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How to Build an e-Discovery Practice at Your Law Firm: 7 Steps to Start Your Proposal

Bret Libigs

With the growing amount of data and increasing complexity in litigation, law firms are changing the way they handle e-discovery. Many are building or expanding e-discovery practices within their firms, with this shift often driven by members of the litigation support team. After all, these are the people who see the day-to-day challenges.

These litigation support pros have the e-discovery knowledge to find and implement a solution, but many hit a wall when determining where to start, deciding what information to collect for a proposal, or attempting to get the firm’s partners on board.

To build a thriving e-discovery arm, you’ll need a plan tailored to your firm’s needs and goals. To help you get started, we’ve compiled seven tips to prepare for your meeting with the partners.

1. Know Your Current Landscape

Before you start drafting your plan and campaigning around the firm, the first step is to analyze the current state of your organization.

“You need to do an assessment of what types of cases you get, what’s the typical volume and data structures, who are your clientele within the firm,” says David Hasman, e-discovery manager at Bricker & Eckler. “A deep analysis of your current architecture is going to drive the rest of your project by helping you identify holes and opportunities for improvement.”

To get a complete view, gather information about where you’ve spent your time and money over the last year or two.

2. Understand Your Goal (And Align It to Your Firm’s) 

No matter how thorough your pitch is, if it doesn’t align with your firm’s goals and vision, it’s not happening.

A good place to start is considering whether you want the e-discovery practice to recover costs or become a profit center. Your firm most likely already makes significant investments in e-discovery support, but your ultimate ROI goal will have a huge impact on the approach you take.

 3. Create a Plan

After you’ve outlined your current landscape and thought through your vision and goals, you can start creating a strategic plan. David recommends a whiteboard exercise to identify where your practice is and start thinking about where you want to go.

“I used a whiteboard to map out the department’s current landscape—block by block—in one color. In a second color, I drew blocks signifying what I wanted to add to the practice. In a third color, I added blocks explaining where I wanted the department to be in two years. Then I did the same for three to five years down the line,” explains Hasman. “This is how I started the strategic plan for the department.”

Once you have an outline of your strategic plan, it’s time to start thinking about technology, licensing options, and infrastructure. You’ll also need to think about whether you want to host the software on-premises, in the cloud, or a combination of both.

While you might not be ready to make these decisions yet, it’s helpful to consider how each option would fit your firm’s structure and needs.

4. Crunch the Numbers

Now that you have an idea of what technology, infrastructure, and billing approach you want to propose, you can start to dive into the numbers to forecast your expenses and ROI. Examine your costs for operations, employees, and technology as well as how you’ll bill for e-discovery services and support to estimate the practice’s ROI for the next three to five years.

Depending how your firm currently bills for litigation support, it can be difficult to revise your model to incorporate e-discovery services and recover new associated costs. One tip is to use a billing tool to automate the process.

5. Have a Safety Net

When you build out an e-discovery practice within your law firm, it doesn’t mean you’re on your own. Do some research to determine how solution providers can support your team when it comes to particularly large and challenging cases or in areas where your firm doesn't want to invest in an in-house team.

It can also help to know what third-party developers are available to build tools to solve specific or unique problems. As e-discovery changes and new data types arise, developers are busy innovating and creating new ways to efficiently tackle emerging challenges.

6. Paint the Big Picture 

Litigation is the main function of your e-discovery practice, but it’s important to show how your solution can address other pain points. If you can improve technology and process throughout the firm and include other practice areas into your strategy, it will add to the value of your plan.

“Once you know your current landscape, you can see which practice groups aren’t using your team. We noticed some groups that don’t have e-discovery or traditional document review needs, but they do need to analyze unstructured data sources. We’ve built a lot of custom applications within Relativity to help these groups,” says Hasman.

For example, one of Bricker & Eckler’s clients—a national energy provider—was developing a multi-billion-dollar interstate pipeline. Hasman’s team built an application on top of Relativity that allowed them to track the progress of land acquisition and integrate the platform with a geographical information system (GIS) mapping feature.

“Layering various applications, our team created a streamlined information exchange platform that automated document collection, tracked the status of lawsuits in real time, and integrated an innovative GIS mapping feature. It even established the ability to file a lawsuit with the click of a button,” explains Hasman.

7. Find Champion Partner and Executive Sponsors

Even with determination and knowledge, your efforts will be more effective if you have colleagues backing you up.

A partner who supports your plan can help socialize it throughout the firm and act as a sounding board to dissect your ideas and prepare you for objections and questions. It’s also beneficial to have a senior IT leader in your corner. Not only do they have the tech authority, but they have the knowledge to fill any IT or security holes in your proposal.

With big visions for your firm’s e-discovery practice, it’s tempting to jump ahead to the solution without investigating your options and planning how you’ll get there. Your ideas will go a lot further with research and metrics to back them up.

Keely McKee, content marketing specialist at Relativity, contributed to this post.

Bret Libigs is a senior manager of enterprise sales at Relativity, where he helps law firms and corporations handle their growing e-discovery needs.