e-Discovery 'For the Good of the World': An Interview with EDRM's George Socha

by David Horrigan on September 11, 2015

Community , Law Firm , Legal & Industry Education , Litigation Support

The Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM) has been a fixture in our profession and our industry for years, guiding definitions and decision-making for case teams in countless matters. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the EDRM organization, and next January will be a decade for the model itself.

In anticipation of the EDRM joining us at Relativity Fest this October to host their annual meeting, we took the opportunity to sit down with George Socha, EDRM’s co-founder and president of Socha Consulting, to look back on where the EDRM has been and where it’s going.

David: Tell us about your start in the law and your technology background.

When I decided to go to law school, I applied to several schools, including Cornell. Their application asked: "What are you going to do with your law degree for the good of the world?"

I had the audacity to answer: "I’m going to teach the legal industry how to make more effective use of technology to enhance and improve the practice of law."

At Cornell, I built a case management system for the school’s legal aid clinic where I volunteered, using computers donated by IBM. I was asked to take on that task because I was one of only a few law students with a computer of my own.

At my first firm after law school, a Dictaphone was considered high tech. Shortly after I joined the firm I brought in my Macintosh, and soon after that, peers began tell me “Real attorneys don’t type.” Ignoring their well-intended advice, I kept using the computer.

Not longer after that, the firm landed the largest set of cases we had ever faced—cases I worked on for 16 years. In those days, we talked of the “mythical million”—cases that would have a million pages of documents. Actual million-document cases rarely come along, but these cases fit that bill. In part because I had a computer on my desk, the lead partner asked me to figure out how to handle that “huge” number of documents, something that pulled me into the automated litigation support vortex.

When our IT director left in the early 90s, the firm’s executive committee asked me to take over. We had an IT staff of 20, computers spread all over the place, and I didn’t know what to do. A mutual friend, Jim Keane, introduced me to Tom Gelbmann, whom the firm engaged to help me figure out what to do, and for the next 18 months I juggled two full-time roles: IT director and practicing attorney. From there, the step into e-discovery probably was inevitable.

How was the ubiquitous Socha-Gelbmann Electronic Discovery Survey developed, and what inspired you to launch EDRM?

In 2003, I started an e-discovery consulting business. I was hired by a technology company to perform a survey of the e-discovery market. I needed help to complete the survey; I called Tom and made him an offer he could not—and did not—refuse.

The Socha-Gelbmann survey was born with that report. Our agreement was to build a private report for the client with the option to compose an article that Monica Bay would run in Law Technology News. After the article ran, we started getting calls requesting copies of the report, so we redid the survey a year later and offered it then. We conducted that survey for about six years.

Conducting the survey, we heard a theme: people told us repeatedly we didn’t understand e-discovery. Everyone had his or her own definition. Some said it was collection, others processing, others review—all depending on what part they played. We wanted to have a universal answer to the question “What is e-discovery?” And moreover, what basic things should you be doing when you’re running an e-discovery project?

We didn’t see an existing home for that effort, so we contacted some people we knew and held our first meeting in May 2005. Thirty-five people came and EDRM was born. What came out of it was the original version of the diagram and the first set of accompanying materials. We published it all in January of 2006.

What kind of feedback did you get on the diagram—and what have you heard since?

Adoption was quick, yet we also received a lot of resistance. Even now, people tell us the diagram is antiquated or no longer useful. They say something along the lines of, “Well, our tool does processing and review in one—those boxes in the diagram should be combined.” However, that isn’t the point of the diagram. Tools that do multiple boxes are Swiss army knives; they don’t make each step one and the same.

Other feedback was that we should size the diagram’s boxes based on the relative spend for each stage, but we can’t really do that universally. Also, people will ask what the arrows are all about. We use them to emphasize that it’s not merely a linear thing. You sometimes need to go through the cycle over and over again.

In short, there’s no one out there using the exact same workflow as the next person. To establish a universal workflow would require publishing something the size of a Manhattan phone book in 10-point font. The purpose is to give teams a common starting point, a common language, so they can figure out how to proceed. I think we’ve done that, and, overall, those giving feedback have agreed.

What would you say is the most interesting change in e-discovery in the last decade?

Obviously there’s much more case law. The Zubalake decisions were a big driver—they really got people’s attention. Since then, we’ve just gotten more and more.

What hasn’t happened in case law—and shouldn’t, in my opinion—is that it doesn’t tell us how to conduct e-discovery, especially its more technical aspects. After all, why should we be turning to judges for such guidance? We don’t, for example, ask judges how to use case management, knowledge management, or time-and-billing systems, nor do we ask them how to manage the facts in our cases. It seems to me that we shouldn’t expect that type of guidance from judges—that’s not where their experience and expertise lies, and for most judges it is not and should not be their main focus.

You’re holding the EDRM Annual Meeting at Relativity Fest next month. What have you done in these meetings in the past, and what will be new this year?

Our meetings have had consistent structure for several years. We have started by reviewing what we’ve accomplished in the last six months. Then, we map out what we want to do for the next six months and how to get started. We’ll do an abbreviated version of that at this year’s meeting.

What’s new is that we’ll have two sessions during Relativity Fest to highlight work product developed by EDRM members, one on the eMSAT and the other on budget calculators. Members will describe what those resources are and how they can be used in the real world. These are outreach programs that will help people consume our content more effectively.

We want to make these resources more tangible and accessible. To that end, I’m in the process of building what I hope will be an enormous expansion of the educational content surrounding EDRM materials.

What do you see as the future for e-discovery and your role in it?

When we started EDRM we had no idea that anyone would pay attention to what we were doing—and certainly we didn’t expect this scale of attention. One of the drivers for me was an experience I had during my tenure working on those major cases I mentioned earlier. I remember sitting down for lunch with the in-house counsel at the time, and he said some things that were pretty profound. To paraphrase:

“We’ve spent a lot of money on your firm and this litigation, and I want you to understand where that money comes from. It’s not from the stock, and it’s not from the pockets of our executives. It comes from the pockets of the guys who have to spend an extra hour each day working our manufacturing line instead of going bowling or out with friends or home to their families. They’re making up these costs for us.”

Since then, my goal has been to give those people at least 15 minutes back a week. Good e-discovery helps us do that.

George Socha is co-founder of EDRM; president and founder of Socha Consulting LLC, an electronic discovery consulting firm; and co-founder of Apersee. George is also an advisor and expert witness who focuses on the full range of electronic discovery activities. Before launching his consulting firm, he spent 16 years as a litigation attorney in private practice.

David Horrigan is kCura’s e-discovery counsel and legal content director. An attorney, law school guest lecturer, e-discovery industry analyst, and award-winning journalist, David has served as counsel at the Entertainment Software Association, reporter and assistant editor at The National Law Journal, and analyst and counsel at 451 Research.



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