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Beyond Lit Support: Advice on Branching Out to Serve More Practice Areas with In-house Technology

Sam Bock

At Nutter, Kate Jansons Johns passionately believes that in-house e-discovery software can be useful in many practice groups beyond litigation. In fact, her team has begun an active campaign to share their RelativityOne access with more attorneys across the firm.

As Kate puts it, leveraging in-house tools in new ways doesn't just help support law firms’ bottom lines by maximizing their investments in the software they’re already using; it can also help attorneys better serve their clients with innovative, efficient solutions to their unique challenges.

We sat down with Kate to hear more about her experience on this campaign, and gather her advice for those looking to capitalize on similar opportunities with their own teams.

Tell us a little bit about your role at Nutter and what’s unique about your team.

I’ve been the manager of knowledge and practice support services for almost a year. Before that, I was the Litigation Support Manager for four years. My current role involves overseeing the use of litigation support technology across all practice areas. I am currently collaborating with our corporate department to implement Relativity for transactional tasks, and plan to extend this initiative to our real estate, private client, and IP practices.

At Nutter, we believe in managing as much e-discovery in-house as possible, and our internal litigation support department—which comprises a team of three professionals using RelativityOne—plays a vital role in this strategy. By minimizing outsourcing, we have built a strong relationship with our attorneys, based on mutual trust. This trust has enabled us to test and successfully implement new technology solutions that may not have been as well-received from a third party.

As an inaugural AI Visionary, you’re a recognized leader in applying the latest and greatest e-discovery software to modern challenges in the practice of law. How do you do it? What’s rewarding about the creative use of technology in this field?

Our approach has been successful, in part, due to the longevity of our staff. As trusted technology advisors to all our attorneys, we have invested a significant amount of effort that has paid off. We work closely with associates, providing guidance throughout the e-discovery process. By focusing on building trust slowly and meticulously, we have been able to introduce the latest and greatest tools with relative ease. Our attorneys are well aware that we are not pushing any agenda, but have their best interests at heart. The most satisfying aspect of leveraging technology creatively in litigation support is the knowledge that we can save people valuable time at all stages of the EDRM. I genuinely believe that attorneys can manage their workload more efficiently by incorporating technology into their practice.

How does your team currently use e-discovery software to support practice areas beyond litigation?

We are expanding our horizons by partnering with the corporate practice group to utilize Relativity for transactional matters. The prospect of employing Relativity Contracts in the upcoming months is exciting. We are also exploring options to leverage Relativity as a data room for some of our smaller start-up clients. In addition, I am exploring how generative AI could significantly benefit the corporate team with contract review. Once we have established our corporate workflows, I plan to introduce them to our real estate department, as they deal with work of a similar transactional nature.

What creative use cases for this software are you hoping to pursue in the future?

We have invested significant effort in internally rebranding Relativity as a versatile technology solution for managing and analyzing data, regardless of the size of your document set. Previously, our litigators believed that Relativity was only suitable for large volume matters, but that is no longer the case. The true potential of Relativity Contracts lies in the analysis of documents, not its ability to handle a high volume of contracts. When introducing active learning to the litigation team, I have always encouraged them to try it out on small cases where it's reasonable to review every document. This approach helps them become comfortable with the technology and the review workflow so that, when they do encounter a massive volume of data where they can’t review every document, they are well equipped to handle it. I hope to achieve a similar level of comfort and expertise with Relativity Contracts among our corporate attorneys.

What internal challenges might make it difficult for law firms to innovate this way? How do you overcome them?

One of the biggest challenges I face is getting attorneys to recognize the benefits of using technology to streamline their document review workflows. Time pressures can cause attorneys to rush through linear document reviews rather than seeking help to structure a prioritized review using technology. That's why building trust is crucial. The e-discovery cases that have gone the smoothest are those where the attorneys involved have engaged with our litigation support team early on in the process. To foster this kind of engagement, I regularly circulate a bimonthly newsletter, post relevant articles on Teams, create short training videos on Relativity, and give short presentations at attorney department lunches. I strive to be present and visible as much as possible, so that attorneys will think of our team and technology as valuable resources for their e-discovery projects.

Which types of client and projects are best positioned to benefit from creative applications of e-discovery technology?

It's hard to imagine a situation where technology wouldn't be helpful in some part of the e-discovery process. Even in a case that's not very document-heavy, testimony will likely be critical, and a good transcript management tool will be invaluable. Most of the clients we work with use electronic means of short message communication like chats or text messages, all of which could benefit from technology to review efficiently. Whether it's an individual pro bono client who communicates through WhatsApp or a large corporation with terabytes of data to sort through, it's tough to find someone involved in litigation who wouldn't benefit from some form of technology.

What are the benefits of using e-discovery technology in new ways?

We're always on the lookout for ways to help attorneys provide excellent client service. That's why we're so invested in using technology creatively to solve problems. Take Relativity, for example. Maintaining this tool requires significant in-house resources, so it makes sense to explore how we can leverage it in other practice groups. This not only maximizes the value of our investment, but it also enhances the internal litigation support team's skill set. After all, managing e-discovery requires ongoing training, and other departments can benefit from the unique talents of our litigation support team.

You recently spoke at the ABA TECHSHOW about how attorneys outside litigation can look to litigation teams for more support. Can you speak a little about how non-litigators can reach out for this help? What should they ask for?

If you're struggling with a large amount of data or need to work with unfamiliar data sources, a litigation support professional is an excellent starting point to help you get a handle on the issues. We've dealt with numerous cases that required managing high volumes of complex data within a short timeframe, so let us use our experience and workflows to assist you with your complex data issue. Since almost everything we do involves some kind of technology, seeking out your technology professionals is a good first step. Rather than focusing on how the problem will be solved, it's best to define what the final outcome should be. Then, allow your technical expert to provide various paths for achieving the final outcome, and trust them to do their job even though they possess a different skill set from an attorney.

On the flip side of that, how can e-discovery professionals bring their skillsets to other functions and encourage greater adoption of in-house software? Do you have any advice for how they can market their services to more internal clients?

In my experience, branching out of the litigation department and connecting with people from other departments has been crucial. A simple chat in the cafeteria or a quick visit to someone's office can go a long way. Maintaining strong connections with departments such as IT, recruiting, HR, and professional development helps me stay up to date with attorney training and find ways to integrate e-discovery tools into existing workflows. Trust is a significant factor in our work, and finding small ways to reinforce it strengthens the trust in technology to assist in our legal practice. Associates are usually responsible for the time-consuming work that technology aims to alleviate, so I focus on building trust with them by checking in, listening to their issues, and gradually spreading our message.

Graphics for this article were created by Sarah Vachlon.

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Sam Bock is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, and serves as editor of The Relativity Blog.