Talent Acquisition Team

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 IST Discover-E White Paper:

The Flat Rate Shell Game

Deconstructing Proprietary eDiscovery Technology

Staying competitive in any business, let alone the legal business, requires willingness to adapt and to grow over time. This often takes the form of adopting new perspectives, processes or workflows.  Within eDiscovery, the emerging trend is to contract with eDiscovery providers using proprietary technology systems designed by their in-house developers. As seductive as breaking away from major industry technology systems sounds, attorneys and litigation support leaders might be surprised to find the latest developments in eDiscovery tech aren’t causing the kind of shift in outcomes that was expected: the efficiencies offered by eDiscovery support providers using proprietary technology actually correlates with marked deficiencies in service quality.

In mid 2019, IST Discover-E performed a non-scientific, non-comprehensive survey designed to provide general insight into the performance of our competitors as shared by individuals within our eDiscovery network (Consultants, Account Managers, Project Managers, Forensic Analysts and Vice Presidents). The team of eDiscovery professionals surveyed operates nationally and has

hands-on, competitive experience with every major solution in the marketplace.  Upon review of survey results, a well-defined pattern emerges within the Proprietary Technology category showing highly competitive pricing accompanied by notoriously poor customer service.

Since technology is, at its core, meant to make processes cheaper, faster and easier, it is counterintuitive to think that a new eDiscovery technology might cause more confusion than it solves. Nevertheless, it appears that what is gained from engaging eDiscovery vendors offering proprietary technology is quickly lost in its application.

Recognizing that correlation does not always imply causation, a deeper analysis was undertaken into proprietary eDiscovery technology companies to identify what may be causing the deficiency in service quality. The following determinations were made:



Over-Emphasis on Lowest Price Possible

Who can resist a $20 or $30 per GB per Month flat charge? Especially when data processing is often billed twice resulting in an average cost for one GB of relevant data being $175 and the average cost for hosting that same data being between $10 and $20 per GB per Month. It is reasonable to look for something that disrupts the status quo and, as responsible stewards of their client’s money, many attorneys have their heads turned by rock-bottom, flat fee pricing.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Assuming that a typical matter requires a service provider to be engaged for an average of six months, $20 or $30 per GB per Month flat charges don’t actually save money when extended out over the course of a matter as compared to standard eDiscovery solutions. While attorneys can save money in the first month by not incurring large charges for processing, they more than spend that savings on a month to month basis by overpaying for hosting thereafter.  If there are cash flow issues this is a great option, but the bloated monthly hosting charges will soon chew through even the most carefully controlled case budget.



Limited Support from Project Managers

There is always a catch. As part of the model driving cost savings, a trademark of flat fee technology solutions is that attorneys and litigation teams are expected to perform their own culling, processing, analysis, searching etc. within the system. The support provided by the eDiscovery tech provider is intended to be minimal. This becomes an issue downstream as proprietary technologies are unfamiliar to attorneys and litigation support personnel who require hours of paid training before they can begin to use the system. Further, the provider’s training team is likely only expert in training on best practices within their own product, not the law or how the technology can be manipulated to best-fit a specific project. This team will provide training and hand the account over to the service provider’s Project Manager, who will begin charging $100 to $200 per hour just to trouble shoot and answer questions about their own system.

When accuracy, timeliness, control, quality assurance and thorough review of the resulting data set are more critical than the flashiness or efficiency of the tool used, the skill of the practitioners involved remains paramount. Considering the most sought-after set of certifications for eDiscovery Project Managers are those awarded by Relativity, it is safe to assume that Project Managers who have dedicated themselves to a proprietary system either had a hand in developing it, jumped in early in their career or failed to complete a certification course – none of which indicates the experience or skill-sets an attorney would want supporting a complex legal proceeding or supporting their team of experienced legal professionals.

Narrow Business Model

A short-term solution to a long-term problem. Where development of proprietary technology was traditionally reserved for companies specialized in SaaS, development of custom applications has become available to more and more businesses. Simultaneously, law firms are feeling the pressure to streamline a variety of aspects of their business in order to remain competitive. This confluence of fresh ability and growing demand has opened the marketplace to eDiscovery providers who only focus on solving half of the support solution by meeting the need for cheap technology and ignoring the need for quality support.

After all, if the demand exists for low priced technology alone, why would flat rate tech providers make costly investments in quality support personnel as well?  eDiscovery support providers using proprietary technology would say they are rising to meet a demand, but more and more attorneys are coming to realize that the answer is in the outcome – not the bill.  Attorneys previously dazzled by proprietary technology are learning that the cake is half-baked and if they don’t already have amazing project managers on their team, contracting with a flat rate tech provider is not going to get them the result they need.



So many ads, articles, op-eds and tv shows lead us to believe that technology is synonymous with service. However, it’s important for law firms that want to be successful to recognize that technology alone isn’t enough. The quality of an eDiscovery solution rests on both the technology AND the expertise of the people delivering the service. Truly, the weapon is only as dangerous as the person wielding it.

Successful, adaptable law firms accept trends in technology and workflows as their business grows; as they learn what their clients like and don’t like; and as they specialize or expand into areas of practice that no one else can provide. But being an early adopter of some trends doesn’t always work out according to expectations, which appears to be the case when contracting with eDiscovery support providers using proprietary technology.

At IST Discover-E, we have years of experience helping our clients with their eDiscovery needs along with full scale legal support management systems. We are expert in creating and customizing eDiscovery processes that best fit our client’s needs and expectations. Our model is uniquely transparent, easy to understand and effective in aiding our clients get the decision they want for their clients.