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E-discovery: 4 important lessons from the restaurant business

The surprising similarities between bites and gigabytes can help counsel harvest and produce data more efficiently

In the Aug. 13 edition of the New Yorker, Atul Gawande, a physician at Partners HealthCare in Boston, wrote about lessons hospitals can learn from the Cheesecake Factory restaurant chain. As I read the article, I thought about the ways in which e-discovery is also driven by the same priorities as a restaurant.

Dr. Gawande tried to fathom how the chain succeeds in delivering a wide range of items (he reports that there are 308 dinner items and 124 beverage choices on the menu)with consistent quality at a reasonable price. After spending time in the kitchen and interviewing both managers and cooks, he posits, in part, that the secret lies in routinizing what can be routinized, so that the restaurant can focus its discretion  on the variables that it cannot precisely control.  The Cheesecake Factory implements this model with precise instructions as to preparation and plating, which then provide the basis for quality control (QC) review; extensive training for the food preparation staff, so that they can work quickly and exercise judgment where necessary; the promotion of experienced kitchen managers who rise through the ranks and, consequently, get respect from the line; and an intense focus on efficiency.

2. Use a dedicated team of reviewers. One of the secrets to speed and accuracy in the Cheesecake Factory kitchen is the training. Dr. Gawande reports that the teaching process on a new menu takes seven weeks. As a result of this intense training, line cooks can reduce the amount of time they spend referring to the detailed recipes. The author quotes one cook on the broiler station as reporting that “I have the recipes right here,” pointing to his head. There is a tendency in the review process to use associates or paralegals who either are assigned to the case generally or who have capacity in their schedule.  Review is a specific skill, and developing a review SWAT team that moves from case to case makes every case move more quickly, with attendant reductions in cost.

3. Routinize the work. It is common practice to have a “cookbook” of procedures and search terms for each separate case. But, some things remain fairly constant and, for real efficiency, those procedures have to deviate as little as possible from case to case.  While the nature of data may drive some variations in the time that it takes to review documents, one can predict, within a range, how long it takes to process or review a gigabyte. This provides the basis for scheduling, by working back from the production date or dates.  No matter what the case, harvesting and search term development can happen contemporaneously; if dual tracking is an established, written process, the case moves more quickly than if attorneys need to remember scheduling anew on every matter. Further, the manual can establish a process for setting time frames, so that lawyers and QC managers can tell if a case is falling behind (orange and red lights flash in the Cheesecake Factory kitchen if plating falls behind the anticipated delivery time).

Contributing Author

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David Reif

David Reif is a trial lawyer and partner in the Business and Financial Services Litigation Group at McCarter & English, LLP. He is a member...

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