Legal and Technology - Growing Up in a Growth Industry: Consistent innovation will make or break today’s e-discovery organizations

Thursday, March 3, 2016 - 13:42

Sure, whiz-bang technology is a key to successful e-discovery, but modern managed review requires much more. Margaret Shaw Lilani, a senior executive with UBIC, discusses her personal evolution in managed review and the continuing importance that people play in this rapidly evolving industry. Her remarks have been edited for length and style.


MCC: You have an interesting background – a lawyer with experience in advertising and marketing who served as a public defender, an executive recruiter, a staffing industry executive, and now a specialist in discovery and managed review. Tell us about your experience as it relates to the work you’re doing as a Senior VP at UBIC.


Lilani: I came out of law school believing I was going to be a public servant. I spent time with the public defender in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and while my altruistic side was fulfilled, the side of me that wanted to pay off my student loans and dig into other areas wanted something more.  

I met two impressive professionals who had started an executive search boutique and were in need of someone to focus on building in-house counsel departments for their large financial services clients, including Fidelity and Goldman Sachs. It was a great growth experience, and I enjoyed it quite a lot, but it was limited in scope. I moved to California and transitioned to a much larger legal staffing organization, where I dove into the world of document review. From there, I was recruited by a large e-discovery provider and spent over five years growing a very small document review business into one of the largest in the industry. And now, I have just wrapped up my first 100 days as a global SVP with UBIC. 

I’ve grown up with this industry. It was so different 10 years ago – even five years ago seems like another world. Successful organizations have to be smarter these days. It isn’t enough to just be a staffing company that licenses Relativity and puts bodies in a room, and you can’t just be a technology company that partners with a staffing organization. You have to actively engage with and truly invest in both the technology component and the human element. Over the years, I’ve been deeply involved in pretty much every piece of the review business, and I am really excited about what I’m doing
at UBIC. 


MCC: UBIC just opened a big managed review center in the heart of New York City – the heart of the legal world. That’s a very expensive place to do business. What does that mean for clients who are looking for ways to control litigation costs, particularly as they relate to e-discovery? 


Lilani: New York is this country’s largest financial center and is also home to some of the most active and influential courts. Most, if not all of our largest clients touch New York City in some way. We are aware that many of our competitors are moving out of Manhattan because of cost pressure; it is no secret that New York is expensive, and this has been an active industry topic for some time. That said, I don’t think that the simple act of moving out of Manhattan is the answer. The law firms that support the world’s largest corporations are there, and we’ve made it a priority to be in close proximity, as a real-time partner working face to face with them. 

Our office in New York is not just a review center. It is also UBIC’s East Coast flagship office in the United States. UBIC is based in Tokyo and is rapidly expanding in the U.S. via acquisition and organically. In defining who we are as a global organization, we felt it important to show our clients that we are committed to being present and to truly partnering with them. Similarly, our West Coast headquarters are in
San Francisco.

We took a like approach with Washington, D.C. I’ve seen so many organizations moving out of the heart of the District to other neighborhoods, or out of D.C. altogether. In September of last year, we opened a large review center on K Street because we know our law firm clients want to be able to walk across the street, partner with us, and be a part of those reviews. 

All said, I don’t think you can just be in these high-profile markets without offering low-cost alternatives. One of my first actions after coming on board at UBIC was to double the capacity of our review center in Houston. We had the nearshore offering but kept running out of space and needed more seats. For added scope we also have an offshore center in Manila and are experiencing significant growth there. 


MCC: UBIC talks about the “unfair advantage” it can deliver in litigation. A key to that advantage is “flexible pricing options.” What is UBIC’s value proposition for corporate clients who want to drive down costs without
sacrificing outcomes?


Lilani: We would be hard-pressed to find a single large legal department or big law firm that isn’t a global player in some way. We address our clients as global partners and approach projects from a broad perspective. We do that through people, technology, processes, and by transcending time zones. 

Most of our global partners are engaged in matters in the U.S. legal system. The service we provide must have roots in the U.S. because most companies will have outside counsel in the United States to support those matters. We have a deep tenure of experience with U.S. law firms and in-house counsel, and the focus of our service delivery is based on the processes developed to support those groups. We roll those processes out globally based on what law firms and large corporations want and expect. We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from clients, and they demand that our service delivery includes clear communication, fast response, and defensibility when dealing with matters that transcend borders. 

Getting into the nitty-gritty of review, we have a consistent global team approach. We are one of the earliest adopters of Relativity and one of the largest providers in the industry. We are experts and have been consistently certified as a Best in Service Orange-level Partner since 2010. With that expertise we also understand that Relativity is not necessarily the best platform for every single case, particularly with Asian languages, such as Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. UBIC has developed a proprietary tool called Lit i View that specializes in those languages and gives us an advantage when we are dealing with large CJK data sets. 

Living and breathing document review over the years, I’ve come to know that some languages are much more difficult to staff in the U.S. than others, and one of the most difficult is Japanese. The talent pool is so small that you have to think differently to get through a Japanese document review when there are not enough licensed attorneys available to get through your documents in time. Alternatives include going to Japan for U.S. licensed attorneys, using non-attorneys in the U.S., or using non-attorneys in Japan. As the level of formal legal training and certification decreases, the application of quality control and the use of technology, detailed workflows, and advanced analytics must increase to maintain defensibility.

To that end, we have specialized training and certification programs to make sure that all reviewers overseas are trained not just on the case at hand, but on the discovery process in the U.S. legal system. We’ve put retention programs in place so we can consistently use the same people. Actively developing these programs allows us to offer a variety of flexible pricing options. 

I mentioned we have a facility in Manila, as well as offering nearshore options in the U.S., so when a client comes to us with a complex legal problem that requires document review, we can say, “let’s design a solution together that works for you.”

The second hire that I made after joining UBIC was a Review Director in our Tokyo office. He is a Japanese-fluent American who went to a top 10 U.S. law school and worked at a top 10 U.S. law firm. He is the first point of contact for our U.S. law firm clients dealing with matters in Japan. Japanese is a difficult language to master but so is “law firm.” That’s the other language gap that we’ve bridged, and it’s going very well for us.


MCC: That’s a great point. There is so much written and talked about on the technology side of discovery that it’s easy to lose sight of the human side. Are people becoming less important? Are they becoming more important in ways that maybe we’re not thinking about? What’s your perspective?


Lilani: As long as this industry exists, people will play an important role. I was at Legaltech in New York, and as with every year hot topics were being buzzed about. This year they included data analytics, information governance, artificial intelligence, and the impact of the newly implemented changes to the Federal Rules. We pride ourselves on being a top-notch technology company, legal services experts, and most importantly, a professional services organization. Outside of our e-discovery and review business units, UBIC is dedicating significant research and development resources (R&D) toward building better e-discovery and review business solutions leveraging AI technologies. We are similarly bringing this same technology to different sectors, such as marketing and healthcare. Also, we’ve designed a robot named Kibiro that learns behaviors and can engage in conversation. Yes, we are delivering technology, but ultimately it is our people who profoundly distinguish our services in the market. Even with the advent of artificial intelligence, I don’t think the human element is going to get much smaller because the data continues to get so much bigger. We can manage some of this exponential data growth with technology, but there continues to be more data to review, requiring increased speed and efficiency. We have to evolve with the technology and put people in the right places so they can work in harmony with the technology. 


MCC: An industry participant recently said that review managers need a level of expertise and experience that exceeds that of all but the most savvy clients or associates. That’s a tall order. Your staffing background gives you a strong perspective on this. What qualities do you look for in the ideal review manager?


Lilani: I’ve worked with a lot of review managers over the years and have gotten feedback from clients as well as reviewers as to who was effective and who was not. Some say that the best review manager is someone who went to a top 10 law school and worked at a top 5 law firm for a number of years. Some might say that the best are currently working in Staff Attorney roles at firms. Others say the best are those who have tenure in the document review world on the vendor side. 

I don’t know that there is one perfect résumé or skill set for a review manager. They have to check off a few basic boxes, with a very good understanding of the case law, the rules, and our legal system. They need to understand the different parts of a review. Those elements are important. They also have to have a very good understanding of technology and an embracing attitude toward it. They don’t necessarily need to be a data scientist, but they need to understand the value of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence. 

Equally, if not more important, they need to be a good manager of both people and process. The strongest managers have the people skills that make their teams want to work for and with them. They understand people.

They also have to be able to talk to clients. As I said earlier, learning how to speak “law firm” is almost more difficult than learning Japanese. You have to be able to talk to your clients and to the members of your team, and do so in a way that is pragmatic, efficient, and empathetic. Those are the soft skills that are going to be very important for review managers.


MCC: With persistent flat demand, law school graduates have found it harder to find full-time legal jobs. Has it gotten easier for you to find people? 


Lilani: It’s always tough to find good people. The underemployment of the legal community as a whole is a subject that could take all day to discuss. As unemployment goes down and the economy improves, the really good people are going to get snapped up. We have a steady team of full-time review management, but our contract reviewers are very important as well. You have to be a place where people want to work to attract and retain that talent. It is paramount to me to make our organization a place where people want to work. I want them to feel they are part of something – an innovative, global organization that is growing. Everyone who is part of this team is invested in that growth – no one is just a cog in a wheel here. We are building something, and everyone on board is invested in making it truly great. 


MCC: Quality control is critical in managed review, and processes and techniques are evolving. What do you see on the horizon?


Lilani: With the advances in the application of algorithms and analytics, you can get ahead of the more manual QC processes of five or 10 years ago when we were all doing linear review and basic sampling. There are so many opportunities to be smarter about the way we create our workflows now. For one, I’m really excited about applying artificial intelligence to QC. The technologies traditionally applied on the front end of document review can be adapted and applied after first (or second) pass to determine the accuracy of reviewed sets. You can apply this AI to see 100 percent of your documents to ensure that your reviewers are making the correct coding decisions – not just on the samples that you’re pulling but on the whole data set. As the iterative process develops, you can re-run QC on early sets with more educated logic. As with the rest of the process, it continues to get faster and smarter. And we’re getting faster and smarter with it. 


MCC: It’s an amazing time, and UBIC seems to be in the middle of it. As we all saw at Legaltech, it’s an incredibly competitive space.


Lilani: However you define innovation – whether that means artificial intelligence, the approach you take to information governance, or how you’re interpreting the changes to the federal rules – innovation is going to be what makes or breaks organizations in this industry. What we’re doing on the innovation side is bigger than just the world of e-discovery or the legal space. We’re going to be around for a while, and you’re going to see some pretty cool things from us.


Margaret Shaw LilaniSenior Vice President, Review and Professional Services, for UBIC NA.