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What's New with In-House Review Platforms

Do we keep our current review platform or upgrade to one of the newer in-house models? For many law firms, now's the time to ask that question. There have been so many changes in software over the last few years that it's worthwhile to weigh the pros and cons of making a switch. But changing review platforms may present a significant investment in hardware, software and training. Firms need to carefully consider their current systems, what their needs are, and what they can realistically manage in-house.

Older In-House Review Platforms

Up until a few years ago the legal industry had a couple review platforms that served as the de facto standards of the industry. They performed some functions very well, but they are now showing their age.

For example, many of these older platforms are very good at handling TIFF and OCR file formats, do well with transcript management, and they often have excellent search capabilities within the file types they support. However, these types of programs tend to stumble when working with native files such as Microsoft Excel. While many of these programs have evolved and tried to shore up their weaknesses, native file review remains a roadblock in the industry.

Other areas that make these older platforms more cumbersome stem from load file ingestion, which can take a significant amount of time and can have many errors that need to be fixed before and after loading data. Moving files between the different stages of review and among different members of the legal team is inefficient. Furthermore, many older review platforms are based on custom-built databases that do not support large volumes of data. Clients often see degradation in performance after reaching a certain amount of records in a database or case. New technologies utilize industry standard open database architectures such as Microsoft SQL, allowing for better performance and growth.

Accessing these platforms has traditionally been through a client program installed on the attorneys' or paralegals' desktops and the firm's servers. Lawyers and others on the legal team need to be in the office in order to access the system or have a remote access methodology.

Some providers have worked hard to upgrade performance and address weaknesses, and these older platforms still remain the go-to resource for many firms, particularly smaller ones. However, for many of these older products, the bandage approach is no longer working. For firms that have long relied on these types of platforms, it's time to consider the advantages and disadvantages of today's newer technologies.

New In-House Review Platforms

The market is no longer dominated by a few major players. Now, many software companies are expanding their product offerings to include in-house review platforms with new features and more user-friendly approaches. Some of the new features that products may include are:

1. Native File Ingestion

Some new review platforms can ingest multiple different file types of raw unprocessed data, including email .psts and loose files that have been collected directly from the client's servers. Once these native files are loaded into the review platform, many non-responsive files can be filtered out immediately, dramatically decreasing the amount of data the attorneys must review.

2. All-in-One Processes

Firms no longer have to shift files around within the platform during the different stages of discovery. Newer platforms offer a seamless approach, from ingestion through to production. This can save significant time and effort.

3. Improved ECA and Processing Capabilities

Robust early case assessment (ECA) features allow attorneys to cull out more data earlier than ever before. Not only does this cut down on timeframes and budgets, it also allows the legal team to focus on the most important files earlier. Once the data has been culled, it can be processed directly within the review platform. The legal team can more easily view metadata, sort it, bulk-tag it and identify the files that are confidential or privileged.

Once responsive, non-confidential files have been identified, many of the new software programs can automatically process them into TIFF formats for production to the other side. The fewer files that must be moved, the faster the process can proceed. A more seamless approach also helps to strengthen the chain of custody, creating a more defensible discovery.

4. Modular Components

In the past, law firms often had to pay for every aspect of the review platform, even if they had other options they preferred. Many of today's newer products can be bought in segments so firms only have to pay for the features they actually want and need.

5. More Robust Back-End

Many of the newer review platforms programs are built on a standardized SQL back-end database, so their performance is based on the strength of the hardware, not the software.

6. Powerful Export Capabilities

Today's platforms make exporting much faster, compared to the more limited capabilities of older versions.

7. Web-Based Access

With web-based functionality, users are no longer tied to a specific location. Web-based capabilities allow anyone on the legal team with the proper security clearances to access information, whether they are in the office, working off-site or at home. These web-based programs are also more intuitive and require less training to operate, although law firms should still plan to make significant investments in training for any new software program.

Is Your Firm Ready for a New Platform?

While newer review platforms offer many advantages over older models, law firms need to carefully assess whether now is the time to make a move. Firms should consider the workflow changes and resources they will need to invest into any new platform. Those cost assessments should include weighing how much will be spent on new hardware infrastructure or virtualization. While using cloud-based programs can offer significant savings, providers must be able to ensure that the data will be secure and accessible at all times.

Law firms also need to weigh the human resources investments for training and support. Firms need to consider whether they have the staff to manage the hardware and the software involved. Depending on the program, firms may need an SQL engineer in-house to properly maintain the system. Some programs can't be installed on a single server, so the firm may need multiple servers that must be housed and maintained. Firms should also realistically consider their own workflow policies and limitations. They need to be sure that they have the people to manage a new in-house program. Someone must regularly train attorneys and staff on standardized practices with the review platform, and procedures must be carefully documented.

They also must be prepared for the unexpected. An in-house review platform won't necessarily come with the built-in technical support that their current systems may have. Does the firm have weekend backup support? How will they handle emergencies? What kind of disaster planning is in place?

When deciding whether to change review platforms, it helps to talk to unbiased experts. They can help the firm find the best fit, understand all their options and make realistic cost projections. Experts also have the perspective to help firms identify a solution that will work now and in the future.

Courtesy of Keno Kozie.This article was originally published on August 23, 2012. For a more up to date discussion on this topic, please visit the eDiscovery section at FindLaw’s Technologist blog.

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