As we face the end of mask mandates and a return to “business as the new normal”, the legal tech industry is kicking off its return at Legal Week in New York. This presents great networking opportunities, and a chance to catch up on what the technology companies have been doing under the radar these last few years while we’ve all been locked away at home.
There have been big changes in the technology space in regard to the “Product.” This year’s Legal Week presents one of the few opportunities where I can see 2 years of progress in a demo versus 2 months since the last trade show.
The few products I am most excited to see:
- Relativity has ramped up their cloud-based solution RelativityOne and gained a lot of momentum around their TRACE product. Their deployment of automated, scalable redactions with their Redact product is probably the most visible advancement during the COVID time period. Second to that is a heavy focus on integration with other cloud-based sources of data with their Verqu acquisition.
- Reveal / Brainspace / StoryEngine have all merged. StoryEngine and Brainspace are by far the best AI powered ECA products on the market. This functionality provides tremendous value to customers. Acorn has always been a fan of StoryEngine, and on average, for the cases we have that use StoryEngine there is a reduction in Total Cost of Review of 83%. Integration with Relativity has always been an important part of this process for us and I am keen to see if StoryEngine continues to support that tech stack with their stand-alone product, or if they choose to focus on integrating all the AI into their Reveal review.
- Disco’s review platform has always had a leg-up in terms of simplicity and ease-of-use. For individual attorneys running the entire eDiscovery process on their own, it makes a lot of sense. I’m not sold, yet, that it’s as useful for workspace administrators looking to support ultimate flexibility and customization in their work. But Disco is pursuing a channel strategy in earnest now, and I am very interested in seeing how that strategy plays out in the market.
- iConect is a product that I’ve always loved. It’s a halfway point between Disco and Relativity. It offers a lot of Relativity’s flexibility, and a lot of Disco’s ease of use and simplicity. They took on new investors ~3 years ago, and I bet they have made a lot of progress in terms of product advancement. I’ll be curious to see and hear about it. This is a bit of a dark horse for me going into Legal Week.
- Merlin Search Technologies (a.k.a. The Return Of The Johns – Pappas and Tredennick) is the biggest wildcard for me. This team pioneered Continuous Active Learning / TAR 2.0 in the industry and the original team is largely reunited with a new goal in mind. Based on a quick review of their website, I don’t fully understand their differentiation from other tools. However, with this group of folks, I trust it’s there and am excited to hear about it.
While I’m looking forward to seeing all the new bells, whistles, and features during my in-person software demos, I’ve learned to start focusing on the “Whole Product” instead of just the “Product.”
“Whole Product” was a concept developed by a Harvard Business School professor, Ted Levitt, and best understood via example. Let’s use a car as an example. If you buy a car that has the features that you want, but it doesn’t have some of the other critical components of your ownership experience, like a nearby service center, an adequate warranty, availability of parts, etc. then you won’t be happy. The Whole Product is the entire experience, and not just the features of the Product. (See here for an article that explains it a bit more in depth)
Similarly in eDiscovery and Legal Tech, the Whole Product matters. While the demos will show me the Product, the networking will get me more insight into the Whole Product. Here are the questions I plan on asking about each of the aforementioned technologies:
Considerations for Whole Product in eDiscovery / Legal Tech Space:
- How easy is it to find in-house or out-sourced talent that can support this product / software?
As a services provider thinking about my “Whole Service” it is hard enough to find professionals with the breadth of skills we look for: education orientation, passion about using technology to drive value, communication skills, client orientation, ability to manage complex projects, etc. I don’t want to limit my pool of candidates further by only looking for people with niche technology skills. I also don’t want to slow down my staff onboarding by requiring my new team members to undergo more training in a new technology. For me, this is a big one where Relativity comes out ahead – and I think is a reason they have been a dominant player in the market.
- Support with upgrades, or tech issues
Although software is a platform, the world of tech gets complicated fast. Does that software work on various browsers, with various versions of that browser, on various types of devices, with various operating systems? Ensuring the Product functions in all those circumstances becomes a geometrically complicated problem. I want my team focused on creating value for clients, not distracted with tech troubleshooting. So, good processes, investments, and expertise from my vendors in this area is key to my Whole Product experience. Alternatively, a software provider who can be very specific and focused on the tech stacks they are designed support also garners my trust.
- Access to educational materials on how to get the most out of the Product
eDiscovery is a devil-is-in-the-details industry. Having good documentation around how the features are configured and the logic around those configurations is key to our services. If we can’t explain to a client why a filter in one software platform generates different results for the same document set than a seemingly duplicate filter in a second software platform, we have a lot of trouble using the software. This is crucial documentation for defensibility considerations. All software providers say they have documentation, support, and access to their experts. However, most run out of bandwidth before we run out of questions.
- Security operations, and transparency responsiveness around evolving data security / data breach environment
Data security is at the forefront of both our industry and the world. There have been several key breaches and vulnerabilities discovered. The old industry standby of “our data is secure, trust us” doesn’t hold as much water as it used to. I’m not a data security expert, so this is a hard one for me to evaluate. I do generally look for robust processes, contractual commitments to transparency, and dedicated security professionals with both in-industry and outside-the-industry experience to get comfortable when considering a new product in our portfolio. I also rely on a roster of blue-chip clients in financial services to get me comfortable that the data security operations are up to snuff.
- Integration with the rest of your tech stack. Integration with the operations / tech stack / talent of the organizations that you need to coordinate / collaborate with
So, this is another Harvard Business School idea, pioneered by Thales Teixeira. About Decoupling. In short, a lot of technology companies try to force you to use all their modules through coercive technology tactics. Instead, I look for products and companies that support the concept of decoupling. They allow me to choose the tech stack that works for me, my organization, my clients, and my partners – even if it means picking and choosing modules between software companies that are traditionally viewed as competitors. Ultimately, that’s good for everyone because it allows the most value creation in the marketplace.
There’s a lot of expertise, hard work, and good intentions in the eDiscovery industry. Yet there’s still a lot of frustration at clients, at service providers, and at technology firms. The work we do is cross-functional, intellectually challenging, and performed in a high-uptime, contentious, fluid environment. That, in and of itself, makes it hard for everyone to walk out of a project with a good experience. However, understanding and focusing on the Whole Product of eDiscovery technology at the outset of an engagement gives everyone more of a fighting chance at success. Without it, the headwinds are even stronger.
I refuse to accept the old industry refrain of “all eDiscovery providers suck, but at least we know how ours sucks and ours sucks less than any of the other ones out there.” There is a path to plan and resource our way to success on projects in this industry. And we can learn from other industries.
I look forward to seeing you all there, and jumping back into the pool of great people, great solutions and great parties at Legal Tech!