The way corporations operate is changing rapidly—leveraging new data types and channels, accommodating a dispersed workforce, and adding data volumes at an unprecedented pace. While these activities pave a path for innovation, they also present significant challenges for collections by in-house teams when that data becomes subject to litigation or an investigation.
In a recent study on this subject, researcher and legal thought leader Ari Kaplan spoke with e-discovery and collections professionals across industries.
At Relativity Fest, Ari sat down to discuss his findings with a panel of experts: Michelle Martinez, legal information systems specialist at Freeport-McMoRan; Kristin Sunderman, director of litigation support at Freddie Mac; and Greg Evans, senior product manager at Relativity.
Read on for an overview of what they shared with attendees.
How Collections are Transforming
Three quarters of Ari’s survey respondents said the way they perform collections has changed over the last few years.
In speaking about how her own experience mirrored this trend, Michelle Martinez said: “As we adopt any new technology, we have legacy systems to manage.” She explained that decommissioning these legacy platforms poses challenges with what to do with data that resided there.
“That requires exports of custodian data and, of course, where do you store that? Now you have sources for a custodian’s email in multiple locations,” Michelle lamented.
Kristin Sunderman echoed the multi-source concern. “It’s the same thing that has always driven change in this space: people, process, and technology,” she said. “Communication apps have huge benefits … but the other side of it is we’re creating a lot of new data sources.”
Greg Evans added: “Platforms that are designed for collaboration are constantly looking for ways to make employees more productive. As these communication styles change, other tools need to keep up. That has been a challenge since before they put the ‘e’ in front of e-discovery.”
Voicing the Woes of Diverse Data Juggling
When asked to rank an array of challenges they face in the collection process, about three-quarters of Ari’s survey respondents placed varying data sources among their top three. The concern with growing data volumes also showed highly—but that has been a concern for years, and it appears that many practitioners, if not thriving in this environment, have become more accepting of it.
There was once a time when e-discovery professionals would image entire hard drives and collect everything, then go through the data to identify what was relevant. But Greg explained how this mindset has changed.
“One of the biggest areas that software vendors are focusing on is providing as many ways to target collections as possible,” he said. “We’re looking for ways to provide more insight into the data that’s out there prior to doing the actual collection.”
Speaking of her greatest challenges, Michelle said: “Data volume is among our top three as well, but our biggest challenge is just identifying the data sources. SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams—all those require a specific URL or mailbox associated with them for most collection tools. Being able to identify where we need to look and how we can cull down based on each custodian is by far our biggest challenge.”
Greg quipped, “If people didn’t already have remote collections in place, they’ve certainly discovered the need for it.”
This need goes beyond remote workforces. Working in the cloud demands it.
“With a lot more data residing in the cloud, remote collections just become how we do things,” Greg continued. “Vendors are going to be looking to provide more and more methods for pulling that data remotely.”
Tackling Tech with Tech
A “lack of understanding of integrated collection and review solutions” was the leading barrier to optimizing collections for survey respondents, according to Ari’s research. However, “ill-defined data retention policies,” “lack of investment in collection solutions,” and “misalignment across IT, legal, or other departments” were also reported as significant barriers.
Ironically, better tech is often the solution to the challenges introduced by other tech. Having the right tools on board is key for successful collections.
“It’s a long process. Your stakeholders need to understand what you need ... You need to be able to define your process to integrate these systems—and hope that whoever you choose stays up to date as long as you need them,” Michelle said at Fest. “It has to be a group effort where legal understands what technology is available and IT understands the importance.”
Kristin built off this sentiment: “You need to do that relationship building, they need to bring you in the room, they need to get somebody from lit support in there to say ‘Yes, this is the tool we’re going to need to meet these requirements.’”
The Future of Collections
Ari’s report uncovered an array of expectations for the future landscape from survey respondents, ranging from “more connectors from a single platform that will integrate more tools,” to “conducting more queries in place,” “facilitating cloud-to-cloud transfers,” and “greater use of AI.” Ari put this question to our panel as well.
Michelle was quick to respond with a wish that addressed one of her greatest challenges.
“I’d like a tool that would scan the data source by user, whether that’s a unique ID or email address,” she said. “Just like Collect in RelativityOne uses custodian email addresses to identify OneDrive, giving you the option to not have that URL.”
Kristin followed up with a wish for a one-stop data shop.
“In the last couple of years there’s been this big idea of having this single stop for collections, where you can just go to one place and have access to everything,” she explained.
And Greg described a need for software developers to be unrelenting in keeping up with the pace of change.
“There has been an exponential explosion in data sources … so when we’re looking across the landscape at what data sources are available, it’s a challenge to stay on top of those evolving products and changes in the market while ensuring that we’re finding the best ways to access that data.”
Advice to Empower e-Discovery Teams
Asked what advice they would like to share with their colleagues, the Fest panelists were generous. For all three, collaboration was a theme.
Michelle said: “Regular touchpoint meetings with your various stakeholders are a must; you need to be talking with your IT department, your records department, anybody who’s a stakeholder in this entire process.”
“Embrace your records management group; they are key to so many things,” Kristen added. “We’ve gotten to a place where we have so much data and we really do need these retention policies and procedures surrounding data. Clean data is easier to preserve, it’s easier to identify, it’s easier to collect, and across the board it’s better for us in lit support if you have a very strong data management approach.”
Greg, when asked how to emphasize the value of investing in collection improvements to colleagues, leaned on defensibility.
“Ultimately, when you’re talking about collections, one of the most important aspects is defensibility,” he said, suggesting teams must have “standard procedures in place so that, when it’s all said and done, the time, energy, and resources we’ve put into things yield value.”
And finally, the panel talked about ways legal teams can encourage support and get executive buy-in for investments in transforming their collections.
“It’s back to the basics: ROI,” Michelle emphasized. “Show them the cost of collecting everything and the attorney review time, along with the processing costs that go with it. Show the simple ROI of culling data at the beginning and how these robust tools that allow you to do that will save you ten times more on the other end.”
Kristin added: “Be vocal and build relationships. We save a great deal of money on each case we deal with in house. There’s no shame in promoting that when you’re in a big corporation because [lit support groups] are a pivotal piece and we should be seen as such.”