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How to Get Started with AI for e-Discovery: 4 Tips from the Experts

Kristy Esparza

“In the US, we have a discovery problem. It’s a big one. It’s a simple one: the amount of unstructured data is ballooning, and there’s no end in sight.”

Jessica Maurer, partner at Mayer Brown LLP, didn’t mince words last year at Relativity Fest. During the panel, “Unlocking the Potential of AI,” she played it straight with the room.

“Budgets can’t grow at the same rate that data is growing, and even if they could, humans are bad at figuring out what’s in unstructured data,” she said. “AI offers the potential to solve that problem.”

As counsel for large corporate clients, Jessica knows all too well the issue of “big data, small deadline.” For her team, AI has become crucial to ensuring successful cases and happy clients—it’s the solution to a problem that’s gotten out of control.

Jessica’s take, while certainly savvy, isn’t unique. Experts predicted that AI would become less a luxury and more a necessity, thanks to a looming recession and even tighter e-discovery budgets.

The question is: How do you get started?

Jessica and her fellow panelists shared their tips and experiences.

Tip #1: Plan Ahead & Start Small

We all love to live by the seat of our pants every now and then, but there’s a time and place for spontaneity, and AI isn’t it. Like so many things in life, planning is key with implementing AI into your next project (and getting stakeholders on board).

“Do not wait until you have a company litigation to start using AI,” warned Jonathan Foster, managing director at Deloitte. “Sit down and write out your plan now.”

Johnathan offered a pointed question to help get the ball rolling: what will your review protocol look like? While you could be tempted to think big—and jump right into using AI to exclude large documents pools—that may not be the best path forward on the first go. Instead, Jonathan recommends getting your feet wet by using AI at a smaller, but still impactful, scale—like review prioritization or QC.

“You’ll feel more comfortable, and your clients will feel more comfortable seeing how it works,” Jonathan said.

Tip #2: Think Outside the “Responsive/Non-Responsive” Checkbox

A common misconception with AI in e-discovery is that it’s useful for cutting down large volumes of documents —and that’s it. The truth is, AI can be applied much more broadly than that. In fact, there are several use cases for AI outside your typical responsiveness review box.

“Any time you have a yes/no question, you can use AI,” Jonathan said. “What’s big in the coming years is using AI for privilege, personal information identification, and breach notification.”

Additionally, using AI on a smaller scale can help you get over common hurdles, like tedious discussion with opposing counsel. Jenya Moshkovich, global e-discovery counsel at Genentech, shared her experience, explaining that in some cases where her clients want to avoid the back-and-forth discussion about review parameters, they won’t disregard AI altogether—they’ll just use it more strategically.

“In those cases, especially asymmetrical cases, we might use it for prioritizing or QC and not so much for culling, so we don’t have to fight [with the opposing side],” she said.

Tip #3: Ask for Help

Whether you work in house or at a firm, you likely know the benefits of bringing in some outside reinforcements, especially for large matters. When it comes to AI or other new-to-you technology, outside help can make all the difference. So, start having those conversations today.

“It’s important to trust someone to guide you through the process and sit down and make a plan up front,” Jenya said. “There are many different workflows. It’s helpful to have guidance on where they’ve seen them used best.”

The best way to get comfortable with AI is to see it in action. For that, Jonathan recommended asking to see how it works, step by step.

“Ask them to walk you through a matter and show you how you attack it. You’ll find early on it isn’t magic—it’s a very simple process that, if you follow it time and again, will always lead you to a good result,” he said.

Tip #4: Get Educated

Throughout the session, all three panelists acknowledged that fear is too often what holds people back from diving into new technology, like AI. Jumping head first into what feels like—and truly is—a complicated technology can be daunting. Educating yourself, however, can go a long way.

For her part, Jessica recommends starting with basic lingo to make conversations with clients and service providers easier—things like precision, recall, elusion tests. She also points to conferences (like` Relativity Fest!) and CLE opportunities as great starting points. But most importantly, she reminded the group that it’s okay not to know something. Don’t let the fear of the unknown hold you back.

“You don’t need to be an expert on day one. There are people who have been immersed for years, so use their knowledge. Don’t wait until you’re an expert to get started,” Jessica said. “As lawyers, we have to start learning and not stop learning. Come to it from a place of humility and recognize that you can always learn more, and the more you learn the better service you can provide to your client.”

If you’re still feeling hesitant, Jonathan made a sage point: e-discovery AI tools aren’t designed for AI experts—they’re designed for legal experts.

“[AI] is not hard,” he explained. “The tools out there are designed to be used by attorneys and to be friendly and easy.”

AI Is Here to Stay. It’s Time to Embrace It.

At the end of the day, the goal of most legal cases is to save the client time and money and get the best possible results. In today’s world, that’s dependent on finding solution to the big data problem. According to Jessica, the solution is AI, whether you want to accept it or not.

“Part of our jobs is making sure we’re up to speed on technology that can save our clients’ money and get them better results faster. My advice is this: you have to do it. You don’t have the choice you maybe had 10 years ago. It’s a critical part of the job now.”

Graphics for this article were created by Sarah Vachlon.

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Kristy Esparza is a member of the marketing team at Relativity, specializing in content creation and copywriting.

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