In the past six weeks, I have had more than a hundred discussions about the future of e-discovery. On individual calls, in small group sessions, in Zoom meetings with 50 attendees and more, I have heard a wide range of views expressed. I also have seen patterns emerging. Here are two.
An industry ripe for disruption
There seems to be a new appetite for disruption in the e-discovery space. For some time before the onset of the pandemic, there had been discussion of innovation, but for many it appeared to be little more than discussion, with no apparent desire for real, positive, and potentially actual apple-cart-upsetting change.
Now, there is a palpable desire for something new, something more, something better. The desire gets expressed in various ways and does not seem to have coalesced on any one specific thing. Some feel that existing e-discovery technology offerings have gotten…stale, needing at least a refresh and probably something much more than that. Others are looking not just for refurbished tools but for something completely new.
Two areas in particular caught my attention. These were not the most disruptive areas discussed, but they are ones where feelings seem to run especially strong.
In-house personnel want disruptive pricing models – disruptive because they would be designed to fit client needs instead of devised to align with providers’ cost structures. The thoughts expressed by someone from the legal department of a large manufacturing company caught the issue well. He said he wants hosting prices that make sense for matters that last years and that cycle in and out of activity. Instead, he gets pricing optimized for cases that are small in size or that last only a few months or mix-and-match prices that give him almost no ability to craft a meaningful budget. You might think better pricing would be an old ask, nothing disruptive; he disagrees.
Both corporate and law firm personnel say they are desperate for someone to crack the M365 nut. They want someone to pick up where, in their estimation, Microsoft has left off. They want someone who can enable companies to preserve that Microsoft data in place, search, review, and analyze the data in place, and produce from that content – and who can enable them to do these things easily and reliably and to do them without ever feeling they have left the Microsoft environment. I know some providers say they offer at least a portion of these capabilities, but those on the consumer side want much, much more than they feel they are getting.
The pandemic has changed everything forever – or maybe just for now
A sense is emerging that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything forever – and at the same time there is a feeling it will have no permanent impact.
On the forever side, many folks in corporate legal departments seem headed in new directions with little desire to return to old ways. Some are asking, for example, how they will be able to take advantage of what they have learned from their COVID-driven experiences to refocus for their limited budgets in new directions that deliver greater value for the same – or less – money. They are re-examining partnerships they have both internally and externally, and are open to partnering with outside organizations very different from ones they worked with in the past. In addition they have seen that while home-based workforces face challenges different from those confronting us when we worked primarily or exclusively from the office, they also have noticed and have begun to appreciate positive things come from working at home and want to preserve those moving forward.
From what I have been hearing, law firms may be less eager to leap into the future. At a quickly growing number of firms, folks already are being called back to the office. On a recent call of about 40 people, one law firm person said she is on Day 4 of her return to the office. One of the last on the call to leave the office at the beginning of all of this, she is one of the first to go back. She is back in the office because she has to be, but she is not so certain she likes it. One of the first things she noted was that she finds herself less productive working in the office than she was when working from home.