Twitter and Technology-Assisted Document Review – the downside of uninformed prejudice

A report on the future of document review reaches me via Twitter. The spirit which ignores or condemns social media as a business tool matches the spirit which many lawyers show towards modern methods of document review. I yield to no-one in the strength of my prejudices on a wide range of subjects, but one must at least review one’s prejudices from time to time if the fate of one’s business turns on seeing round them.

I have to say that I had not come across the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) before Katey Wood joined it earlier this year from The 451 Group. The defect is mine, not theirs, since a glance at their website shows them to be a long-established and broadly-based IT analyst and business strategy company. I do not know if they had any eDiscovery focus before Katey joined them, but they certainly have now.

I was tipped off to the results of their latest survey by a tweet pointing to a blog post by Katey – which is really the first point I want to make here. I get most of my information from Twitter – I do not mean that the sum total of my knowledge is made up of 140 character tweets, but that Twitter points me to articles, brings me news and opens the door to discussions and to introductions to people I might not otherwise meet. Much of what I “know” is acquired by a fairly cursory glance at a day’s tweets, picking up the subjects and themes without necessarily following the links for the detail.

Many lawyers sneer at this – generally the sort of people who once predicted that e-mail would never catch on and who mocked the idea of a corporate website. Business is won by personal connections, they say, overlooking how few truly personal connections any of us can have, and overlooking also the potential for a connection made via social media to turn into a proper business relationship, or the reverse – for a brief meeting at a lunch or conference to turn into an established connection via social media.

Those same people will be conducting document review for eDisclosure/eDiscovery in the way they have always done it, treating rumours of advancing technology, outsourcing and other methods of doing the job more cheaply with much the same disdain as they treat Twitter. There are other overlays as well – of nervousness of the unknown and of protectionism of the splendid fees which have historically come from document review.

Those days are gone, in the same way as business and business development no longer involve putting crisp envelopes into the post box on the way to meet a potential client at the club. That, at least, has its charms, which cannot be said for old-fashioned document review.

That is enough, I think, to introduce ESG’s Market Landscape Report: the Future of Review. The report itself is premium subscription content, available only to those who have paid for it. For the rest of us, the published introduction makes the point – anyone involved in litigation or in regulatory or internal investigations, and whether as the company with the problem or the lawyers who purport to help them resolve it, ought to be up to date with what is happening in this area.

This involves more than mere technology. The UK eDisclosure Practice Direction 32B refers to the “tools and techniques (if any) which should be considered to reduce the burden and cost of disclosure of electronic documents”. The word “technique” may share a Greek root with the word “technology” (“tech” means art, skill or craft) but it involves much more than the mere use of software tools. The process, the organisation, the whole manner of going about the task is more important than the specific technology used.

It is human nature to condemn a whole subject because one aspect displeases you. I cheerfully condemn the whole Labour Party because its front bench includes the unpleasant Ed Balls, and ignore the entire green agenda (including some worthy stuff) because so many of its advocates rely on hysterical pseudo-science and could do with a wash. Those who close their minds to Twitter often do so because they have heard that some people use it to say what they had for breakfast. Many lawyers condemn the use of advanced technology for document review because of a half-baked understanding that a “black box” is making decisions for them.

The difference between my two examples and yours is that little turns on my unwillingness to look behind my prejudices – Labour will regain power or (preferably) not, and the Maldives either will disappear beneath the waves or (probably) not regardless of any action on my part. The fate of your law firm, however, depends on your willingness to put aside your prejudices, whether of modern marketing methods or of document review, and at least find out what changes – of techniques as well as of technology – exist to help you stay competitive.

The value of social media marketing is extremely hard to measure, notwithstanding the armies of self-apponted experts who purport to turn the raw statistics of followers and readers into a business case. The investment, however, is small, and you do not have to abandon more conventional approaches while using Twitter et al to extend your marketing reach.  If mere anecdote about document review developments does not persuade you to find out more, then properly-sourced studies like those of ESG or the 451 Group might do so, especially when fortified by the increasing number of studies which give credible measurements of time and money saved without loss of defensibility.

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in Discovery, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, Electronic disclosure. Bookmark the permalink.

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