As I've stated in this column before, much of my experience as a GC managing litigation stems from large-scale, document-intensive tobacco cases that were often multi-district, large class actions, or other complex cases of extended duration and broad discovery. For these suits, my legal team continually analyzed the best approaches for our litigation support including the technology best suited to provide that support. The needs of the organization, the legal team and the litigation itself are main considerations each time a thorough technology analysis is conducted.
There once was a time when having an internal system to manage all litigation technology needs was the best choice, but those times have gradually shifted. Now with the tremendous influx of data and need for larger litigation support teams, it is not as advantageous to always use an internal system. From my experience, some of the key reasons for choosing an external Web-based hosted litigation support system are listed below.
Service and Prioritization
When using an internal litigation support system, you are relying on your internal IT department for extensive support and service, competing against other departments within the organization. Many organizations have small IT departments, making it difficult for them to properly manage and host massive amounts of data internally. Relying on an application service provider (ASP) or external hosted solution allows your internal IT staff to focus on more pressing technology needs in the organization, and your legal team can depend on an external technology partner who will concentrate solely on the litigation support system requirements. When working with an external litigation support provider, prompt attention is always given to your needs, which means your legal team is able to work more quickly and efficiently as a result. For example, if new data needs to be loaded into your system in order to perform online review for an upcoming production request, your outside provider will load the data immediately whereas you may have to wait for your internal IT personnel to complete another project in order to work on your immediate request.
Many times hosting your own data and allowing external access to outside firms can be a security concern. Most firms managing large-scale litigation support projects, such as case management, choose to provide data access through an external hosting provider. Providers that offer this service will typically hold certain security certifications that ensure that all infrastructure, applications and physical environments are properly secured. Additional layers of firewall protection between the Internet and sensitive hosted data can also be applied by hosted providers, even going as far as isolating individual client networks from other networks. Another security concern can be the physical access to data stored on the hardware. Many providers offer peace of mind in the form of state-of-the-art physical access control to ensure that only authorized personnel have access to the data centers and the sensitive data that resides there.
The majority of litigation application providers are able to customize client systems, either at an additional cost or included in the monthly contract. Since you won't know in the beginning of the litigation what features and capabilities you will need for the life of the case, it is beneficial to have the ability to make adjustments as the litigation progresses. For e-discovery projects, for example, opposing counsel may add additional production requests that weren't required in the beginning of the case, but are imperative at a later stage. Being able to include these new production features or other types of features to your existing online review system enables you to meet the demands of your discovery request and not have to wait for a custom internal tool to be developed.
Phoning for Help
As with a lot of large-scale litigation, the management of the case can be overwhelming for internal legal departments. Having a project manager familiar with the case and litigation support application to assist with the day-to-day concerns relating to technology takes the burden off your legal team. Technical support is also necessary when many users are continuously accessing the same site. If someone encounters a glitch or has a question about the application, they are able to get an answer or solution right away.
Often when a piece of litigation is initially filed, the true size of the case is undetermined. If the suit grows into a significantly larger piece of litigation, it is important to find a hosted solution that can grow with it. A scalable system that can handle the constant addition of large amounts of records and documents and the addition of more law firms and users as the case develops can be extremely beneficial. In addition, as the case evolves, it may require system changes such as database updates and new hardware configurations, which are standard protocol for most application providers and can be done quickly when needed. Look ahead at what the case could be in the future and plan for it with the technology you choose in the beginning.
Sizable cases often need attention right away due to immediate meetings and quick deadlines, and installing new technology internally can be cumbersome, especially if a complicated setup and significant customization work is required to make it run smoothly. When setting up an internal system, expertise is frequently needed from both technical application staff and network engineering staff. In this situation, your legal department is waiting on two internal IT departments to set up the litigation support system ,which may take longer, depending on their schedules. A hosted Web-based solution can be up and running quickly, depending on your specific configuration needs, and users only need a secure login and password to access the system.
There is potential for considerable cost savings in copying, faxing, shipping, scanning, uploading and courier expenses when all documents and records are uploaded once into one central Web-based system and used by an entire litigation team. In addition, if you are facing repetitive litigation, your legal team benefits greatly from using one Web-based system in order to share attorney work product, such as summaries of previous trial testimonies, previous deposition issues and questions as well as research on old transcripts. Your organization can also save money by not employing internal IT staff to support a large litigation system.
With an external Web-based system, users can collaborate instantly on one set of the most current data, eliminating duplication. Internal and external teams working on a case can access the same information regardless of where they are and the time of day.
When purchasing technology for large-scale litigation, it is important to consider the needs of the organization, your legal team and the litigation itself. External Web-based hosted litigation support systems have benefited my legal teams in many ways. Unlike small scale litigation, my experience in managing large-scale litigation has proven that hosted solutions are dependable for the life of the litigation, allowing my legal team to focus on the litigation itself and not the reliability and functionality of the technology.