How To Get Better Business Outcomes
Five Reasons You Shouldn’t Manage Your Own eDiscovery Environment
What I’ve Learned After 23 Years In This Field
By Josh Watkins
For more than 20 years now, I’ve carried primary responsibility to keep eDiscovery environments humming along like a well-oiled machine. I’ve lost count of the number of environments I’ve consulted with, but let’s just say it’s well over one hundred. My first opportunity to get under the hood of this industry came in 1999 when I was Litigation Support Analyst for Akin Gump. From 1999 to 2022, I’ve seen nothing less than a sea-swell of change. As I reflect back on this 23-year journey, I’m left with one overriding impression.
The people, process and technology requirements for eDiscovery have changed so much that I’m no longer convinced that most organizations should manage their own environments. I believe that doing so actually puts them at a competitive disadvantage. You might think that this is a thinly-veiled pitch for our services. I acknowledge that sentiment. But if you take the time to read what I say here, I think you’ll change your mind. In fact, my goal in writing this article is to help you consider alternative strategies that will empower you to compete at a much higher level, while increasing profits. In other words, this is how you could get better performance AND better financial results. Let’s explore how to do that.
Any organization that owns and takes primary responsibility for managing the day-to-day operations of an eDiscovery environment can benefit from what I’m about to share. This would include:
- Law firms
- eDiscovery service providers
- Consultancies with a core competency or practice area in eDiscovery and investigations
- Corporations, government agencies and other stakeholders who prefer to manage eDiscovery in-house
If that sounds like your organization, I think you’ll benefit from what I’m about to share.
Here are five reasons you shouldn’t manage your eDiscovery environment:
- You probably don’t have the specialized skillsets in-house you need to do this well.
- You probably can’t do this cost-effectively.
- The stakes are too high for getting this wrong.
- You probably need far more flexibility than you have today.
- Your team will struggle to stay on the cutting edge.
Here are five reasons to consider going with an eDMSP (eDiscovery Managed Service Provider) instead:
- eDMSP’s have all the skillsets you need.
- eDMSP’s can do this very cost-effectively because of shared resources.
- Most eDMSPs have security experts on staff.
- eDMSPs offer very flexible agreements that can change as needed.
- eDMSPs must stay on the cutting edge to compete.
The skills required to stand-up and maintain these environments often include:
- Multiple eDiscovery application experts—especially as these systems have become increasingly more complex.
- eDiscovery workflow expert.
- Data Architecture Specialist
- A security expert to protect ESI (electronically stored information) from exposure.
- One or more SQL DBAs.
- Networking experts.
- IT infrastructure experts, particularly with an advanced understanding of virtualization.
It is incredibly rare that one person would be an expert in more than one of these areas. This means that you are likely looking at 7 or more highly paid individuals to deploy and keep this environment up and running around the clock. Most organizations, in my experience, simply don’t have these people. If they do have them, they’re at-risk of being poached by other companies who also desperately need them.
By my estimation, the list of skillsets above represents the minimum requirements for managing most eDiscovery environments. This leads to the second major reason not to manage these environments internally: cost. This list of 7 experts can often cost at least 1 million dollars a year, and sometimes much more than that.
Here’s the challenging part. While you need all these experts, you probably don’t need all of them full-time. However, you do need these skillsets to be available 24×7. Most organizations hire full-time employees because of perceived reliability. Company leaders seem to believe that if these skills are available in-house, then they’ll have the support they need when they need it—which is often not the case. These people get sick and need vacations too.
Of the 7 skillsets listed above, security is one where many organizations under-invest which can lead to catastrophic outcomes. The Panama Papers is both a film and a true story about a law firm that didn’t take security seriously and paid a dear price. I believe a security-first mind-set is crucial for any organization involved in eDiscovery. But security is not the only risk.
These skills are in high demand, which means that an enticing offer from just down the street can leave you in a lurch. What would happen if you took on a very important and time-sensitive matter for a great client, only to have your eDiscovery environment suffer an extended outage because one or more of the critical team members moved on? What would this do to your reputation? I’ve seen this happen.
If there is one thing the pandemic taught all of us, it’s that business isn’t constant. This means we need flexible systems that can expand and constrict with our business cycles. Most in-house teams operate on fixed budgets with fixed operating models. This usually means your eDiscovery environment cannot flex with your business needs.
Most of the eDiscovery environments that I’ve audited are over-engineered. There’s more technology than is needed to get the job done. This usually happens because well-intentioned people architect for capacity—just in case you need it. But that capital expenditure is a fixed cost, not a flexible one. Wouldn’t it be better if you had an option to quickly flex as you needed it, rather than before you needed it?
eDiscovery is an industry in flux, with new technologies, approaches and game-changing ideas altering operating environments quickly. But most in-house eDiscovery teams struggle to keep up. They’re often only exposed to new ideas from two sources: the limited number of companies they’ve worked for and the conferences they attend. What about individual research time, you ask? In my experience, most eDiscovery support teams are so busy keeping the wheels on the bus, they have little time to explore new options on a consistent basis. The net-net to you is that you’re probably behind the curve all the time, especially compared to competitors who may have discovered better options.
Now that we’ve explored why you shouldn’t manage your own eDiscovery environment, let’s examine a strategy I think makes a lot of sense these days—going with an eDMSP. For the sake of being completely transparent, George Jon is an eDMSP. But we are not the only player in this space. I think we’re the best, but we certainly are not the only one.
One of the reasons I came to George Jon in 2020 is because I saw the handwriting on the wall. After having worked in almost a dozen different organizations, it was apparent to me that pretty much all of them were struggling to figure out how to manage the challenges I listed above. Those challenges have given rise to the eDMSP opportunity. This industry now exists for a reason. I do not see it changing any time soon. In other words, even if you don’t want to give my counsel credence because I work for an eDMSP, I don’t think it would be wise to disregard the arguments here. Those who are closed off to this trend may very well find themselves suffering the consequences for doing so within just a few years.
Most eDMSP’s have all seven of the skillsets I listed above, at a minimum. But they also have depth at the bench that almost no in-house team can mimic cost-effectively. I know this from first-hand experience. I built eDiscovery teams comprised of these skillsets for more than one law firm. It worked okay until we faced one of two circumstances:
- Needing to get work done 24×7.
- People getting sick, taking vacation or moving on to another company or role.
When either of these circumstances happened, and they happened more than I’d like to admit, we were scrambling. Why? Because we usually only had one expert in a given area. The beauty of the eDMSP model is that they have multiple qualified people in all of these roles. eDMSP’s also have employees that get sick, take vacations and even move on to other jobs. But the difference is that the eDMSP has other well-trained employees standing by who can pick up the slack.
The reason eDMSP’s can do this so much more cost-effectively than in-house teams is because they cost-share skillsets across numerous clients. Let’s take, for example, one very important skillset I’ve listed above—Data Architect Specialist. The role of this professional is to:
- Analyze in-flows and out-flows of data sets within eDiscovery environments.
- Identify bottlenecks that cause slow-downs and outages.
- Architect solutions that speed up processes and prevent outages.
- Train system users in how to use the processes and tools they’ve integrated into the environment.
- Be on-call, should problems arise that they can fix.
- Check back in about every 6 months to see how things are going and to identify even more ways to enhance speed and performance.
- One year later, start the cycle all over again.
As you can see, this skillset could be incredibly valuable for optimizing performance. But here’s the thing. Most eDiscovery environments only need this level of touch a few times a year, at most. When you need it, you really need it. But then what? What happens to a data architect who gets bored because they don’t have interesting problems to work on? They move on. I’ve seen it time and time again.
But eDMSPs can keep this type of professional busy, engaged, moving up in their career and constantly challenged by new problems that need to be fixed. As an FTE for a law firm, for instance, they would only need to work a few weeks out of the year. But as an FTE for an eDMSP, they could work year-round and never get bored. But the best part is that salary costs, which let’s say are $200,000 per year, get shared across a multitude of clients. No one organization has to pay $200,000 for a part-time employee. This is why, at the end of the day, eDMSP’s can give you better outcomes for less money.
This is an area where I see real business advantage for those who go with eDMSP’s. We recently completed a set of interviews with clients where we asked them what they liked about how we serve them. We got a surprising answer. Several of our clients talked about an uptick in confidence in their eDiscovery operating environment and how this emboldened them to sell more engagements.
At the heart of this confidence was an acknowledgment that their environments were undoubtedly more secure than before we started serving them. One client said that they were hesitant to promote their eDiscovery services before we took over because their personal reputation was on the line.
Most eDMSPs have security experts on staff who design environments with a security-first mindset. The environments they architect are as secure as possible from day one. This has grown in consideration tremendously since I began in this field. In my estimation, this is still not as high a priority within most eDiscovery operators as it should be. Our efforts have substantially improved the security posture of our clients. The costs for security experts have also gone way up. Very soon, most stand-alone eDiscovery operators will find it very difficult to finance the security expertise they need.
Many eDMSPs offer very flexible agreements that can change as needed. For example:
- Some of our clients want a professional standing by and ready to help them 24×7. Other clients only want someone standing by from 9-5.
- Some of our clients want us to architect a brand-new solution for them from the ground up. Other clients want us to come in and take over day-to-day responsibility for their existing environment.
- Some of our clients only want three or four of the skillsets I’ve listed above. Other clients want all seven skillsets.
- Some of our clients want to source their technology needs through us. Other clients want to buy it directly and then have us deploy it for them.
- Some of our clients want us to routinely analyze their operations, recommend new solutions and then deploy them on their behalf. This is how they stay on the cutting edge. Other clients are perfectly happy with their current environment and just want us to maintain it for them.
This level of flexibility makes it easy and cost-effective to give our clients exactly what they need. I can tell you that the entire time I ran eDiscovery for law firms, I never had this level of flexibility. It was usually all or nothing—with the associated price tag.
Probably the single biggest reason to consider an eDMSP is this one. While many organizations who operate eDiscovery environments can lag behind on keeping their people on the cutting edge, that is not an option for eDMSP’s. They must stay on the cutting edge to compete and to solve the very wide range of technical, financial and business problems clients need solved. This is a business imperative. eDMSP’s can’t compete unless they stay on the cutting edge.
I like basketball a lot. An analogy I often use is that most in-house eDiscovery teams are like a high school basketball team going up against an NBA team. eDMSP’s usually attract some of the best talent in the industry and they pay to keep that talent on the cutting edge. They have to. This means that any organization that works with that eDMSP will absolutely have competitive advantage over a team that only has in-house staff.
One of the reasons I know this first-hand is because I’ve put the career-path structures in place for both law firm eDiscovery teams and eDMSP’s. There is no comparison. As the leader of an eDMSP, I can create a career path that takes talent from rookie to serious professional at a much faster clip than I ever could while inside a law firm. There simply wasn’t enough budget, time or training resources to give people a comparable career path inside a law firm.
Okay, so those are my reasons for saying that organizations that rely solely on in-house teams will soon be at a competitive disadvantage to organizations that use eDMSP teams. This trend is not going away. You might still think that this was just a pitch for our services. I may not be able to change your mind about that. But here’s what I know. The clients who’ve gone on this journey with us absolutely love the results they’re getting. Their people are happier and experience far less anxiety. Their environments are stable and just work. They run more profitable and cost-effective eDiscovery functions overall.
If you’d like to know how we might be able to help you achieve those outcomes, we should talk.
Director of Technical Operations
Josh provisions technological resources for eDiscovery project deployments and managed service clients around the globe, ensuring that platforms are operating at peak performance and adhere to GJ’s industry-leading SLA parameters.
Josh boasts 20+ years of leadership experience in the litigation support industry, performing key functions for law firms, service providers, and software developers. He specializes in process development, project management, litigation technology consulting, ESI preservation, and processing/training/trial services.
George Jon (GJ) is an eDiscovery infrastructure, product and process specialist, delivering performant, scalable, fault tolerant environments for users worldwide. GJ works with global corporations, leading law firms, government agencies, and independent resellers/hosting companies to quickly and strategically implement large-scale eDiscovery platforms, troubleshoot and perfect existing systems, and provide unprecedented 24/7 core services to ensure optimal performance and uptime.
George Jon’s (GJ) conclusions are informed by fifteen-plus years of conducting enterprise-class eDiscovery platform assessments, application implementations and infrastructure benchmark testing for a global client base. GJ has compiled extensive quantitative and qualitative insights from the research and implementation of these real-world environments, from single users to multinational corporations, and is a leading authority on eDiscovery infrastructure.