Nextpoint’s Expert Witness is a feature offering insights from lawyers, technologists, law enforcement, entrepreneurs, and other interesting people influencing our industry and world.
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George Socha and business partner Tom Gelbmann have been two of the most influential thinkers in the eDiscovery industry for the better part of the decade. Beginning in 2003, they launched The Socha-Gelbmann Electronic Discovery Survey, assessing the state of the industry.
Then, in 2005, the two introduced what is arguably the incredibly influential Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM) project (www.edrm.net). The EDRM quickly became a de facto standard model used by litigators everywhere to manage the discovery of electronic records in litigation, and is continually being updated and expanded by an army of volunteers.
George has a J.D. from Cornell Law School and a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and spent 16 years as a litigation attorney, before founding Socha Consulting LLC, offering services as an electronic discovery expert witness, special master, and advisor to corporations, law firms and their clients.
Nextpoint recently talked to Mr. Socha about the state of the industry, the competitive landscape, and Apersee, a free service that allows potential clients to find eDiscovery vendors best suited to their needs.
Nextpoint: It seems like the EDRM is doing a lot of new work being done in creating new data sets, eDiscovery metrics, and search standards. Can you explain what is the unifying theme behind these efforts? What sort of foundation is the EDRM laying for the industry?
George: With EDRM we continue to work toward establishing guidelines, setting standards, and delivering resources for e-discovery and information governance. As we move forward, expect to see more models from us, such as the recently published Computer Assisted Review Reference Model (http://www.edrm.net/resources/carrm), the recently published Talent Task Matrix (http://www.edrm.net/resources/talent-task-matrix) and the soon-to-be-revised Metrics Cube.
Frameworks like these help provide structure and context as well as a common starting point for discussions and analyses. Then expect to see us continue to deliver resources to help people fill out those frameworks.
NXP: The EDRM has been a fantastic success by any measure- it’s pretty much become the standard model and guide used across the industry to describe the eDiscovery process. Is there a downside to that success? Do you feel that software and service providers can hew too closely to the model?
George: By breaking the e-discovery process into identifiable pieces, the EDRM framework continues to help providers take a more granular look at what consumers need, what is out there, and what gaps may be evident – and, from that, identify what new offerings they might want to build.
As they bring those offerings to market, the Model then helps them better explain what they have created and how it can fit into the mix of services and software a consumer currently uses. In a similar fashion the Model helps consumers better define what they need to get done, provides guidance on how to get those things done, and offers tools to help them better determine who might best help them in this process.
I do wish that we were better able to convey the iterative and conceptual nature of the Model, as often those get overlooked.
NXP: What are your thoughts about new reference models, like the Electronic Discovery Best Practices? Is it competition, or healthy growth for the industry?
George: We do not think that any one person or organization has the exclusive franchise to thought leadership in the e-discovery space. As far as we are concerned, anything that helps advance understanding and develop expertise in this arena is welcome and needed.
NXP: Your Socha-Gelbman report was incredibly influential in the industry, but you and Tom discontinued the survey because you felt people were abusing the rankings. How is Apersee different? Why do you think it will help buyers find the best technology partners?
George: One of the key problems with the type of ranking we did was that far too many people would pick a provider from our static list of the top five providers. They would do this without giving serious thought to whether the things that provider had to offer fit with what they needed.
And they would pick from the top five overall rather than consider providers in the many other rankings we published. We designed Apersee to help address these shortcomings, allowing consumers to search through a growing variety and volume of rapidly developing information to better identify a small number of providers to contact for further information.
NXP: Since you’ve discontinued the report, how do you stay plugged into industry trends? What are you keeping your eye on in the coming year in eDiscovery?
George: I continue to participate in quite a few conferences; continue to have discussions with providers, consumers, investors and others about a broad spectrum of e-discovery issues; gain insight from expert witness and consulting engagements; and rely on a widening array of mechanisms that feed information to me about who is doing what, why and how – all of which means I continue to drink from the proverbial firehose even without the survey.
Some of the issues I intend to monitor in the coming year are developments in computer assisted review offerings and their uses; the push from traditional eDiscovery into the broader world of information governance; and the still largely nascent efforts by law firms to make more direct use of eDiscovery tools and techniques to improve what is at the heart of what a litigator needs to do – to tell the more persuasive, fact-based story.
NXP: What are your thoughts on cloud computing as a platform for eDiscovery?
George: Cloud computing offers enormous potential as a key component in future and even current e-discovery platforms. We have a number of issues to address, of course, but the potential is huge.
NXP: Do you see a need for industry standards in eDiscovery? For example, there has been a call for ISO-type industry certification programs. Is there an obvious benefit to such an effort, or would energy and resources be better directed elsewhere?
George: Standards are critically important to people and organizations dealing with eDiscovery, whether as providers or as consumers. We already depend on quite a few standards (SMTP, for example) that were not designed with eDiscovery in mind but are crucial in our space.
There is a place for more standards developed specifically for e-discovery, but the development of those standards takes more time than most people appreciate and can be especially challenging to accomplish in areas as dynamic as e-discovery has been and likely will continue to be for some time to come.
NXP: You’ve tracked hundreds of companies in EDD over the years. Are there still to many players? What sort of consolidation or industry shakeout do you expect still needs to happen? What is driving the current M&A activity? Are companies trying to juice flat top line growth, or is it something else?
George: By now I have probably tracked nearly 2,000 companies in the e-discovery space. Today we have both too many and too few players. The vast majority of providers focus on a small slice of lawsuits, law firms and corporations – the ones that appear likely to yield large projects and big sales.
There are far too many providers chasing that work. Most of the lawsuits, law firms and corporations get almost no attention from current providers – their projects are considered to be too small to be profitable – and there are far too few providers interested in that work.
I hear much discussion about consolidation, but I do not see it, not if by consolidation we mean a significantly smaller number of providers in the space or a small number of providers that dominate most of the work. If anything, we still seem to be in a “let a thousand flowers bloom” phase; as fast as one provider disappears, one, two, three or more new ones pop up, some of which seem to have considerable potential.