Julia Brickell, associate general counsel for Altria Corp., has an important message for general counsel seeking to rein in skyrocketing legal costs by bringing more of the e-discovery process in-house.
"Just get started," says Brickell, whose company is the parent of tobacco giant Philip Morris. "Outside counsel isn't familiar enough with your internal organization to address this issue intrinsically. You've got to assemble a team that includes your outside counsel and IT department. You've got to assess your needs and then begin the process of working with e-discovery vendors to see what they can offer."
"I cannot overemphasize the value of a pilot program," Brickell says. "It will help you identify the stress points. And e-discovery vendors will work with you at either no or low cost. You can identify and correct problem areas, determine what your needs are and begin the vendor-selection process all at the same time."
At Altria the team assigns project managers to oversee each pilot program. It is the project manager's responsibility to ensure the process is working and remind people of what they need to do and when. For example, it was one manager's job to examine the company's data-extraction process, which typically includes locating and extracting the electronic data, shipping it electronically to a vendor for processing and then delivering it to outside counsel for review. Once the initial pilot was complete, the team expanded the testing to progressively larger data sets until they had optimized the process.
Once its document-retention policies, procedures and electronic storage systems were in place, Chandler says the company focused on resolving the all-important search process. Rather than leaving it up to outside counsel and an assortment of vendors, Cisco developed a proprietary search engine capable of culling through terabytes of data to identify responsive documents.
"The key is to identify and limit the size of what your outside lawyers have to review," Chandler says. "To do that, you have to apply some kind of intelligence to cull out the duplicates. We broke that into 20 discrete tasks, figured out the work involved for each one and then built a software system that automates the process. The software culls out the duplicates and helps us reduce the data down to the true gems."