Reviewing ESI online?  Five things to consider when choosing a review platform

collaborative-review-miniguide-cozimo-screenshot-150x150We’ve all been there.  A new case comes in the door, you weren’t particularly pleased with the last online review platform you tried, and your litigation support team has a new vendor it wants to try.  Or, the client has several vendors it works with and you can choose between them.  But what are the keys to making sure a review platform meets your needs?   There are dozens of platforms on the market to choose from and you don’t know where to start in assessing them.  Here are a number of key issues you need to consider before signing on the dotted line and handing over the client’s ESI.

1) How is the product priced? Most vendors operate on either hosting fee basis or a fixed fee per gigabyte uploaded to the platform.  What you need depends on the type of case and the volume of information you have.  A hosting fee platform charges a monthly fee for hosting the information and a smaller per gigabyte upload fee.  A fixed fee per gigabyte pricing structure charges you a higher fee to upload each gigabyte, but you can leave it there for the life of the case (generally, make sure you clarify).  A smaller case with only a few gigabytes of information will be better suited to a per gigabyte fixed fee upload.  An HSR review, with massive quantities of ESI but a quick turnaround time (usually 30 days) is generally better suited to a hosted price structure.  Many variables affect which is better, so know the models, and determine which is best for your case.

2) What functionality does the product offer? Functionality is what the program can do.  The functionality in an online review platform will determine whether it makes the review process more efficient and effective.  How does it sort information?  What kind of filters can be applied?  What kinds of tags are already built in for reviewers to assign to documents and what have to be manually created? (Manually creating tags adds a cost for the client because somebody has to do it, likely at an hourly rate.) Can you separate collections between reviewers without overlapping documents?  Can you restrict access to certain fields if using contract attorneys?  Will the product create a privilege log of all documents tagged as privileged?  Can you add notes where you are unsure of tags to be added?  There are distinct differences in review platforms and you need to understand what your case calls for and whether the platform you are looking at will best meet those needs.  The vendors should be willing to provide you with a demo of their tool on very short notice.  Get a demo of one or more tools and compare them.  And make sure you are getting input from the attorneys who are actually doing the review, so you know what they need and like and what makes the process more efficient.  In review platforms the old maxim “you get what you pay for” isn’t necessarily true.  As with all e-discovery services, there are high priced models that don’t always offer the best in functionality.  Do your homework.

3) What level of customer support is provided? This issue can be crucial when you need help at midnight the night before a big deposition, or during trial.  Some vendors provide 24/7 customer support, others provide support during regular business hours in California.  Find out exactly what type of service you get during those times too.  If you call at midnight, will you get a service technician who can help you, or will you get a project manager who was asleep and will see who they can find and call you back 2 hours later?  Know what your vendor provides and what you need, and make sure the two go together.

4) How stable is the company you are signing on with? The e-discovery market went wild after the rule changes came out in 2006.  But Darwinian notions of survival of the fittest have taken their toll on e-discovery vendors. Many have been swallowed up by larger providers looking to provide “end to end” solutions, or gone belly up.  You don’t want to have your client’s ESI with a company that is going belly up, or on a platform that will be phazed out by a larger provider in lieu of another product.  There are numerous stories out there about lawyers losing access to their client’s ESI when the review platform is suddenly shut down.  Ask specific questions about the viability of the vendor or platform and get a clause in your contract about who bears the cost if information has to be moved to a new platform.  Get assurances the same level of customer support and technical support for the platform will be available throughout the life of your case.  And don’t stop paying attention just because you’ve signed on the dotted line — you, or someone on your team, needs to keep abreast of the news in the industry to make sure your case material will still be available in three years when you finally get to trial.

5) Does the platform require a static IP address? One of the true benefits of on-line review is that it can be done anytime, from anywhere.  That allows hosts of review teams to be in multiple locations, in various offices, at home, or in the coffee shop, as long as they have internet access. But many ISP providers use dynamic IP addresses that change regularly (often monthly) as an added security measure for users.  If your review platform requires your users to register the IP address of each computer they are using, they require a static IP address.  Users on a dynamic IP address that changes will lose access to the review platform every time their IP address changes.  Ask up front.  You’ll be pretty annoyed if your users have a deadline to meet and suddenly lose access to the platform, only to find that the technician who has to reconfigure the IP address is off until Monday.

These are just a few of the issues to consider in selecting a review platform, but the platform can make or break your case, and the client’s satisfaction with your performance.  Evaluate your options and make an educated decision.  And don’t be afraid to ask all the important questions.  Civil cases are won and lost on the documents, and you need to manage them efficiently and effectively to maximize their value.  Choosing the right tool to do that and finding the appropriate level of vendor support will save time and lots of money.

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