Aligning Interests & Rethinking eDiscovery
We got together with Zeke Alicea, who has been in the legal tech industry for more than 15 years, to get his perspective on the industry and talk about long-term relationships, creating a win-win solution, and challenging the status quo. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Zeke, you’ve been in this business for a long time. How do you define success? And what does it take to get there?
For me, success revolves around service. I take pride in helping others succeed, in supporting their growth and their achievements. And I think the best way to do that is to ask questions. What do you need in order to reach your goals? What’s standing in your way, and what can you do to overcome it? I think if you want to be successful, you have to continually challenge your own assumptions, and challenge the status quo. You have to look at the traditional way of doing things and ask why it’s being done that way. And you have to make that your habit: rigorously, deliberately asking why.
So often the real answer is “because it has always been done that way.” Even if the stated answer is something different. But you have to challenge that. You have to ask, where’s the science behind it? Where are the metrics? How can you prove that one way is better or more effective than another way?
That’s a great point: when we stop asking questions, we stop evolving. So if you had to point to one aspect of the legal services industry that really should be challenged, what would you pick?
Pricing. Definitely, hands down. We have to constantly ask ourselves, does it really cost X to do this service? You know, traditionally we charged so much per gigabyte, and every step in the process was more expensive than the previous step, but then as volumes kept getting bigger, people started looking for a better way. And then somebody came up with a different model: the managed services model. Which is not original, by any means – it’s been widely used in the IT space for a long time. We just figured out how to adapt it a little bit and apply it to what we were doing.
Let’s dig into that a little. Why is a managed services model better? What’s the advantage?
Well, it’s really about setting up a win-win solution. As a law firm or corporate legal team, you don’t want to manage your own instance of Relativity. You don’t want to manage those servers, and you probably don’t want to deal with loading data, running searches, doing analytics, and so on. At least, you want the option of not having to handle those things. Instead, you want to focus on delivering what matters, which is taking care of your clients. You want to spend your time working on the case, not fussing around with software, or worrying about how big the bill is going to be. The managed services model gives you that freedom.
And then for the service provider, the model supports predictable revenue which actually lets us offer better cost savings.
So everyone’s interests are better aligned, and everyone benefits.
Exactly. If you take a step back, what we’re really talking about here is taking the long view. It’s about caring about the customer and building lasting relationships. Maximizing profits on every single project ceases to be the goal. Instead, you can focus on building the relationship and being an advocate for your client.
Okay, then why do you think people still do it the traditional way? If a transactional, short term model offers fewer benefits, why stick with it?
I think it comes down to two things. One, it’s fear of change, or a desire to avoid interruptions, or inertia. Call it what you will. And two, sometimes the perception is that there’s not enough pain to justify a switch. Yet when they do, they realize the difference, and it’s a revelation.
A revelation because the relationship is so much more supportive, right? So when you’re working with a client, how do you perceive your role?
First off, I think having humility is important – and I’ll often say “I’ve never had an original thought.” Because the truth is, throughout my career, people have mentored me, coached me, helped me, molded me. And what I’ve learned is that I have to be my client’s advocate. I have to constantly work behind the scenes to make sure your projects are running smoothly, to make sure that you’re getting the communication and the deliverables that you’re expecting.
It’s such a crucial perspective. Any final thoughts? What advice would you give to those who are just starting out, either as lawyers or in an ediscovery firm?
You know, I think it’s really important to focus on aligning interests. This isn’t a zero-sum game, right? When my client wins, I win. When they benefit, so do I. And if we’re focused on those long-term relationships, there’s better synergy, less turmoil, and better outcomes. Like I said: it’s a win-win all around.