As we hit the halfway point in a year like no other, now is a good time to take a look at your service provider relationships. Are they meeting your standards – and, for that matter, have your standards changed? Four legal-technologists from CDS had an in-depth discussion on that very topic during the recent webinar, What Have You Done for Me Lately? Examining Your Vendor Relationships. Click here to watch the recorded webinar, or read on for a recap:
- They’re invested in the client experience.
Find out what the vendor is going to provide for the entire experience. What is their philosophy? How is their operation structured, and how will that structure impact your interaction as a client? How will they staff their project management for your team? Will they have dedicated staffers working with you? Your service provider should look at the client profile, and then match PMs to that client profile.
Organizations must trust each other. Corporations are relying on outside counsel, often multiple outside counsel and providers, when it really matters, those teams need to be working as a team. There can’t be in-fighting and unnecessary static. Everybody should be about getting it done, getting the results for the client, and pointing fingers never really advances the ball.
- They tailor their communications to their constituents.
An ediscovery or legal technology provider interacts with different constituencies that are a part of a much, much larger team. The emails that are received are going to require responses. Those responses need to be circulated and shared with a lot of different people. So understanding all the different stakeholders in a given case, whether it’s litigation or an internal investigation is crucial. Whatever it is, having a group that includes people with experience in a lot of different legal matters, plugged into the right technologies to make those matters really, really go well, is something that you certainly want to look for in a provider.
The best providers can become partners. That’s a longer-term relationship, but it’s also a more in-depth and ultimately more rewarding relationship.
- They avoid guessing games.
A good partnership allows someone to say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” or, at the very least,”This is what we’re going to do for the next part of this dataset. These are the steps that are being taken and this is why.” You should avoid any guessing games – ‘what does this mean?’ There shouldn’t be any Googling afterwards. That makes for a far more fluid case, and allows both sides of the process to get to know each other better and build trust.
- Project Managers are empowered to address your needs.
We’ve seen before that some vendors, in the way their operation is structured, can prevent PMs from really doing what you need them to do. So asking questions behind that, and again, making sure that empowerment has continued while you’re remote during the pandemic, that nothing has changed while they’re not in-office anymore. Ask yourself “were they able to maintain the same level of support while working remotely during the pandemic?”
At CDS, when everybody was pushed to moving to telework, we had “lunch and learns” and took the time to have conversations and explain what we’re able to do. When clients reached out to us with issues, we followed up with them, and they were able to implement a workaround.
- They know your business, not just your litigation profile.
The service provider should always be aware of what the client is going through as a business. Are they merging and acquiring other entities? Do they have a financial arm, if they’re a manufacturer? The answers matter . . .
- If you have a retail business, and a lot of your tracking is based on store number, they should understand that part of your business when you get into litigation, and understand what that’s going to mean for when they’re reviewing data and producing that data to various parties.
- Or if you’re a boutique law firm, it is important for your service providers to understand your unique profile and how they should review and produce data so the work flow is continuously improved as the work progresses.
- Or, you might be primarily a media company who also owns a small bank, or you may be a large banking concern who happens to own a film production company. Those types of situations can be a little chaotic when it comes to data collection. If you’re that large, financial concern with a movie studio, the financial concern may have done a lot of acquisitions on the financial end, so there’s a lot of M&A review. In which case, your C-suite’s getting their data hit on a regular basis. So it’s crucial to be able to get data for certain time periods for those custodians, and not have it interrupt overall workflow. Those things are paramount when it comes to organizational IT interactions, but also, vendor interactions, so that the outside counsel’s not constantly waiting for data to be available.
That’s true at the review level too – Vendors should have some foundation on what goes on at that company. The more your vendor knows when they start to look at a dataset, the better. When you parachute into your first document, you may not know exactly what that email’s talking about, but you know exactly where to look, and you know what it can mean.
- You have regular conversations.
When you have a weekly check-in, or a monthly or biweekly one, where you’re getting information, your providers should know when there’s litigation potentially coming. Certainly things are going to spring up unexpectedly. But if everyone is on track preparing for litigation that you know is coming, then there’s a team ready to go when somebody says, “Okay, let’s move from just preservation to collection.” At that point, now, everyone’s actively involved, and they know what to do.
- They employ “extreme responsiveness.”
At CDS, we’re definitely watching, guiding, pushing and prodding our project managers to make sure that we’re providing the experience that was promised. I think responsiveness is huge, especially for long-term clients. They have a lot on their plate. They can’t send something out into a black hole and not hear back on it, so that responsiveness is really important to their day.
The question I would ask is, “Did the people that my provider put on that call advance the ball? Did I hear answers that gave us information that we didn’t already know?” Or, “Did I hang up thinking, ‘Yeah, no, we kind of already knew all that’?” Your clients should never have to email you for an update because you’ve already done it.
- They’re on top of technology innovations.
The technology expertise that used to exist in providers found its way into law firms and then into corporate teams as a pretty natural progression. Corporate in-house teams are getting better and more sophisticated. Legal technology expertise, ediscovery, information governance is expertise that is a must-have. It is a crucial factor which determines who you should be working with.
Technology helps drive cost savings, but also it shows how the corporation is approaching matters going forward as they adopt more innovative technologies. Lately, technology innovations have accelerated with cloud, with Office 365, Slack, etc. There is a real opportunity for in-house teams to show value, and to leverage technology to really streamline their processes, get better quality out of the work that they’ve done for a long time, and save money in the process.
- They continually share information and grow as the work moves along.
By and large, your provider should have deep expertise that’s based on experience and it’s going to flow out of a strong work ethic, where people are just working hard on projects, and they learn this stuff as they do the work. It’s golden if they can apply it to a client’s particular situation. But it starts with expertise and you cannot get by without it.
Your provider needs to be your advocate, and the person who is standing shoulder to shoulder with you. They should share new advancements, and enhance the new workflows. That can really solidify a true partnership, versus having just a good experience on one project.
William Belt, Esq., Managing Director, Consulting
Jacqlyn Joyner, Esq. Client Director
Michele Kell, Esq. Director, Enterprise Operations
Chris O’Connor, Director, eDiscovery Strategy