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My Top 5 Items to Cover in a Kickoff Call And Why

Published on July 11, 2019

Zef Deda

Zef Deda is a Business Development Manager at Acorn Legal Solutions. Being an eDiscovery thought leader and working with Am Law 100 firms, Zef leverages his knowledge of advanced technology and phased project plans to provide a superior experience for his clients.

Technology is sexy – why are we talking about kickoff calls?

One of the biggest challenges in eDiscovery is managing communication. Clients care about money. The attorneys care about impact to the legal strategy. Litigation support cares about a predictable process. My team cares about leveraging technology as effectively as possible. Everyone looks at eDiscovery through a different lens, and challenges come up when people are not on the same page about what is needed or feasible.

To make matters more challenging, data is unique. Each case brings on its own complexities. Maybe the teams have not worked together before or have varying levels of technology knowledge.

For my clients, a 30 minute kickoff call at the beginning of the project resolves a lot of the miscommunications. In that brief time, I can identify budget-blowing or schedule-subverting issues and set the expectation of needing future calls. Each call always includes the following five items, in the following order

1: Case Priorities – Deadlines, Budgets, Insights

The most important questions I ask here are: “What are the deadlines?” “What are the most important questions you need answered?” These two questions are the North Star in the strategy around the matter and effect budgets, deadlines and suggested workflows. They also let the project management team identify potential pitfalls during the course of the project, because they are in the loop about what the key priorities are for the dataset. Sometimes the priorities are driven by trying to find what key custodians were doing. Sometimes they are driven by legal strategy of when to produce what. Sometimes the purpose of the data is to develop the strategy for the remainder of the eDiscovery process. The important thing is that everyone is on the same page.

2: Potential Changes in Scope

At the outset of the case, there are a lot of unknowns. Any comments around the deadlines or goals are likely going to change as the case unfolds. A lot of times, the budget is not strictly set. It is a more iterative process of scoping, estimating and iterating. But, touching on some of these factors help the project management team stay on top of when there will be significant deviations from the original time / budget estimate.

3: The Current Plan or Workflow

Typically, my clients have an idea of how they want to approach their matter. Oftentimes it is based on what has worked in other cases. My first step is to lay out what the cost and timeline implications of the “current plan” will be. If the current plan works on both those fronts, that’s great news! It makes managing the case easier.

Oftentimes, though, I need to get creative to meet time or budget constraints. At this point, my team can offer suggestions for workflows that may be more efficient and effective for a case.

For example, for clients in the early investigation phase, I may be inclined to suggest a “phased” approach. This is where your primary custodian data is placed into an AI platform to help provide feedback on the story of the data — key communicators, topics, times, documents, etc. This approach works extremely well at keeping early cost down while simultaneously providing incredible substance and value early on.

4: Explicit Communication Plan

This is frequently overlooked because it is easy to assume the whole case team is on the same page about this.

The two most important questions I ask here are “Who are the people that we should go to with questions?” “What is the most effective way to communicate that we need to schedule a phone call?”

Case teams typically do not realize why it is in their interest to provide a lot of input to my team. This is an opportunity for me to lay out who my team needs input from, how frequently, and how best to get it – and to set expectations with our clients, so they can plan accordingly. Getting buy-in from clients at the beginning of the project on these issues avoids a number of downstream miscommunications.

At this point, I also like to discuss any training that is needed, if we should have standing meetings for follow up and quality assurance. Standing meetings or regular updates are typically not practical. Sometimes, recurring written reports can serve as adequate substitutes.

5: Explicit Action Items

Like item 4, this is easy to overlook. But I find it’s beneficial for communications to recap and review what action items were determined, when they are due and who owns them. Going as far back as I can remember, it’s always been instilled in my brain to Check, Check, re-check. This is the last chance before everyone is off to the races to confirm due dates, action owners throughout each step and goals for this to be a successful case.

At this point, I also like to reaffirm any action items that may substantially impact the team’s understanding of the timing and costs or the team’s ability to meet those objectives.

This simple agenda lets my team be a thought partner to my clients in thinking through the entire process. It helps us circumvent the pitfall of becoming just an order taker. Often times our clients are in stressful and high-pressure situations, so this helps my team make better in-the-moment decisions during the project for client requests and expectations.

Taking the time to turn a reactive situation into a proactive one takes a lot of discipline, confidence and belief in your case teams to deliver. My clients appreciate the consultative approach. For some, it was an adjustment in the beginning, but they were enthusiastic promoters of the approach by the successful conclusion of their matter.

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About Acorn 

Acorn is a legal data consulting firm that specializes in AI and Advanced Analytics for litigation applications, while providing rigorous customer service to the eDiscovery industry. Acorn primarily works with large regional, midsize national and boutique litigation firms. Acorn provides a high-touch, customized litigation support services with a heavy emphasis on seamless communications. For more information, please visit www.acornls.com.