Need Innovative Solutions in eDiscovery? Look to Partnerships

March 27, 2024



Sarah Barsky-Harlan
Sarah Barsky-Harlan

As complexities mount in eDiscovery today, legal teams are looking for innovative ways to reduce risk, manage costs, drive ROI, and increase efficiency.

The fast pace of technology evolution—new generative AI tools, chat applications, continuously updating cloud platforms—are raising novel data management and compliance challenges. They join a broader surge in data volumes and sources that make eDiscovery increasingly burdensome, costly, and risky at a time when legal, staffing, and operational costs are skyrocketing but budgets remain stagnant.

Finding innovative solutions to these problems requires a collaboration of experts who have a diversity of knowledge and experience.

One effective way to achieve that collaboration is through strategic partnerships between in-house legal teams, law firms, and technology and service providers. Effective partnerships provide each party with a more diverse pool of experience and deeper expertise which ignite innovative ideas and more effective solutions to new challenges.

Unfortunately, true partnerships in the legal space are less common than in other industries. The legal field is inherently adversarial, risk-averse, and competitive, all of which can stifle the type of open collaboration and sharing of ideas needed for an effective partnership. Legal teams also often assume that partnering with other entities will either increase costs or cut into their own margins. This can lead to a more traditional “customer + buyer” relationship that leaves attorneys feeling obligated to try to solve challenges and innovate in an insular environment.

But an effective partnership can result in innovative ways to help each partner achieve their goals, including reduced costs and higher ROI, despite the adversarial and risk-averse nature of the legal industry.

So how can you find an eDiscovery partner that will help you innovate? Below, I’ve outlined three attributes that legal teams should look for in an effective innovation partner.

Look for a partner who will meet you where you are

Every organization and law firm practice group has different needs, risks, and goals, and works within different regulatory environments. That means that every team needs a partner who can help them innovate within their unique parameters. For example, legal teams who operate in highly regulated industries need partners who can help them find innovative ways to mitigate regulatory risks and save costs without requiring them to be as agile or experimental with technology as legal teams operating in less regulated industries.  

On the other side of the coin, certain practice groups in law firms may have greater opportunity and appetite for experimentation. They need a partner ready to take that journey alongside them. For example, the longtime innovative partnership between Lighthouse and Cleary grew out of Cleary’s desire to break out of the rigid workflows and technology limitations of their current eDiscovery solutions.

Finding this kind of partner: questions to ask

To avoid cookie-cutter partnerships that won’t have the flexibility your team needs, ask potential partners:

  • Have you partnered with similar clients in our industry? What innovations did you achieve? What problems did you solve together? What were the outcomes?
  • Is your technology flexible? Do you have options that help me innovate on the matters, data, or environment I work within?
  • Do you have subject matter experts who understand my industry?

Look for a partner who has your back

A true innovation partner acts as a proactive extension of your team by adding insights and capabilities you may not have and works towards aligned goals.

This means that each person performing work within the partnership is aware of the overall goals of the partnership and is proactively looking out for new ways to achieve those goals.

Neither partner can act as a task taker, simply executing responsibilities that the other partner asks of them. Every individual working within the partnership, from leadership down to operations, must be trained to proactively flag issues, think through problems, and raise blind spots that may hinder achievement of partnership goals.

When considering partners, Justin Van Alstyne, Head of Discovery and Information Governance at T-Mobile, says he looks for people who can help his team innovate around challenges. As he puts it: “What you want is a genuine partner who is able to think strategically and help you come up with the best plan to tackle a problem.”

For example, if reducing costs is a primary goal with a partnership, everyone must be invested in that goal and proactively work to achieve it when performing their own role.

On an individual matter, this might look like project managers who ask questions before executing review workflows that will increase expenses and provide alternative technology-driven workflows that may be more efficient. Document reviewers may be trained to look out for documents that can be bulk tagged or removed from review streams. Operations teams can look out for ways to reduce hosting or processing costs at the outset of the matter.

At the same time, those same teams will also be looking for innovative ways to reduce costs across their partners’ entire eDiscovery program. AI and analytics teams may introduce cross-matter analytics solutions that can help identify data trends that are increasing overall legal spend; review and project managers may offer innovative workflows that increase the ability to reuse work product matter-over-matter, etc.

Finding this kind of partner: questions to ask

To avoid “task taker” partnerships ask potential partners:

  • Who are the people I would be working with regularly? What are their backgrounds and experience? How have they proactively improved efficiency and outcomes for legal teams in the past?
  • How will this team interact with me? How will they keep track of my goals and needs?
  • How will you track the performance of the partnership? Are you retaining feedback we give you to continually improve and build institutional knowledge?

Look for a partner who has the expertise you need

The right partner will have a diverse bench of experts who complement your own expertise. For legal teams looking for an innovative partnership with an eDiscovery service provider, the service provider should be able to provide expertise that supplements their own in-house team or law firm practice group. This may include experts and consultants in AI and analytics, data science, digital forensics, review workflows, linguistics and search, and information governance.

That expertise must also go well beyond the “spokesperson” level, where one or two high-level experts act as mouthpiece of an organization but are not involved in the underlying work. Innovative partnerships require a deep and diverse bench of experts who can provide consistent help achieving the partnership's goals.

Having a diverse bench of experts on either side of the partnership not only fuels innovation, it also helps to reduce costs overall. The beauty of having external experts is that each partner only pays for outsourced expertise as needed.

Finding this kind of partner: questions to ask

To avoid “spokesperson” partnerships, ask your potential partners:

  • Do you have expertise in the areas I am looking for (e.g., AI, technology development, information governance)? Who are the experts and what are their credentials?
  • How many experts do you have? What is the risk that someone won’t be available when I need them?
  • Can your experts demonstrate their value with case studies, client recommendations, and other proof of impact?

The ROI of partnering

Partnerships can help legal teams innovate around real-world problems and make meaningful gains. For a taste of what’s possible, see how Lighthouse partners with both in-house corporate teams and law firms to achieve shared goals.

About the Author

Sarah Barsky-Harlan

Sarah directs and supervises client delivery by the company's industry-leading Project Managers. Sarah is an industry veteran who has overseen hundreds of large-scale eDiscovery projects, and she is responsible for mentoring and training eDiscovery project managers and analysts on best practices, legal technology application, and all phases of the EDRM. Sarah's 15+ year career includes positions at Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP and Sullivan & Cromwell LLP prior to joining the company. Sarah received her B.A. from New York University.