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Innovating In-House: Leveraging Technology to Do More with Less

Kristy Esparza

How many articles have you read in recent years that start with something like, “the data landscape is changing”? As a writer, I feel like I’ve penned that line 5,000 times.

It’s starting to feel a bit … trite. The problem is: it’s the truth.

The data landscape has changed astronomically in the last few years. In fact, the amount of data worldwide is set to reach 181 zettabytes by 2025. It’s a big problem for legal teams because at its core, e-discovery is data—how you use it, how you collect it, how you analyze it. It’s critical to have effective data management strategies in place.

The good news is while technology helped create the problem, it’s also the key to solving it.

At Relativity Fest 2023, four in-house leaders shared their experiences and advice for embracing technology to confront growing data volumes. If you missed it, today’s your lucky day. Here are the biggest takeaways from the discussion.

Resistance Is Futile: Work with Your Tech Stack, Not Against It

Moderator Chad Jones, senior customer success manager at Relativity, kicked off the session by pointing out a problem that most in-house teams are grappling with: the growing tech stack.

“[Corporate communications] are constantly changing. Everyone wants the latest and greatest tool,” said Kacey Hall, counsel at Verizon. “When you’re going from some older messaging platforms to [newer ones], you have all these new and different data types to manage.”

Kacey pointed out a few basic questions that in-house teams need to consider: How do you manage the new and old types of data? How do you retain everything you need, including archived data? How do you ensure different metadata is readable so you can produce it in a timely fashion?

“The second your company decides to use a [new system], e-discovery bells should be going off,” Kacey warned. “There are a lot of challenges [with every new system], and you have to be able to evolve quickly.”

To learn more about the systems your company has in place—and the potential future systems coming down the pipeline—Erica Hawthorne, e-discovery manager at Salesforce, offered sage advice.

“Don’t be afraid to push yourself into the room. When I hear about new thing we’re doing, I think, ‘how are we collecting that? What’s the metadata around that? Who’s the custodian on that?’ I have all these questions and I go directly to the project manager,” she explained. “It’s important to understand how they’re doing these things, because at some point, it’s going to come back to you to collect it.”

When it comes to collecting from these different data sources, the panelists explain how being clear with the requestor on what they need is crucial and the first line of defense against overcollection.

“Overcollection is real, and it turns into over-processing and over-reviewing and other things that cost a lot of money,” Erica said.

Kacey agreed, saying: “The first line of defense is to ask, ‘What do we really need to collect?’ It needs to be reasonable.”

In House Means the Whole House: Cross-Collaboration Is a Requirement, Not an Option

Data problems aren’t the only factors that in-house teams need to navigate, as there’s also the issue of how legal teams work with other departments within their organizations. In the panelists’ experiences, working cross-collaboratively can help your entire organization do more with less.

“At Volkswagen, we work closely with infosec, IT, security, and internal audit. But it hasn’t always been that way,” said Michelle Lange, e-discovery manager at Volkswagon Group of America. “Five years ago, there was no communication between different departments. IT and security didn’t know what e-discovery was. I started to build a rapport with those individuals in security and IT and that expanded into our internal audit department.”

Today, Michelle acknowledges that her “lean” e-discovery team is supported by these departments for typical steps in the e-discovery process, like collection. However, these collaborations have also been mutually beneficial. In fact, Michelle has seen teams outside her own using e-discovery tools in non-standard e-discovery ways.

“Internal audit is now interested in RelativityOne and how to use analytics to look at data in a different way,” she explained.

For Henry Link, associate general counsel in e-discovery & information governance at Meta Platforms, cross-collaboration isn’t an option—it’s a requirement.

“Times have changed, and there’s less justification for departments to be siloed,” he explained. Later in the session he offered his advice for working not just with your peers within your organization, but also those outside of it for the greater good of everyone.

“We have brilliant minds [in the industry], but we cannot work in a vacuum. In the ecosystem of Relativity, innovate but talk to your friends. Make sure you’re innovating in a way that incorporates their needs. Then, collective success will result.”

Automation & Artificial Intelligence Are Need-to-Haves, Not Nice-to-Haves

When asked how her team uses technology to rein in the volume and variety of data, Kacey was quick to answer: “We automate as much as possible. Automated Workflows [in RelativityOne] has saved hours and hours of time. All of your analytics can be automated. We still spot check it, but having those workflows built in is amazing. It works overnight and saves our team an enormous amount of time.”

For Erica, active learning is the e-discovery tool she uses “more than anything else,” but she’s also developed a fondness for a newer AI feature: sentiment analysis, specifically for investigations.

“When we’re trying to get to the meat of the investigation or DSAR, using [sentiment analysis and active learning] can help us narrow down the focus and prioritize the review. We end up reviewing 2,000 documents out of the hundreds of thousands that come in,” she said.

Michelle shared an interesting tidbit about one of her favorite automation tools, Redact in RelativityOne. She explained how one driver for her company to use Redact was to help their outside counsel do more with less. Their law firms, it turns out, were manually reviewing and redacting PDFs in Adobe. One at a time.

“When we discovered that, we put a workflow together and are slowly guiding those law firms to use RelativityOne,” she explained.

e-Discovery Tools Are Evolving Quickly, and Your In-House Team Needs to Do the Same

Toward the close of the section, Chad brought up a point that encapsulates the spirit of the discussion: “Last year at Relativity Fest, I don’t think anyone thought generative AI would be on our roadmap.”

And yet, here we are. Even in our industry, which has traditionally been slow to adapt new technology, the tides are changing so quickly. The panelists all agreed that in-house teams need to keep up with the changes.

“The same way we’re seeing new data sources, we’re also seeing new tools. You may not need them now, but you should know them,” Kacey said. “Generative AI is hottest topic and will probably eliminate the need for first-pass review. You have to be ready to pivot.”

An In-House Guide to Better e-Discovery

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

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