As the sheer volume of electronically stored information (ESI) overwhelms the existing discovery competencies of law firms IT departments, perhaps it’s time to question the fundamental business model of technology investment in most firms.
For purposes of this post, we’re going to carve up the responsibility of the law firm IT department (as it exists today) into two distinct operations:
First: To manage and support the overall law firm technology infrastructure.
Second: To provide matter-specific litigation technology support.
Critical Law Firm Technology Operations
A typical law firm makes substantial capital investments in technology to run the firm day-in, day-out. This is critical firm-wide IT infrastructure. And, there’s a lot for an in-house IT department to manage: Billing and timekeeping systems, electronic messaging systems including email and mobile messaging, document management systems, and docketing and matter management.
Not to mention HR, core accounting systems, marketing automation and other infrastructure needs. That’s a lot of moving parts – especially if it spans multiple national and international offices. Then there’s the core systems network, tons of hardware and user support to keep all this infrastructure running smoothly.
There is no doubt that these technology management and support complexities fall squarely in the realm of the firm’s IT department. It’s their fundamental duty to serve this infrastructure.
Law Firm or Litigation Technology Cost Center?
Now, let’s turn an eye to matter-specific litigation technology costs and support. When law firms make capital investments in unique technology to support specific matters, the firm quickly assumes the business risks of their clients. Not a great position to be in. Law firms should be playing the role of legal counselor and strategist, not technology provider.
The data management and technology service needs of modern cases are much too complicated to assume that in-house competency and off-the-shelf applications will be sufficient. And each matter is unique enough that a turn-key approach is less than adequate.
We’ve been supporting law firms across the litigation continuum for years, and are very familiar with the many challenges trial teams face. Each case is different, and resists systematized approaches. In fact, this uniqueness is exactly why we developed our complete eDiscovery technology that’s modular, flexible, and scalable for any size case.
The Cost of Litigation Technology: Who’s Burden?
By agreeing to manage and store large volumes of ESI in any step of the EDD process, a law firm, in essence, assumes a stake in the litigation. Cases can become cost centers, not profit centers.
It was one thing (historically) to buy some additional file cabinets or folders when a big case came in the door. It’s quite another to bear the burden of processing, hosting and supporting large volumes of electronic files for months or years. The game has changed substantially.
Unfortunately, the legal industry is poorly equipped to manage the tsunami of data it faces in 2015. This can have various, critical implications for firms:
Outdated litigation technology cause matters to be handled inefficiently, much to the chagrin of both law firm and end-clients
Political maelstroms within firms occur as rainmaking partners “force” IT investment in support of their client’s matters
Understaffed, undercapitalized and potentially unqualified litigation support departments suffer from high levels of turnover
Over-taxed internal IT resources wind up holding the bag when the “systems” inevitably go sideways at a critical time
Pass Through Your Matter Specific Litigation Technology Costs
Law firm IT departments should focus on their primary mission: Managing the infrastructure supporting the firm’s central business processes and keep the firm competitive. Matter-specific litigation technology costs should be passed through to, or assumed directly by, end-clients – just like legal fees.
Corporate clients are realizing that knowledge and command of complex litigation technology is simply not the reason they hired a firm in the first place. Does an organization really want to select litigation counsel on the basis of their technology competency? Seems akin to asking your doctor how good he is at building an x-ray machine or a digital sphygmomanometer.
Litigation software to effectively control large volumes of electronic data in matters should ideally fall outside of internal IT department purview. Building, implementing and supporting innovative, flexible litigation technology should be left to the experts. The costs for such technology should be billed to end-clients. It’s that simple.
With this model, everybody wins. The law firm assumes less risk and can concentrate exclusively on it’s strength – legal counsel. The client gets optimum legal work, AND efficient, expert litigation technology service.
What’s more, with cloud-based litigation software, litigation technology costs are kept low and clients only pay for the software, ESI hosting, and user support needed for their specific matter. No more, no less. We don’t think any reasonable client could argue with the fairness of that proposal.
Does your firm pass through technology costs to clients, or is your litigation technology still a cost center in 2015?