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The Counterintuitive Method

These days, just about every legal solutions firm claims to offer customized approaches that are tailored to fit your specific needs. The idea of a “cookie cutter approach” is widely held to be near blasphemous...

These days, just about every legal solutions firm claims to offer customized approaches that are tailored to fit your specific needs. The idea of a “cookie cutter approach” is widely held to be near blasphemous, and yet we frequently encounter cases for which a standardized, basic approach is just fine. In fact, we’ve often found it to be more cost-effective, reliable, and predictable – after all, new processes take time to refine and test.

So how do you know when you need a unique set of processes and workflows, and when you should pull out your cookie cutter? It may seem counter-intuitive, but it actually aligns with our approach to client satisfaction: you start by working backwards.

Establish A Baseline to Recognize Outliers

As a first step, figure out what “cookie cutter” means in your organization. Like so many terms, it’s often overloaded, so take the time to get consensus on what your most common, baseline matter looks like. Data volume and type are big influencers in this conversation, but the most effective approach is typically to use your own track record, starting with the matter type and the production requirements.

For example, suppose you handled 100 cases last year. You look back through your case management docs and determine that 23 were antitrust cases that involved a high percentage of spreadsheets. These were produced as native files. Another 67 cases were wage and hour matters, with mostly emails and Word files – given their relative simplicity, they were all TIF productions. The remaining 10 cases, however, were different: they involved audio files, which were produced in accordance with SEC standards as .wmv files, with accompanying delimited text files containing metadata.

Given this simple example, you can see that those cases were the odd balls. The wage and hour matters were relatively simple, requiring only a basic workflow to handle processing, review, export and QC. The native productions were a little trickier, since the metadata had to be appropriately scrubbed of confidential info, but with modern applications that’s no longer much of an issue. Only the cases that involved audio files had unique production requirements – and therefore needed a unique approach to data management, processing, and review.

The Backwards Planning Playbook

Given these insights into your past experiences, you can extrapolate a basic playbook for strategizing discovery management – and in fact, it’s a playbook that eDiscovery experts use every day:

  • Start with the production requirements, data type, and data volume. Use that to determine the best approach to processing.
  • Factor in deadlines. When is the first production due? Are rolling productions acceptable? Deadlines and data volume will strongly influence the size of the reviewer team, resource allocation for processing, and the potential need for overtime, so strategize carefully.
  • Define the workflow for pre-process culling, processing, export, load file creation, QC, review, and production.
  • Test your workflow against a small subset of the data population to identify outliers and edge cases.

By developing a playbook, you’ll be able to streamline your initial evaluation of incoming cases. You’ll realize cost savings by not reinventing the wheel unless or until you really need to. Resource allocation will likely become more predictable, allowing you to forecast more accurately, and productions will tend to be more consistent, which can be important in serial or multi-jurisdiction litigation.

More than that, once you’ve settled on a standard approach to routine matters, there will be little or no need for a big kickoff discussion for every case, so your teams will be able to get started quickly. It will be easier to train new people, and your documentation and communication will all be more efficient. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll be in a better position to initiate and support automation, which can lead to even better accuracy and efficiency.

Square Pegs, Round Holes

For simpler matters that involve familiar data types and production requirements, reasonable deadlines, and moderate data volumes, there’s no need to pound a square peg into a round hole. Have a business discussion with your eDiscovery partner, and brainstorm a cookie cutter solution that meets your requirements while offering enough flexibility to handle slight deviations from your baseline. Trust their expertise and perspective, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Advanced analytics, for example, can significantly reduce both processing and review costs, but these techniques require significant expertise, so make sure your service bureau can offer demonstrable results and a solid business case.

Having assisted with countless matters of all kinds, we’re well-versed in basic workflows,  highly-customized solutions, and everything in between. We recognize that while no two matters are exactly alike, sometimes the cookie cutter approach is the best way to promote efficiency, consistency, and cost savings. More than that, after more than twenty years, we’re experts at helping clients work backwards to develop a playbook for success.