Tasked with managing the information and documents of 1,200 landowners spanning 200 miles during a natural gas pipeline development project, Bricker & Eckler took advantage of Relativity's extensibility by creating LandTracker—a Relativity Innovation Award winner for 2017.

Not Just for e-Discovery: How Bricker & Eckler Configured Relativity to Track Land Details for a Multibillion-Dollar Pipeline Construction

200 Miles of Land Tracts

When Bricker & Eckler's client began developing a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline spanning roughly 200 miles, two states, and multiple counties, Bricker & Eckler was tasked with managing all of the information for more than 1,200 landowners.

The challenge wasn't only organizing thousands of real estate documents, landowner tract information, and financial data, but also keeping track of hundreds of potential easement lawsuits in real time.

The Bricker team consisted of both technical and legal staff, led by litigation support manager Dave Hasman and energy attorney Frank Merrill.

"In the beginning, we started tracking all the document information using Excel and Word. However, we quickly realized that approach would take too long," Dave said. "Because the client was on such a tight deadline, we knew we needed a custom resource to help us automate the process."

“In the beginning, we started tracking all the document information using Excel and Word. However, we quickly realized that approach would take too long. Because the client was on such a tight deadline, we knew we needed a custom resource to help us automate the process.”
DAVE HASMAN, Litigation Support Manager

The team had experience building custom applications on Relativity, but they knew this project would be particularly challenging given the demanding timeline and complexity.

From Networking to Managing Gas Line Networks

Dave and the team began loading case information and documents into Relativity using six custom objects—landowner details, land details, easements, other restrictions, leases and mortgages—to track every component in one place. By having landowner information and easement status information stored within Relativity, the attorneys on the project were now able to search by landowner name or tract number and quickly locate individual information. Likewise, they could track the status of certain activities and calendar future events.

Pitching the initial application-now called LandTracker-to their client, Bricker & Eckler received initial approval to continue developing, despite their client's apprehension about the platform's scalability.

"Our client, who has pipelines all over the world, basically told us "good luck," Dave remembers. "But, thankfully, they trusted us and we were confident that we could deliver results using this platform."

At this point, Dave sought to expand the team by enlisting Relativity Developer Partner NSerio. With NSerio on board to augment the small in-house team, he created a more detailed project plan with many custom features-including real-time analytics and financial reporting that pipeline developers could access. Bricker & Eckler then had the resources needed to build out the functionality and make LandTracker successful.

Virtual Reality

With landowner information and easement status fully loaded in Relativity, the team was looking for a way to aggregate the nearly 1,600 fields and choices that were storing tract information in a more structured and user-friendly way for the case attorneys.

KMZ files—Google Earth placemark files that store latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates and 3D model data-were layered on top of Relativity, creating an interactive map view of each landowner across the 200-mile stretch. By integrating the 60+ files, LandTracker now provided a very granular breakdown of pipeline construction, including highly-specific information such as the type of grass and species of surrounding trees. Having this information integrated within LandTracker gave the attorneys and the client access to construction details in one centralized location.

"Because this project had so many components, an important part of our job was ensuring that the correct information was readily available," said Merrill. "From the planning stage to the development stage, filtering data based on certain specifications has saved us countless hours and has helped our clients move quickly when it really counted."

Bricker & Eckler LandTracker Testimonial

The Click of a Button

After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approves a new pipeline development, however, landowners can refuse to allow access to their property for the construction and installation of the pipeline. This requires project developers to file a federal lawsuit in order to acquire easements and access private properties.

Knowing this would be a likely situation for many of the landowners, the team created an object within Relativity that would generate the necessary documents to file, pulling that information from already established fields, and saving thousands of hours of manual work. By establishing this mass action, LandTracker users can auto-generate complaint, disclosure, and exhibit documents with the click of a button.

"As the development ideas for LandTracker progressed, Relativity's endless platform capabilities enabled us to turn these ideas into reality," Dave said. "And that's what makes Relativity so effective."

A Case Tracker for LandTrackerLandTracker Realtivity Application

After nearly 1,600 fields and choices, 22 objects, and two agents, the team still wasn't satisfied with LandTracker's administrative functionality, because the attorneys were still having difficulty keeping up with statuses of individual cases.

Dave and his colleagues built event handlers on top of the document object to track easement status back to each individual landowner. As soon as a case was filed, the event handler would pre-populate dates into a calendar, allowing attorneys to track court deadlines and service documents. Daily, auto-generated reports were also sent to case workers, which included direct links to open case details and service status.

"The calendar feature really sealed the deal for us," Frank said. "We were able to provide our client with real-time case status, ensuring they stayed compliant and didn't miss any court deadlines, which proved incredibly valuable."

The End Result

Integrating features of several applications, including Google Earth, financial statistics, and real-time analytics, allowed Bricker & Eckler to consolidate data in a way that was meaningful for their client and their complex project. Likewise, the platform—and the information itself—provided value to the client beyond its short-term use, so future efficacy of the solution was an important consideration and a strategic driver of the project.

Not only did Bricker's team use Relativity in an innovative way, they also brought a fresh approach to bridging the gap between information technology and legal work. While data collection and organization was imperative to the project's success, the tool also had to give the data purpose from a legal perspective—a significant challenge when blending both legal and non-legal information.

Thanks to LandTracker, the pipeline company not only tracked landowner information, but it also forecasted and made business decisions based off that insight.

"We didn't just build a custom tool to solve a problem for a client," said Frank. "We built a dynamic solution that has the capability of streamlining the many similar projects going on each day in this industry. And we did it all with Relativity."

“We didn’t just build a custom tool to solve a problem for a client. We built a dynamic solution that has the capability of streamlining the many similar projects going on each day in this industry. And we did it all with Relativity.”
FRANK MERRILL, Partner

 

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With offices throughout the state, Bricker & Eckler is one of Ohio's leading law firms. Bricker represents a wide variety of clients, with particular strength in the health care, public sector, financial services and energy industries in Ohio and beyond. The firm has a long history of promoting and supporting diversity and inclusion in an ongoing effort to reflect the communities and clients it serves.