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How to Build a Business Around e-Discovery: The Troutman Sanders Story

Keely McKee

It’s hard to deny the litigation space—and legal industry in general—is changing. With more data, evolving technology, tough competition, and higher expectations from clients, law firms are left figuring out how to adjust their business model to keep up.

To provide the level of service clients expect, many firms are working toward breaking even for costs related to technology. Other firms see the glass as half full, taking this challenge as an opportunity to build a business around and generate revenue from e-discovery. This model isn’t just about a price tag on litigation support costs—it’s about the value-added services firms are able to provide to their clients.

At least this is how Alison Grounds thought about it when building Troutman Sanders’ subsidiary, eMerge. When thinking back to launching the group, Alison—managing director at eMerge—said: “As a practicing litigator, I noticed where the gaps in the e-discovery process were in people, process, and technology. When you take the pieces of the discovery lifecycle and silo them, you're more likely to miss something and limit your ability to leverage information gained in other parts of the process.”

Troutman Sanders decided to address these gaps in order to deliver the best results for their clients.

An Integrated Approach

The firm recognized the need to integrate the litigation technology team with their attorneys years before eMerge was born. By bringing tech experts and attorneys together under one umbrella, the team was able to make more informed decisions about their clients’ data.

“We had built up a technology team that was working directly with our discovery attorneys to understand issues such as why we needed the data indexed and what search terms for privilege means in a legal context,” said Alison. “We identified a need to integrate the phases to reduce risk and cost.”

As data volumes and the need for e-discovery continued to grow, Alison was strategically evaluating how the firm would need to adapt to not only handle the growing demand for e-discovery, but also differentiate the firm from its competitors.

Having more control and the ability to offer clients this integrated approach was going to be a unique identifier for us as a law firm,” explained Alison. “If you hire our litigation team, you also get the power of a team of data analysts and custom developers.”

While the tech team had built a solid reputation earning confidence throughout the firm, there were still concerns about the idea of a legal technology subsidiary. After all, it’s not in the traditional scope of law firms. To build a business case for the subsidiary, Alison worked with the firm’s director of legal technology, Chris Haley, to track their spending on a more granular level and explain the value of the services they were providing.

Showing the Value of Technologists

Most of the resistance the group faced was around a misconception that they were suddenly charging clients for something they hadn’t previously. “In the first year, I spent a lot of time explaining these costs to my internal clients because they perceived that it would be taken by our clients as some type of baggage fee,” said Alison.

In addition to explaining the costs and how clients are charged, the group had to prove that what they were charging clients for was more valuable than a baggage fee. The firm reinforced this in practice by changing the process around write-offs.

“We stopped allowing people the discretion of writing off the technologists’ time. The firm decided this was a value add and it took a top-down mandate,” explained Alison. “We needed to make sure we were billing for value-added services.”

By creating a subsidiary, the firm was able to show that these technology and e-discovery efforts are separate services that have an impact on clients. Over the years, they’ve started to apply this approach to solve data problems beyond e-discovery, delivering even more sophisticated services to their clients.

“We've been able to continue to do the classic discovery work while also applying the same principles to other areas. For example, we're doing some breach response work and contract analytics,” said Alison. “We're working on any kind of legal problem that has large amounts of data that need to be analyzed to help lawyers make legal decisions.”

Building a Unique Offering

Troutman Sanders has created a unique offering with their integrated approach, using technology strategically to offer these advanced services.

“What allows us to be successful is that we aren't viewing the technology as a commodity. With RelativityOne, we have the ability to differentiate ourselves,” explained Alison. “Having technically sophisticated lawyers and technologists partnering together to use RelativityOne, as well as our custom applications built on top of it, we can find the information needed to win on the merits.”

eMerge has added a layer of people as well as custom workflows and solutions on top of the platform, allowing their clients to take advantage of RelativityOne while also leveraging eMerge’s bells and whistles.

RelativityOne allows us to scale and offer the horsepower of Microsoft and RelativityOne in addition to our own team and resources,” said Alison. “If we're working with our clients in the same RelativityOne instance, we have the same tracking and project management tools, making the handoff easier. Clients are excited about working with us because they can have control and do a lot of things themselves while still having our support and expertise.”

Successful Clients Make a Successful Firm

From how the firm uses RelativityOne to the collaboration between technologists and attorneys, it all comes back to eMerge’s clients and ensuring the firm is providing a higher commitment to client care. To make sure they’re providing the best services and advice, eMerge takes a proactive approach, learning about their clients’ businesses and cases.

“Clients know we're going to invest the time to understand their business as well as the particular needs of the case, ultimately giving advice that makes the most sense for them,” said Alison. “They trust us to make a decision that's going to get them lower risk and the right result.”

Read How Troutman Sanders Got Their Clients On Board with eMerge

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