The latest addition to Equivio‘s comprehensive set of resources on its smart new website is a paper by me called Far from the Black Box: explaining Equivio Relevance to Lawyers. I am developing a deep dislike of the expression “black box” in discussions about predictive coding – it is used unthinkingly by people who are keen to condemn technology developments as instinctively as their forebears condemned mechanised looms and the motor car. Henry Ford famously said “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”, and the ideal for many law firms is associates and contract lawyers who can turn pages more quickly.
There are two levels in trying to explain predictive coding to its prospective users. One is at a “looms and motor cars” level – automated technology of this kind is going to become the norm, side-by-side with outsourced providers of document review (and no one is yet saying that document review is dead, however sophisticated the technology) who can do the job more efficiently, more predictably and, frankly, better, than most law firms can.
Mechanised looms and motor cars certainly destroyed traditional businesses, old ways of working and the need for particular sets of skills. Their acceptance, however, generated new businesses, the demand for new skills and many new jobs. If you doubt any of this, do three things – read Richard Susskind’s The End of Lawyers?, go and visit a provider of outsourced document review services and compare their offering to yours (or to that of your lawyers if you are a client), and arrange a demonstration of a range of modern technology solutions.
This Equivio paper is concerned with the latter and with the second level of explanation. Its headings include obvious ones like Technology, Process and People and The Stages in the Process and Verifying the Results, but there is a section called What is a “good job” in eDiscovery terms?, one called The Technology Processes in the Procedural Context, and one called Support for Lawyer Decision-Making. These topics ground the subject in the day-to-day requirements of lawyers facing large discovery exercises.
You get the flavour of it from the summary, which reads as follows:
This paper has deliberately avoided both the detailed arguments in the Da Silva Moore case and the technical and scientific elements which underlie a fully-informed use of Equivio Relevance. Its primary purpose is to address the fear felt by many lawyers and their clients to the effect that the use of predictive coding technology deprives them of control or, indeed, a role in the decision-making.
The reality is quite the opposite. The tools described above bring transparency and the basis for informed decision-making throughout the process, increasing rather than diminishing the role of the skilled lawyer in making decisions about the scope of discovery. Furthermore, those same tools allow cooperative and collaborative discussion both about what is being done and about the costs and risks of the alternative decisions which might be made.
Transparency does not end with the election to set the cut-off point in one place rather than another. Equivio Relevance is capable not only of absorbing and taking account of fresh information – rolling loads or revised views about issues etc – but also of cross-checking results of both those provisionally identified as to be produced and “the Rest”.