How Cozen O’Connor Stunned the Opposition with Relativity
Two million documents to review two weeks before their deposition made law firm Cozen O’Connor a little nervous. So, they got creative with Relativity Assisted Review.
A Tale of Stolen Data
In 2015, a small hospital staffing agency lived many companies’ worst nightmare. A former employee hacked into their customer relationship management (CRM) software and gave all their valuable data to his new employer—a big competitor.
Like many companies, the CRM was this staffing agency’s lifeline, containing all the vital information they needed to stay competitive in a field where the first one to find a doctor gets paid.
“Opposing counsel’s document dump could have been a huge challenge to our case, but we used Relativity Assisted Review to learn our data quickly and use it strategically— giving us an immediate upper hand in the deposition.”
DAVID WALTON, Partner
Upon discovering their data had been compromised, the agency enlisted help from the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. One search and seizure later, incriminating evidence against the former employee turned up—emails, recorded conversations, and more.
That wasn’t all. One recorded phone conversation revealed that the competing company may have known about this stolen information, though they denied their involvement.
The agency hired Cozen O’Connor to assist the Justice Department with prosecution of the former employee. Partner Dave Walton oversaw the case. With Cozen’s assistance, the former employee was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison. But the new employer was not prosecuted.
“We Were Stuck”
The Cozen team filed a civil suit against the new employer. And though it sounds pretty open and shut—so much so the company offered a six-figure settlement—things quickly got interesting.
The county in which Cozen filed the case was experimenting with a pilot program and, by luck of the draw, this case ended up on an expedited track. Dave’s team was given a mere two months until their first deposition—a deadline they could not move.
A back-and-forth battle with the opposing side over document format truncated that already tight timeline. Then two weeks before the deposition, the other side buried Dave’s team in more than two million documents.
“Not only did we have to go through those two million documents, but we also had to understand their context, then prepare for the deposition—all in that two-week period,” said Dave. “There was no way we could review them all in two weeks, and we were working on contingency, so we couldn’t afford to put 30 attorneys on it. We were stuck.”
Analytics to the Rescue
Despite the seemingly impossible parameters, the Cozen O’Connor team wasn’t about to give up. They knew the evidence was in those two million documents, they just needed to find it.
Dave saw a big opportunity that surprisingly involved introducing more documents into the equation: Use the files obtained by the FBI and Justice Department during the search and seizure as a seed set for Relativity Assisted Review.
These files—which were known to be related to the case—would train Relativity Analytics on relevancy and help them find other conceptually similar (and thus relevant) files within those two million documents.
“The most important stuff was in the FBI file, so we used this foundation to organize the two million documents,” explained Dave. “Then we combed through the documents using search terms, near-duplicate detection, and other Analytics tools like email threading and categorization.”
Dave’s team also used Assisted Review as a cross-check to prioritize their review and ensure they were finding the key documents.
Fast Results and a Killer Deposition
Within 10 days and with just three people, the team found 100 ‘hot’ documents—which they narrowed down to 50 documents to use in the deposition. Ten of those 50 included strong enough evidence to shock the other side at the first deposition.
In deposing one of the co-owners of the competing company, Dave showed him one of those ten crucial emails. It was the first exhibit in the deposition and it set the tone for the rest of the day.
“Five minutes into the deposition, I showed him the first email, and he just had this blank look on his face,” Dave recalled. “You can tell when your adversary is seeing a document they forgot about, and although the opposing side had produced the email to us as a part of the two million documents, they didn’t go through their documents due to the time crunch, so the witness hadn’t seen it in a long time and he forgot about it.”
The deposition went downhill for the opposing side from there as, one document at a time, Dave pieced together a picture that showed that the company was reorganizing their database during the same timeframe the plaintiff’s data was stolen.
“It was ‘just a coincidence’ that they were redoing their database. No jury was going to buy that and they knew it,” Dave laughed.
By the end of the day, the opposing side increased their initial settlement offer by ten times, and the team settled the case that night.
As for Dave, this case reinforced something he’s believed all along.
“We’re taught in law school if you know your case and your documents better than the other side, you’re going to win,” he said. “Assisted Review is a way to know your documents better than your adversary—even when you can’t do an eyes-on review of everything.”
“My big thing is to use Relativity to win. Everyone knows Relativity is great for reviewing, organizing, and producing your client’s documents. But, in most trade secret cases, that’s not how you win. You need to know how to make sure you’re getting the right documents from the other side and how to dig through them to find the key documents or the absence of documents that could lead to a spoliation argument.
“Assisted Review is a powerful tool for this. It’s all about leveraging Relativity against an adversary that doesn’t have Relativity—or has Relativity, but hasn’t invested the time to learn how to fully use it.”