Your single source for new lessons on legal technology, e-discovery, and the people innovating behind the scenes.

Debunking the Myth that e-Discovery Software is Only for Litigators

Geoffrey Vance - Perkins Coie

As I have gotten older, I have amassed an ever-increasing number of work-related pet peeves. A big one involves the use of the term “document reviewers.”

I despise that term. The people in the group at Perkins Coie with whom I have the privilege of working are not just “document reviewers” who arbitrarily and indiscriminately flip through pages on a screen and click on radio buttons. They are attorneys skilled in leveraging technology to analyze and investigate complicated data on complex projects.

I also don’t like the phrase “document review software” when referring to technology like RelativityOne. I detest when people describe RelativityOne as “just” an e-discovery tool. We don’t only “review” documents in RelativityOne, and we don’t limit our use of the software to the litigation discovery process. We use advanced technologies like RelativityOne in almost everything we do, assisting all types of lawyers across all offices, industries, and practice groups.

What litigators refer to as e-discovery is what M&A lawyers call due diligence, white collar lawyers call investigations, data privacy lawyers call a breach response, regulatory lawyers call compliance audits, IP lawyers call patent searches, healthcare lawyers call PHI reviews, and antitrust lawyers call second requests.

Lawyers around the world share the same fundamental task: as Relativity puts it, we “organize data, discover the truth, and act on it.” Indeed, Relativity believes so much in the organize, discover, and act mantra that they embedded “ODA” in their formal corporate name, Relativity ODA LLC.

Why do I say all of this? Because I feel a personal obligation to the entire legal industry to debunk the myth that RelativityOne and its catalog of solutions are exclusively e-discovery products for litigators. You and your clients could be getting so much more out of these investments.

Most of the time the data we at law firms collect and process into RelativityOne and similar tools is client data we harvested from the client’s systems and devices. There are exceptions, of course. We may also receive data produced by opposing parties, for example, or from third parties on which subpoenas have been served.

In all of these cases, it’s the customer (usually the law firm’s client) who does the collection and then the RelativityOne “users” (typically law firm attorneys) access, examine, and investigate the data.

Sometimes, though, it’s the “users” who also do the collecting. That’s when the utility of these tools is on full display—especially now that Relativity (the company) has eliminated per-user charges that sometimes discouraged the use of Relativity (the product) on matters with a lot of different users.

I’ll give an example.

My team at Perkins Coie recently had a project where the goal was to essentially crowdsource material from trusted volunteers of our client, a non-profit organization, around the country. We asked those volunteers—thousands of them—to do their own research, find information on their own, and then upload that information onto an otherwise locked-down, secure RelativityOne workspace in a self-service fashion.

We then gave access to that workspace to a different set of users—hundreds more, in fact—to analyze that data and provide their own feedback about it. They were able to add notes and answer questions in a tailor-made review template designed to collect and report on what our “crowd” had found.

This allowed us, along with our client, to search for and identify terabytes of important information in an extraordinarily short period of time, all while taking full advantage of the security, scalability, and artificial intelligence capabilities of RelativityOne, which in turn made it incredibly easy for the more senior-level attorneys at our law firm to hone in on what stood out most and provide legal advice about the resulting (truly massive) data set.

Which takes me all the way back to the beginning of this blog entry. This successful project validated my disdain for what peeves me: the reference to RelativityOne as just an e-discovery solution for litigators.

Was this example an e-discovery project? Nope. Were any litigators involved? Not a one. Did we organize data, discover what insights were hidden in it, and provide legal advice on how our client should act on it? You bet we did. And we did a great job.

If I were in your shoes, I’d be interested in learning how we identified this opportunity. After all, this project did not just fall into our laps. As short story writer Amy Hempel is quoted saying, “There's no such thing as luck. Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”

So, for your edification, here’s how our team prepared to find new, non-litigation opportunities to use the software we already have in house:

1. We were persistent in getting in front of as many stakeholders as we could, across practice groups and offices, to explain our in-house solutions (such as RelativityOne) and demonstrate the exceptional functionality and utility of the tools.

2. We said “yes” to each and every request by lawyers and paralegals to brainstorm how we could create out-of-the-box solutions to each client’s unique challenges.

3. We created sandboxes and beta tests to walk our talk, showcasing the innovation of our people and technology.

4. We started with baby steps—with a single project as a pilot—and made sure that project was successful, both in the performance of the tool and in the price of the project.

5. With that first success in hand, we sought and received buy-in from decision-makers around the firm—many of whom have since been our best marketers, references, and serial customers.

6. As we accumulated more projects that don’t rhyme with e-discovery, we continued to improve our processes, update our workflows, leverage active learning, and utilize new and exciting functionality such as sentiment analysis—all to make sure we stay nimble and innovative.

7. And, with every success, we make sure to broadcast it. That’s not because we want pats on our backs, but because we want the case teams and clients to appreciate the sheer strength of the technology and how that technology not only makes better lawyers out of us, but improves the likelihood of each project’s success.

I’m very proud of what my group has accomplished in achieving so many win (RelativityOne) - win (Perkins Coie) - win (client) non-litigation outcomes, thanks in large part to the agility and efficacy of Relativity’s solutions.

I rest my case. Pet peeve addressed. Myth debunked. Drop the mic. Thanks for hearing me out.

Beyond the Jargon: 4 Generative AI Terms You Should Know

Geoffrey Vance is a litigation partner, and chair of the e-discovery services and strategy practice, at Perkins Coie. He was also named an AI Visionary in 2022.

The latest insights, trends, and spotlights — directly to your inbox.

The Relativity Blog covers the latest in legal tech and compliance, professional development topics, and spotlights on the many bright minds in our space. Subscribe today to learn something new, stay ahead of emerging tech, and up-level your career.

Interested in being one of our authors? Learn more about how to contribute to The Relativity Blog.