Although there is something slightly self-referential in quoting someone else who quotes you, I am pleased to see that something I wrote has been used to help make the the business case for electronic disclosure.
Legal Inc have launched what they call a “highly competitive commoditised solution for routine matters”. Called INClusive, the initiative aims to make it easy and cost-effective for lawyers to turn their lever-arch files of paper into an electronic resource which can be searched and reviewed on-line.
The quotation of mine with which they open their press release is this:
“One of my constant refrains is that technology is a leveller and that a small firm armed with appropriate outsourced technology can run rings round a big one who is not there yet.”
This idea of running rings round bigger firms has a double context. In terms of pure efficiency and cost-effectiveness, a firm which has exchanged the paper files for an electronic resource ought to be able not just to handle the disclosure stage of the job more quickly and cheaply but to demonstrate to a client that he will be able to do so. That wins clients. In terms of the case management, a party who has the documents at its fingertips is better able to comply effectively with the formal disclosure obligations and (which is actually more important) with the selection of documents which really matter, which cross-refer to issues and which it is proportionate to disclose. That puts less well-prepared opponents on the back foot or, at least, makes sure they cannot do that to you.
You can read the press release for yourself, but the key element is that Legal Inc will take your paper files, scan them, code them with seven fields, upload them to a web-based host, and support the resulting database. The pricing starts at £600 per month for five lever-arch files with a set-up fee of £500. This looks good value, and becomes more so when you see that they will not charge very much more to handle much larger volumes. For 30 ring binders, the monthly hosting fee rises by only £60 to £660 and the monthly hosting charge by £100 to £600. The total cost for six months would therefore be £4560.
This is the core offer. The value of the resulting database doesn’t end with the production data which results from the review exercise nor, I imagine, is the content limited to the scanned paper which is the main subject of Legal Inc’s offer. You can add your client’s electronic files, including mail messages and, after exchange, the disclosure data and electronic files which come in from the other side. No doubt Legal Inc will have additional charges for these services, but the value-add is potentially very high.
Thus armed, a firm can compete with a very much larger one at a stage in the case where the costs of disclosure can be a killer. One of the concealed benefits of getting on top of the documents quickly and cheaply may be the discovery of documents which significantly alter the odds of success or failure – and if it is the latter, well, better to find out sooner rather than later.
Pure cost is not the only factor, even once the decision is made to turn your paper files into an electronic resource. There is less competition in the market for handling scanned paper than there is for extracting and converting electronic sources, but there are others who do it, and the functionality on offer will vary. One of the unregarded barriers, however, is the difficulty of getting any feel for what the costs might be. Legal Inc’s offer makes it an attractive proposition for inclusion on your short-list. In general, you get what you pay for but you will not find out what you can get which beats paper-handling, nor what the costs are, without ringing some suppliers up and asking them.
May I draw your attention to the opening words of Legal Inc’s press release? “As part of a wider industry effort to make electronic file review more accessible and affordable for litigators….”. One of the sea changes in the market for electronic disclosure in the UK in the past few months has been just that – a wider industry effort to attract litigators towards handling documents electronically. Suppliers at every level are much more transparent now than they used to be, both as to the benefits which can be derived from electronic disclosure and as to the costs.