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Getting Clients on Board with Your Firm's e-Discovery Practice

Keely McKee

The legal market is ripe for growth as many firms are evolving their business models and exploring new opportunities made possible by technology. While reassessing business practices has the potential to be fruitful, change is difficult. On top of building a new practice, getting your clients on board is another hurdle. Once you’ve put in the hard work to build your business, how do you effectively communicate the changes and your goals to internal and external clients?

To answer this question, I sat down with Alison Grounds, managing director of RelativityOne customer Troutman Sanders eMerge. As a leader in the charge to build a subsidiary e-discovery arm for the law firm, Grounds shared some of her experiences rolling out eMerge and her thoughts on how to effectively communicate these types of changes.

Keely: When you were launching eMerge, how did you communicate the idea to clients?

Alison: We chose to build eMerge as a subsidiary, and to offer technology and legal services under the same umbrella. When launching it, we wanted to clearly convey that this was a service that had a marketable value.

When introducing something like this, it’s important to be careful how you position yourself. We’ve learned how to clarify that we are a law firm practice group specializing in a specific area of law and we also provide services that have traditionally been offered by vendors. By adding that technology piece, we wanted to explain that the group does more than practice law—that we’re a one-stop-shop for everything you need during discovery—and that it’s a value add to clients. Charging for the services allows us to constantly invest in our people and our technology.

This is how we positioned ourselves, but it's different for various firms depending on how they build the practice. Find a communication approach that works for your firm and goals.

How did you respond to internal and external resistance when launching eMerge?

One of the reasons we started eMerge was at the request of a client. Many clients were excited we could provide them with seamless, end-to-end services. But there were some internal and external clients that needed to better understand the new pricing model. We had to clarify that the services had never been complimentary and, because of the new services we were able to offer in-house, we were simply changing the way we were charging for them.

We also explained that in the past, before we had expanded to add scalable technology in-house, if a case got too big, there was no consistent place for their data and we had to engage third-party vendors. Once we developed our own Relativity environment and custom technology solutions, we had a much more robust platform that could do a lot more things and that was modified and amplified by lawyers who were using tools for litigation. The comparison wasn’t apples to apples.

Back when we launched in 2012, most of the initial resistance was from attorneys who were not used to using technology for litigation and who did not understand how it could save in overall costs despite being an added expense. If we got resistance, we would compare the costs of using the technology that we're now offering versus not using the technology—which always meant increased hourly time. I would tell them that I’ll do it their way, but I’m going to track the expenses and if their way was cheaper, I would retire. No one ever took me up on it.

How did you build momentum among internal and external eMerge advocates?

Your best advocate is a client that can convert another client. We had such good response from the people using our services, recommended workflows, and technology that other clients soon came on board. We let the work speak for itself and once they worked with us, they were converted.

In a lot of cases, we got brought in at the request of external clients. For clients that may not have gone through the pain of e-discovery in the past, our internal clients were champions for us. It was a two-way street and we had to court both internal and external champions.

It took about a year of growing pains for people to accept the change and learn how we operate, and we had a lot of strong internal advocates who were champions and happy to sing our praises to those who needed convincing.

How do you ensure the team stays on top of all the technology changes?

eMerge is about merging the technology and the law, so it's important to make sure our technologists understand the context of what they're doing and that our lawyers understand the technology. We have internal training programs with tracks for our litigation support team and lawyers as well as sessions featuring recent case law or other practice areas within the firm.

Additionally, we have various committees, such as the review committee, data security committee, and more. Each committee consists of both lawyers and technologists. They come up with goals for the year and report back to the team. For example, if our processing committee comes up with a new workflow for submitting a processing request, they'll do a training on what the problem was, how it's being addressed, and the new workflow.

We also offer CLE sessions to educate our attorneys about the legal changes and technology in the space. Our technology team helps co-present to explain how our team can help with both the legal and technical aspects of any problem. Around the time we launched eMerge, we opened these CLE sessions to our clients as well. This allowed our internal teams to see the high demand our external clients had for this kind of knowledge and how much they valued our team.

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Keely McKee is a member of the creative team at Relativity, specializing in content development.

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