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Demystifying the Relationship: Is e-Discovery Part of Legal Operations?

Emilie Neumeier

The role of legal operations has evolved in the last five years, becoming one of the fastest-growing roles for organizations big and small. As part of that evolution, legal operations have taken on more responsibilities for legal technology selection and management, and e-discovery technology is a natural part of that category. In fact, CLOC (Corporate Legal Operations Consortium) defines legal operations as: “[the professionals who provide] the strategic planning, financial management, project management, and technology expertise that enable legal professionals to focus on providing legal advice.” e-Discovery fits right in with “technology expertise.”

As we prepare for Relativity Fest 2023, check out some key learnings from Relativity’s session at CLOC’s Global Institute (CGI) on transforming the business of law. While at CGI, we were excited to tackle this burning question for our industry peers: is e-discovery an integral part of legal ops?

Toby Stinson, manager of law data and applications at Chevron, and Maks Babuder, group product manager at Relativity, held a session on the topic for CGI attendees. At Chevron, e-discovery sits squarely in the legal ops team’s responsibilities.

Prioritizing Based on Need

When faced with limited or shrinking budgets, determining what technology will make your team most efficient is crucial. e-Discovery is often seen as a “mature” technology for legal operations teams as opposed to an entry-level tool, but that is only true for some organizations. If your organization faces large amounts of litigation, DSARs, regulatory requests, or internal investigations, then e-discovery technology might be the best foundation for your legal ops tech stack.

The team at Chevron puts matter management first as opposed to starting with contract lifecycle management (CLM), Toby explained: “We have tools with a heavy litigation focus, so our efforts are around different business groups helping us by putting their matters into our system for tracking from the initiation of their matters—and we go from there.

“There has always been a challenge in understanding the complete lifecycle of a case. Preservation and matter management is where it starts; it’s an insightful part of determining your budget,” he explained to CGI attendees. “Anything you can simplify and centralize gives an opportunity.”

In terms of their legal operations technology journey, Chevron is quite mature, with the team running everything from collections and preservation to production. So how did Chevron make the leap to bringing their e-discovery work in-house?

Justifying In-House e-Discovery

Chevron started their in-house journey in 2016, by collecting data in the cloud with Microsoft. Once they started collecting that data, the team looked at how they could manage more of the work themselves and have real-time insight into data volumes. That triggered another element: data ownership and control.

Chevron knew their data, systems, and processes better than any outside group could—so they made the case that collecting everything in-house would help reduce risk and costs. The team would be able to reduce risks by leveraging their knowledge of internal policies and team structures and building collection processes around them, and they would reduce costs by only allowing access to culled-down relevant data for collaboration partners like outside counsel and consulting firms. With the goal of ultimately driving down the number of billable hours they would be charged.

Now, the team has their own instance of RelativityOne, where automated workflows and integrations with the rest of their tech stack help reduce administrative work. This approach helps give their team more time to focus on more valuable work and helps prevent burnout.

By reducing risks, finding cost savings, eliminating manual work, and staving off burnout, bringing an e-discovery tool in-house was the right call for Chevron’s legal operations team. Today, with a solid e-discovery strategy well in place, they are even looking beyond the standard litigation use case to DSARs and identifying force majeure clauses—taking that tech investment even further.

Keeping up with the Data: The Dilemma of Short Message

While Chevron’s team has found great ways to reduce admin work and manage their data securely and efficiently, they are still grappling, like many in the industry, with short message data.

“The side-car data, the meeting chats, loop files … and a lot of people didn’t know what they were doing” with it all, he said during the CGI session. To stay on top of the industry and emerging data sources, Toby looked for a partner he could build a relationship with, and he was willing to be “the guinea pig” to help his team find solutions.

They are still identifying the best ways to manage mobile phone data, but at the end of the day, the team is confident they’ve found the right partners to help them craft the best solutions for their business needs.

Legal Ops and e-Discovery: A Powerful Combination in Maximizing In-House Potential

Chevron's successful ownership of e-discovery highlights the power of leveraging platforms like RelativityOne to streamline admin work and take charge of your data. But is Chevron an outlier?

Not according to Toby: “I was trying to think of what ops is in terms of e-discovery. Project management, knowledge management—I couldn’t think of anything where the CLOC Core 12 didn’t touch the e-discovery flow. Does e-discovery fall to ops? I think so.”

Ready to hear more from your peers? Join us at Relativity Fest 2023, September 26-28.

For more information on how RelativityOne aligns to the CLOC Core 12, visit this page.

Relativity for Legal Operations Professionals

Emilie Neumeier is a product marketing manager at Relativity.