Law firms and corporations have come to expect certain professional service levels from their eDiscovery providers. The provision for 24-hour hosting support coverage, minimum response times built into service level agreements, and certain minimum industry and platform-specific certifications are often the first questions asked of service providers in regard to their professional service and project management offerings. Although many service providers meet these basic standards and requirements, clients still may not get the service they want or expect. Instead, they get a standardized, “one size fits all” process-driven approach that can be impersonal and inflexible at times. The challenge for firms and companies is to find a service provider who strikes the right balance between client-centric flexibility and process-driven support. Below are a few things to look for to make sure you are getting the best of both worlds.
A common saying in the legal industry is that it’s not a 9 to 5 job. Requests driven by court-mandated deadlines can be unpredictable, so it is important to know that your service provider’s team will be available when you need them. Provisions for 24/7 coverage are common, but it’s imperative to know who is providing that coverage for 99% of the requests you may make. For instance, a common service provider process-driven approach involves the creation of massive email distributions with generalized support personnel structured to handle specific tasks lined up in a queue. Clients can lob requests into these distributions, but may not know who is responding or if they have any specific knowledge of the history of their particular matter. There’s generally a multi-step process for routing requests to team members assigned to handle them which can also at times delay completion. Typically, overnight coverage is limited to basic database requests with more complex requests held in queue until the primary team comes back online.
In contrast, a service provider using a client-centric approach should have a hybrid model, assigning a small, experienced Project Management team to handle 99% of daily requests supported by local and global resources they oversee internally. Case knowledge should be easily transferable on a daily basis to overnight shifts staffed by platform experts capable of handling high-level requests. Escalation protocols should also be in place in the event of project emergencies overnight.
Many service providers measure responsiveness by how quickly a client request is confirmed, but not necessarily how quickly work begins on a request or when it will be completed. However, the measure of a services provider’s responsiveness should take all of these factors into account. With a service provider focused on the client, request confirmations should be followed by estimated times of completion with frequent unsolicited updates. Law firms and corporations experienced in eDiscovery workflows have a general idea of how long standard requests take to execute, but service providers should also be able to provide their own benchmarks upon request. Machine time involved in processing, index builds, or production can be difficult to predict, but general assumptions based on volume can provide a good guideline on expected completion times. Large deviations from the standards should be a warning sign that there could be a breakdown in process, technical issues or staffing.
There are many general eDiscovery certifications and platform-specific certifications available today from Certified E-Discovery Specialists (CEDS) who focus on broadening knowledge of eDiscovery processes to Relativity Certified Administrators (RCA), who focus on expertise in working with the Relativity platform specifically. It is important that service providers maintain and encourage continuing education, training, and certifications in both the industry generally and with the eDiscovery tools and software their employees utilize on a daily basis. Some software providers, like Relativity, award companies recognition for maintaining both software certifications among their staff and infrastructure requirements that ensure the best quality service and experience with their tool. Law firms and corporations should look for service providers that invest in the continuing eDiscovery education of their employees. In addition to industry certifications, professional service teams should also be composed of attorneys, technologists and litigation support professionals with a broad range of legal industry experience. The best providers will strive to match the skills and experience of their team with the needs of their clients, rather than just assigning whoever may be next up in the queue.
There are many factors that should go into selecting an eDiscovery service provider. Most importantly is working with a provider who goes beyond a “check the box” solution. A provider must be experienced in the requisite eDiscovery processes, but also be able to customize work to meet client needs. For more advice on picking an eDiscovery provider, check out our related post 10 questions to ask your eDiscovery provider about its project management team.