e.law Legal Services tackles ediscovery

A new commercial law firm, e.law Legal Services, has been established in Australia to offer intelligent technology backed legal services, initially targeting the subjective review phase of e.discovery.

Managing Director Paul Hunt, a practicing lawyer with extensive experience in the media and technology industries, has founded the firm in a technology partnership with established e.discovery firm e.law International.

“We are targeting areas of the law that are currently inefficiently serviced,” said Hunt.

“Our first target is “subjective review” i.e. legal review of documents for relevance – useful for discovery in large litigation or big mergers and acquisitions. Rather than having the overheads of large firms, or the client offshoring this aspect with the issues that entails for legal documents, we are offering the clients review by qualified Australian lawyers in Australia, on a project basis.”

“Any litigation or transaction is a process, but lawyers rarely treat the process like a project, which encourages inefficiencies in resourcing and cost and time blowouts. It’s a lot like writing a software program: there are targets and deadlines, but you would never put up with a software vendor charging an hourly rate without a project plan.”  

“The nature of litigation and major M&A transactions can bring uncertainty to the project path, so what we have done is look at where there are particular inefficiencies and ask what can be done better using technology and project methodology.”

“I also believe companies here will be much more comfortable with an Australian lawyer reviewing their data, rather than outsourcing the job to India or the Philippines. Our research indicates that Australian companies are concerned about security, confidentiality and quality in offshoring legal functions.  It is also imperative that a subjective review provider be practising lawyers in Australia in terms of their responsibility to the courts, the clients, professional indemnity and the recovery of costs.”

e.law International CEO Allison Stanfield believes while many law firms have implemented discovery review platforms they are not being used effectively and there is a lot of inefficiency introduced by double handling of data.

“Using a specialist to project manage subjective review will provide a more cost-effective approach and a more transparent view of the final costs, rather than the traditional approach which is for a law firm to take on the job on an hourly rate” says Stanfield.

“CIOs are traditionally the gatekeepers of their firm’s data. When a discovery order comes along they can be told by the law firm to make a global image of their servers and hand that over to be loaded onto the discovery review platform.”

“We want to be more involved with the firm’s IT team throughout the process so we can explain to them what is happening and why from a technology point of view, and reduce the volume, time, resources and costs involved” said Stanfield.

There are two distinct stages to the reviewing of documents and emails in e.discovery, objective review and subjective review.

The first is the process of determining what documents relate to a judge’s order for discovery. It is this part of the e.discovery process that is being targeted by vendors using “predictive coding” technology to automate objective review.  e.law International provides technology and services in this area.  

Subjective review, however, requires a qualified lawyer to individually review documents to determine whether they are legally relevant or should be omitted from discovery for instance if they are privileged (e.g. discussions between a lawyer and their client).

It is this stage of the process that is being targeted by e.law Legal Services.  

While many law firms turn to specialist litigation support providers to manage the objective review process, they traditionally handle the subjective review process internally. When thousands or even millions of documents may need to be reviewed by a large law firm working at a high hourly rate, the costs can be enormous.  

While e.law Legal Services can act for clients in the full litigation or entire transaction, Hunt believes corporates engaged in costly discovery and due diligence will consider using his specialist law firm for the subjective review process backed by e.law International’s technology.  

“This requires us to work with other law firms, who may initially feel like we are taking away an area of fees from them, but having worked as in-house counsel in telecommunications, media and technology companies, I understand that the clients want cost-effective solutions, and the lawyers want to provide a quality service, we aim to provide both.  The choice of which provider supplies the subjective review should really be in the hands of the client, and now they have a choice of a cost-effective Australian law firm reviewing documents in Australia.”