As the sheer volume of ESI overwhelms the existing EDD competencies of law firms perhaps it’s time to fundamentally question the underlying the basic business model of technology investment by law firms.
For purposes of this discussion, let’s carve up the primary responsibility of the law firm IT department into two major missions, first to support the overall firm technology infrastructure, and second, to provide case-specific support.
In the first mission, critical firm-wide infrastructure involves the law firm making capital investments in billing and timekeeping systems, electronic messaging systems including e-mail and mobile messaging, document management systems, and docketing and matter management. Not to mention, HR, core accounting, and marketing infrastructure needs. That’s a lot of stuff – especially across multiple national and international offices, and the core network, hardware and user support to keep these functions going.
In the second mission, to invest in each of the matter-specific technology needs with capital outlays quickly puts the law firms squarely in the route of assuming the business risks of their clients. The challenges are unique enough that turn key approaches are not sufficient – the IT needs of these cases are way to complicated to believe in-house competency and off-the-shelf applications are even close to sufficient. We’ve been developing our own software for years so we’re very familiar with the challenges these trial teams face and each one is unique, resisting systematized approaches.
By agreeing to manage and store large volumes of ESI in any step of the EDD process, the law firm in essence gives themselves a stake in the litigation. Cases become cost centers, not just profit centers. It is one thing to talk about buying some file cabinets and folders when a big case came in the door, quite another to talk about processing, hosting and serving large volumes of electronic files.
This has a variety of implications, — understaffed, underqualified and undercapitalized litigation support departments that suffer from high levels of turnover, large litigation with outdated technology infrastructures that both law firm and end-client want handled more efficiently, political maelstorms within firms as rainmaking partners “force” IT investment in order to support their client’s matter, and over-taxed IT resources who wind up holding the bag when the “system goes down.” In total, it’s an industry that is poorly equipped to manage the tsunami of data it is facing.
Law firm IT departments should focus on their primary mission — supporting the truly firm-wide infrastructure required to keep support the firm’s central business processes and keep the firm competitive. The second mission of supporting matter specific needs should be passed through — just like the legal fees — to end-clients or assumed directly by end-clients.
Corporate clients need to – and have been increasingly in our experience – understand that asking their law firms to build, implement and support the servers, litigation software and user support to effectively command large volues of electronic data in a litigation is simply not why they hired the firms in the first place. Does a company really want to select litigation counsel on the basis of their technology competency? Seems like asking a doctor how good they are at building x-ray machines.