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Trial Firms Win Big With E-Discovery

Trial Firms Win Big With E-Discovery

According to Thomson Reuters’ latest “State of U.S. Small Law Firms” Report, only 17% of small firms nationwide invested in e-discovery in 2021. Houston-based Schiffer Hicks Johnson is a 20-lawyer litigation boutique that utilizes state-of-the-art solutions to quickly process and review large blocks of data, streamline workflow, and store materials in-house for increased security.

Senior counsel Matt Davis supervises SHJ’s e-discovery efforts in addition to his litigation work for the healthcare and energy industries. Below, he talks about the genesis of his role, the future of the firm’s e-discovery practice, and why clients are increasingly choosing boutique trial firms over Big Law.

How did you wind up in charge of e-discovery?

When I started working here a decade ago, the firm was much smaller; everyone had to be involved hands-on in document review. We eventually landed a case based in Canada that involved about nine million documents, which was too much for our staff to handle, so the partners asked me to spearhead efforts to expand our e-discovery capabilities. (We ended up saving that client $7 million by reducing the review from nine million to under four million documents, one million of which were produced for analysis.) I enjoy the challenge of finding that needle in the haystack, of familiarizing yourself with a million tiny details and figuring out how they fit into the bigger picture.

What are the benefits of keeping e-discovery in house?

Agility, flexibility, and efficiency come to mind. If we need to do a production, I can go down the hall and get it done immediately. (With an outside vendor, you’re often looking at delays of 24-48 hours.) Our fast turnaround time is also driven by our technical knowledge and strategic savvy. If we’re dealing with hundreds of thousands of emails, for example, I use metadata to cull the junk invariably contained in every email collection, then run searches to home in on specific individuals, time periods, and keywords. Once I’ve found a core set of documents and determined what actually needs to be reviewed by us and what needs to be passed off to an expert, we can start thinking about the broader issues in the case. My expertise makes our trial teams stronger, too. Because I know the documents so well by the time we head to trial, I can locate a document or run a report on the spot, which lifts the burden from our first and second chairs. That leaves them free to do what they do best.

In-house document review is also incredibly cost-efficient for clients. We used to be one of the only litigation boutiques on the market to do it, and even now I find that clients are very pleased to learn that we don’t outsource. Because the client isn’t paying for all the extra costs and fees a vendor necessitates, they end up with a substantial discount—in fact, the more data is involved in a case, the more money they save. All in all, it’s a win-win. We can build our operating costs into contingency arrangements that ultimately benefit both our firm and our clients.

How do SHJ’s capabilities stack up against Big Law?

Clients get far more bang for their buck with us. Large firms typically spend much, much more time and money on document review, using their armies of associates to review every single page of every document. We take a tenth of the time to arrive at the same place. We’re able to provide clients with actionable insights very early on in a case in addition to saving them up to millions of dollars. It’s a bespoke experience that can be tailored precisely to their needs and goals.

How does e-discovery fit into the firm’s growth trajectory?

We are now focusing on creating a knowledge pipeline to build out our e-discovery practice. I had to teach myself a lot of these systems and workflows, which required fair amounts of trial and error, so I want to shorten the learning curve for the next generation of lawyers here. We have a sizeable class of first-year associates joining this fall who will all be trained by me from scratch. As the firm continues to bring on more and more talent, our capabilities will only get bigger and better.