Many of these documents are often near-duplicate copies of emails sent to a large number of recipients.Fortunately, litigation support tools can highlight the "parent-child" relationship among emails and attachments that are forwarded multiple times.This helps to bring the number of documents that needs to be reviewed down to a manageable number.

Another benefit to this kind of tracking is that an attorney can review a single document, determine that it is privileged, and then simply instruct the system to automatically mark the potentially thousands of related emails and their attachments with the same tag-saving many hours of manual review and substantially reducing review costs.


Strategy No. Four:Set Security At The Collection, Document, And Annotation Level

Corporations and law firms collaborating on a case today could be adversaries in the future.Setting boundaries on collaboration requires flexible security settings for access to collections, documents, and attorney annotations.In our experience, most firms decide to create one customized view of their electronic documents and annotations to share with partners and a second customized view for their internal team.

This system also works well for people who may require access to a specific set of legal documents, but not others.For example, an expert witness in Japan can connect through the Internet to view a specific set of documents and annotations in a collection without being able to see anything else in the database.These types of secure partitions between collections of documents and attorney comments ensure that the benefits gained from collaborating today do not become a liability on the next case.


Strategy No. Five:Leverage Past Work To Realize Cost Benefits

The benefits of building an effective collaboration system for litigation projects increase over time.As attorneys review and organize documents into virtual online folders, these work products can be made available to future team members.An online litigation support system and collaborative workflow also helps to bring new attorneys and temporary reviewers up to speed faster.This increases the predictability and throughput of the review process.

In addition, a shared online system enables electronic redactions and capture of production histories - avoiding the time-consuming traditional approach of photocopying and manually redacting documents.Capturing production histories also eliminates duplicated efforts and potential errors in the future when the same production requests arise again.Corporations reap increasing benefits from their knowledge base over time, as new cases arise that require similar discovery and attorney work products.


Conclusion

Collaborating with other corporations and law firms on large cases is an ongoing challenge for corporate counsel.Many corporations have successfully met the needs of these large, complex litigation projects by proactively working with their partners, creating a globally-accessible document repository, leveraging scaleable litigation support software, and establishing workflows that capture today's work product for use in future cases.As the size of legal teams and electronic document collections spiral upwards, corporate counsel face litigation projects of unprecedented scale and complexity.Corporations need to change their litigation management approach to reduce costs and improve effectiveness of their legal teams or they will be forced to settle every time for less than their best possible legal effort. 1. Set The Ground Rules Up Front2. Put All The Evidence In One Place, But Allow Access From Anywhere3. Leverage E-Discovery And Litigation Support Software Tools4. Set Security At The Collection, Document And Annotation Level5. Leverage Past Work To Realize Cost Benefits

Joe Romanowski is Co-founder and Executive Vice President of Steelpoint Technologies, Inc. He may be reached at (617) 948-2722 or by e-mail at jromanowski@steelpoint.com.