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Legal Services Retrospective

Trustpoint.One CEO, Mark Hawn, sits down to talk about the origins of the company and the history of legal services.

An Interview with Trustpoint.One CEO Mark Hawn

From comparatively simple beginnings in document management and legal coding, the modern eDiscovery and legal services industry has evolved into a complex, multi-faceted business encompassing everything from managed review to the application of AI in data analysis. We spoke with Mark Hawn, CEO of Trustpoint.One, to hear how the company evolved out of those early days into a global leader in professional services.

Mark, let’s start with the basics. Everyone has a story of how this industry came to be. What’s your version? 

Trustpoint.One was formally founded in what I would call the post-paper era, about 8 to 10 years after the shift to ESI began. But the predecessor companies that would eventually become Trustpoint – those were launched back in the 80’s, and support services like copying, scanning, and faxing were their meat and potatoes.

It’s interesting to me that there’s a whole generation walking around today that has never known a world without data. For them, I think it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the fact that once upon a time, there was no such thing as a Xerox machine – which meant that just about all of the documentation in a case involved original documents

But then as copiers became commonplace, we saw this evolution in litigation and discovery. It only made sense to produce copies of original documents, because obviously, if something happens to an original, it’s gone forever.

I started out working for a copy shop that serviced law firms and corporations, and I worked pretty closely with the paralegals and the legal secretaries – the folks that were truly handling the reproduction of documents and evidence. So I developed a pretty good context of knowledge around how they did their work and what really went on in the trenches.

One of the things I discovered was that while copy machines had a code system, it wasn’t always used correctly. The idea was that copies for internal use could be coded as such, and then each client would be assigned a code of their own. That way, client copies could be billed to the clients, and “house” copies could be billed as an internal expense. But when the assistants and paralegals were making copies – for example, suppose they had two different folders of documents they needed to copy for two different clients – rather than enter the client matter numbers for each of the different clients, it was easier for them to just punch in the firm’s internal code. Which meant that the firm was essentially eating the cost of those copies, and over time, that tended to really add up.

Knowing this, I’d ask for a meeting with the firm administrator or the managing partner, and I’d pull the logs from their tracking system to show how much additional expense the firm was taking on. This became my “in” to convince them to utilize our teams for this work so that the process would be more closely managed and client codes would be billed correctly. It was an aha moment for the administrator when they realized that with our help, their paralegals and assistants could be working on more complex, higher-value, billable tasks.

That was really the beginning of outsourcing within the law firms, from my perspective: the beginning of the firm / support provider relationship model.

And then came computers.

Exactly. And as we all know now, that changed everything. Law firms and their clients started utilizing new technologies for communication and collaboration, project and process tracking, billing, you name it. But like most of those platforms, data processing applications – and their related methodologies and standards – were still comparatively immature.

Early on, people would actually collect emails for discovery and then have them printed. It’s kind of ironic, but the technology wasn’t yet available to simply take an email and put it into a database. We had to print them out so they could be reviewed. Very few companies knew how to do it, and there were all kinds of challenges – for example, if I took a person’s mailbox and loaded it into my Outlook, any message I printed from that mailbox would have my name at the top left. Hardly an ideal situation, from the perspective of a production deliverable, but the only available option was for paralegals and attorneys to just manually redact the documents so the wrong name wasn’t shown.

Eventually we figured out how to print it without a person’s name, which saved legal teams hours and hours – time that they absolutely would have billed to their customers. And then we automated that process, and that became one of the first iterations of what I would call eDiscovery software, because it represented the difference between delivering boxes of paper, and delivering TIFF images with a load file. It meant we could finally go from a mailbox right into a database like Concordance.

Now, when you say “we,” do you mean the industry as a whole?

Generally, yes. A few pioneers adapted technologies to improve processes in the legal industry, leveraging prior experience in paper document management, facilities and infrastructure management, and even staffing and project management to develop their own ways of addressing the different needs and challenges posed by ESI. We were all sort of inventing eDiscovery as we went along.

Eventually, as we know it today was founded, with a focus on the maturing eDiscovery industry and the convergence of legal document review and data processing. As technologies and methods continued to evolve, we built out a range of service offerings that included managed document review, attorney staffing, and consulting, in addition to data processing. 

And that’s an important thing to realize: at the core, this industry is really all about managing data, but in order to do that, you need technologists and lawyers who have tremendous experience with discovery systems. At Trustpoint, those people dedicated to keeping up with what’s coming next so that we’re in the best position possible to provide the service and support our clients need.

That’s a great segue into a two part question: what are the biggest challenges the industry faces today, and what do you think comes next?

Let me start with what comes next. It’s kind of analogous to where we started, back in the early days when I realized that law firms could run more efficiently if they outsourced support tasks. What we’re doing with managed services is really similar. We’re handling everything that’s not the actual practice of law: collection, processing, filtering. Identification of key sources of data. Organizing data in a review database so it can be reviewed and produced.

The biggest addition is the use of AI tools to help reduce costs and get attorney eyes on the most important documents faster. What we’re seeing now is that eDiscovery companies are bundling their services so that clients pay a fixed monthly fee for a certain level of service, where the level of service depends on the customer’s particular needs. As the industry continues to evolve, I think we’ll get better and better at evaluating clients’ needs through real metrics, not guesswork. That, in turn, will lead to better, more granular determinations about how we can package services and support to make both costs and outcomes more predictable.

And what about the challenges? What do you anticipate there?

You know, we consistently see clients who are struggling to collect the metrics they need to accurately assess usage and needs – the starting point for any effective use of managed solutions. But we’ve found that with buy-in from the right people on the client’s end, and by asking the right questions, we can narrow the scope of available services and pinpoint the kinds of support that will really make a difference, both in terms of outcomes and on the bottom line. 

Another challenge we’ve observed is basically one of identity. We’re essentially offering two different versions of data management: on premises, which is where service providers like Trustpoint manage their own data centers and infrastructure. We might call that a private cloud. And then you have what we might call the public utility clouds. AWS, Microsoft Azure – massive infrastructures managed by people outside the legal industry, and shared by organizations of all kinds, across many different industries.

I think it’s pretty obvious that the service provider community will be offering both models into the future. The question is, what do the delivery models look like? What do the revenue models look like? Right now, a lot of clients are risk averse where the public cloud is concerned, because of perceived security and privacy implications. As a result, some industries and firms are not moving data to the Cloud, so there is a need for both models to be offered concurrently.  But on the other hand, public clouds can offer an economy of scale. There’s a trade-off – there always is – and as an industry, we all have to work towards that ideal balance between efficiency, cost, and dependability. 

That said, regardless of how the technology changes, I think there will always be people who have the expertise to ensure that the potential gains outweigh the risks, who will be there to support their clients and always keep their best interests in mind.

It’s amazing to consider just how far the industry has come – thanks for this fascinating retrospective, and for sharing your insights.