Q&A: For law firm that represented Conan, IT is a serious business

Glaser Weil deployed the fastest document review platform it could find to go up against some of the largest firms in the country.

The Los Angeles law firm of Glaser Weil Fink Jacobs Howard Avchen and Shapiro is a mid-sized firm, but it counts some very big names among its clients, including Keith Olbermann and Conan O'Brien. Specializing in business and entertainment litigation, the firm goes up against some of the largest law outfits in the country and relies on an IT infrastructure to rival theirs.

In some cases, attorneys have a million pages of documents that have to be reviewed in the pre-trial phase of a lawsuit (e-discovery), and generally there are time constraints imposed by the courts. Glaser Weil has used a variety of tools over the years to facilitate the review process, but there was always a lag between getting the data loaded onto the tools and when the attorneys could review it, CIO Mark Karnick told FierceCIO in an interview. Two years ago, Karnick went out and looked for the fastest platform he could find for reviewing, evaluating and coding documents, and he ended up with a web-based platform. Now, the attorneys not only can review evidence much more quickly, but they can do it from anywhere they're able to access the web.

FierceCIO: Do you find many attorneys who'd still rather read paper documents than electronic documents?

Mark Karnick: I still have attorneys who want to review the paper. Going forward, I think that is going to cost extra, and I think courts are going to be less willing to impose those costs. Once you start reviewing in an electronic format the efficiency is very apparent. I can review a document literally as quickly as I can click a mouse. Combine that with the fact that using an electronic tool I can review a document from pretty much anywhere. A reviewer can be sitting in their office or on a beach with their laptop. I can make the document available to clients. We've created shared databases that both the plaintiff and defendants are looking at. 

What I tell people is if they are contemplating reviewing on paper, the electronic review would be at least three times faster. I would guess it's probably even faster than that.

FCIO: Does the firm review all documents in-house?

Karnick: It depends on the case. We prefer to review documents in-house, but there are times when the volume of documents or the time constraints make that impossible. Recently we had to bring in 35 contract attorneys on a temporary basis to do document review.

FCIO: How have the document review tools you recently deployed benefited the firm?

Karnick: When we deployed Relativity from kCura, we had a choice as to whether we deployed in-house or deployed with a partner. With a partner, they actually have the software installed on their servers, and you send the data and they put it into Relativity. We chose to do ours in-house. We have the internal IT capability to support it. Having it in-house really gives us a lot of flexibility. We can control the scheduling. We can move things to the front of the line if we have to. With the volume of materials we are processing and working with on a daily basis, we can save our clients money. Most of the time the way this is charged is per gigabyte or per document. In a case of a million documents, it adds up really fast. We have a lot of flexibility in how we charge clients for this. We can charge that way or, in some instances, charge only for our cost. In almost every instance we're able to get the work done for a cheaper price than the vendors could. They tend to be full-service, and they use different tools.

FCIO: How did the implementation go?

Karnick: I would say that it is a fairly complex system and you need to have some pretty good in-house capabilities to support it. Having deployed it, though, we have found that it is very stable. There's never been an instance where it's failed on us. 

FCIO: What kind of initial feedback did you get from users?

Karnick: It was pretty phenomenal. The training aspect was far easier than people thought. It's a fairly familiar interface. The training curve for navigating the reviewing piece was fairly easy. They didn't have to learn a bunch of buttons. Everything is links and drop-down menus, just a like a website would be. Once people started doing actual review and comparing it to the speed of tools used before, there was no comparison. The review speed was exponentially faster than anything that came before it.

There are some attorneys who are primarily supervisory. Once a review is done, you have a small set of documents that the case is going to rest on. In the old days, they would be printed out and given to a partner. What we're seeing now is that even those supervisory partners are going into Relativity because you can do things with it that you can't do on paper. You can do searches. You can organize documents in different ways.

FCIO: Do you use the same platform for reviewing the documents your clients have to turn over to the plaintiff and the documents you request from defendants?

Karnick: The idea is that we have to review the documents giving to by us by our client with the same level of precision as we do evidence supplied to us by the other side. The coding requirements are somewhat different, but we've found that Relativity works equally well in both types of review.

FCIO: What types of documents are the most challenging to review?

Karnick: The easiest things to review are documents that are already in electronic format, for example, email. I think email is probably the most readily reviewable type of data. Below that are documents that are in electronic data but not email, such as Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) Office documents, Word documents, spreadsheets and all that. The next category would be documents that we received on paper. They're going to have to be scanned, [converted into machine-encoded text] and imported into a review tool. 

The one type of document that throws you for a loop tends to be the spreadsheet. Many times spreadsheets are never designed to be printed and there's no way to put them into a print format. The only way it can be reviewed is in its native format. Relativity has a very nice function where you can review documents in their native format alongside a viewer or the extracted text or OCR [optical character recognition converted version] of that document. For spreadsheets, you can just review them in their native format and the review process is the same as reviewing an email.

Once the review is done, in many instances, you have to take a set of documents and produce them to the other side. Relativity has a whole production tool within the software. Attorneys can do redactions and things like endorsements inside the software. When we produce those documents, a whole new image file is created with the redactions built in. The worst possible thing that could happen is that you give the other side a document that is redacted but the OCR is not redacted. One of the things Relativity does is automatically create the redacted image file and also create the OCR file with the redaction.

FCIO: Is the document review technology related to the document collection process?

Karnick: In large part, the process of collection is still kind of separate from review. Usually that's because of who's doing it. It's fairly uncommon for the law firms themselves to be doing collection, especially when there's any kind of forensics involved. What's changing now in the corporate world is that a lot of companies are writing programs to do their own collection, or they'll bring in a third party to do the collection.

FCIO: Is there anything you wish the review tool would do that it doesn't do today?

Karnick: Yes. Right now you cannot just take an email collection directly from, say, an Exchange server. It has to be processed into a third-party product and then put into Relativity. Processing is generally a different function than review, and Relativity is a review tool. It would be nice--and a time saver--if it was able to do some more processing. I've heard rumors that they're looking at expanding the functionality in that way so I'll be interested in seeing how that develops.

FCIO: How do you see the document review process evolving in the years ahead?

Karnick: There are some very exciting tools coming out now for searching data. There's something called predictive coding. The searching functions will identify documents that are similar to documents you have already reviewed and move them up to the front of the line. What we're seeing is more sophisticated searching and categorization functions. Probably where this is all going is that you'll have tools that allow you to identify documents, identify whether they're relevant and put them at the front of the line and be trusted. Right now, I would say, these kinds of electronic tools are useful, but they're not trusted. I think potentially that will be a huge cost savings for the consumers of legal services.

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