If your firm is still using a legacy software platform, you’re not alone. eDiscovery is an area of the legal landscape that many smaller firms have been slow to adopt, even though everybody knows that the old ways aren’t sustainable and must soon evolve.
There are currently two schools of thought on this matter:
- Keep using legacy platforms that weren’t built for eDiscovery, and eschew the agility that it brings to ECA as well as the accessibility it offers to your clients and other stakeholders in the firm;
- Replace your current system with an on-premise system or SaaS platform that is designed to support eDiscovery.
In this article, we will look at the direction the legal industry is going in terms of technology, and hopefully illuminate the path that is best suited for your firm.
The argument for retaining your legacy platform
Most small to medium size firms are reliant on pre-Y2K platforms that were created long before ESI (electronically stored information) was even a thought. Even though firms know that these platforms are on their last legs, the thought of having to make the leap to a new system is daunting. The risk to business continuity through the transition is a valid fear, and so it seems easier to stay where they are for the time being. Eventually, the decision will have to be made.
The firms in question tend to outsource their bigger projects and overload their current platforms with a volume of data it isn’t designed to handle, effectively hampering efficiency in the process. Many will focus their efforts on smaller cases, and hand over the larger cases to firms with an established infrastructure. Ultimately, they are not building confidence among their client base, who may see them as having limited resources.
In this scenario, there are two solutions to consider: opt for a more economical SaaS option that covers eDiscovery processes and various on-premise functions, or go with an enterprise solution that, while bullet-proof from an operational standpoint, may be too much for their needs, both in cost and features.
Making this decision requires some thought into your firm’s business model and focus. Most legal firms’ strategies can be categorized in one of three subgroups:
- Pass the cost of eDiscovery, hosting, etc. along to the client.
- Relegate the cost of your infrastructure to the “cost of doing business”
- Leverage your technology to create an opportunity for profit
Depending on your focus, investment in any one of these solutions has its own implications.
The argument for replacing your legacy system with an on-premise solution
Though there is a wide range of on-premise solutions available, most are fairly close in terms of cost and function. There is a certain attraction to having an in-house IT environment to manage and process your data, but there are also concerns and limitations that should be considered.
Here are a few things you should be thinking about:
- The costs of replacement should line up with your firm’s inclination to take on cases that concern eDiscovery.
- Areas of consideration include:
- Infrastructure needs: processing speeds, storage and database needs, the cost of administration.
- Staffing: administration of SQL databases, as well as support for the product.
- Platform: your projected growth could affect the license fees you pay in the future.
- Appropriate cyber-security systems and protocols must be in place, especially for any databases that contain intellectual property, trade secrets or any confidential data.
- Software must be consistently updated to avoid downtime and security breaches
- Physical control of data remains an issue, and keeping client data in-house may be a best-bet scenario in terms of managing costs in the long-term.
Once you have fleshed out these issues, you can begin to search for the best solution. Working directly with technology providers or consultants who specialize in the legal field will ensure that your hardware is able to support the system. Getting your own IT staff certified in the product while providing opportunities for ongoing education can also be a worthwhile consideration.
An on-premise infrastructure such as this fits the description of a profit model, or a “cost of doing business” model, as in both cases, the costs are billed to the firm directly.
The Case to Replace: the argument for SaaS
As many firms lean toward moving their software infrastructure to the cloud, there is wider acceptance for SaaS (software as a service) platforms as a processing, storage and hosting solution. With growing confidence in the cloud’s ability to secure, protect and restore sensitive data, the next logical step is to move all of your firm’s data and software into the cloud.
Though there are many issues to consider when choosing an SaaS provider, they all have certain safeguards in place to protect sensitive data. Some leverage AWS (Amazon Web Services) or Microsoft Azure, though some prefer to manage their own infrastructure, as it gives them greater control over stored data.
eDiscovery platforms, in general, have a broader functionality than current on-premise platforms in terms of pricing, scalability and feature sets. While the differences are too varied to list in any appreciable terms here, each approach serves the needs of the legal profession quite well. Here are some of the more important differences you should take into account:
How easy is it to administrate?
- Most eDiscovery platforms provide drag-and-drop functionality as well as ECA, but it’s important to make sure that whoever will be administering the work will be able to use it.
- Data analysis: Most platforms advertise “advanced analytics” while what they really offer is generalized metadata reporting. A more advanced model should include simple search algorithms that allow you to search/cluster, duplicate searches and organize email threads as a basis for analysis.
- Support: If you need help with any aspect of the platform, you should ensure beforehand that you have good case management support going forward.
- Cost: Pricing models vary considerably. Ensure that your pricing is predictable by choosing a subscription option that makes the most sense to you.
SaaS infrastructures are more common today than ever before. They provide firms with the ability to transition from legacy platforms while they strengthen their infrastructure, and help them to manage those aspects of eDiscovery that they may choose to do in-house.
With the added flexibility that SaaS offers, firms can leverage any of the three business models (cost-of-doing-business, pass through or profit platform) to their best advantage.
Additionally, SaaS and in-house models can be viewed as complementary approaches, in which you can apply the most appropriate tool to each individual situation.
In general, the wider trend is toward the cloud. However, many on-premise providers are now providing a cloud option, and there is no doubt that both models offer great value. Though these decisions are often impacted by your firm’s billing standards, it is important to choose a system that works best for you and serves your client’s best interests.