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Charles A. Volkert, Esq., Executive Director of Robert Half Legal and Executive Managing Director of Robert Half Legal eDiscovery Services, discusses the value of utilizing a team of experienced e-discovery professionals on a project basis to handle large-scale e-discovery matters cost-effectively and efficiently.
ADAM MEHRER: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your role at Robert Half?
CHARLES VOLKERT: I’ve been with Robert Half International since 1999. Prior to that, I went to the University of Miami Law School and was a litigator for a short period of time. I joined the company to help them launch the Robert Half Legal business in South Florida.
Since 2005, I’ve been overseeing the global strategy and growth in the division as executive director. Over the last couple of years, we combined our Robert Half Legal organization with our consulting practice and now have a complete e-discovery-tailored solution for our clients, from collection processing and hosting to managed review and ESI consulting. I’m the managing director overseeing that global operation for the organization.
Why has legal project management become so important for in-house department firms as well as outside firms?
We’re continuing to see law firms and legal departments using teams of legal professionals to handle large-scale, complex projects, including e-discovery, investigations, and due diligence matters. When structured and deployed properly, project teams provide a much-needed flexibility that reduces costs and provides the proper solution for not only the law firm but also for their corporate client. The latter point is critical, given that e-discovery is growing and the expense is extremely challenging for legal departments as well as law firms to handle. One-third of the lawyers Robert Half Legal recently surveyed for our e-discovery practice said that they expected to increase spending on e-discovery over the next two years.
So it’s essential that law firms and legal departments have sound strategies and processes in place for dealing with various e-discovery requests and investigations that include electronic data. That’s a focus within the best practices that law firms and corporate clients should adopt to efficiently and cost-effectively manage these needs.
Why have e-discovery and due diligence projects become such a huge challenge for law firms and legal departments today? What are some reasons for the projected increase in expenses for e-discovery in the future?
One reason is simply the amount of electronic data that is growing exponentially each day. Managing, storing, and retrieving huge volumes of data is an ongoing issue for businesses and their outside counsel. Just think of the millions of emails that a company may generate and receive in a typical month. Those millions of emails do not reside on a single server. They’re on multiple devices, including laptops and smartphones; they’re on external hard drives and flash drives; they’re in the cloud. It’s daunting to think about the effort and coordination involved in retrieving and reviewing all of those emails in a discovery request. Companies often to do not have data retentIon policies in place, which can complicate the task and make discovery even more challenging. More than one in 10 lawyers we surveyed said that, in the last three years, issues or problems with collecting or reviewing electronically stored information negatively affected a case ruling for their law firm or company. So, as we all know, the stakes are very high.
Another factor is that a lot of businesses don’t have policies around data retention and retrieval. As a result, e-discovery becomes a very reactive process for them. All too often, organizations do not plan and line up the resources they need for these matters until something happens and they need that information. Then they’re faced with a request, and they don’t have the processes already in place to handle it. So their expenses go up dramatically.
To further complicate matters, technology innoVations are outpacing companies that are building e-discovery solutions. New technology tools can present obstacles in locating and gathering data. Most of the time, we hear about tools helping with discovery matters. However, depending on the staff’s tenure, their understanding of technology, and how they use expert third-party providers, those technologies can often be hurtful, at least in the response stage.
“We’re continuing to see law firms and legal departments using teams of legal professionals to handle large-scale, complex projects, including e-discovery, investigations, and due diligence matters. When structured and deployed properly, project teams provide a much-needed flexibility that reduces costs and provides the proper solution for not only the law firm but also for their corporate client.”
Technology is constantly changing in this space, so it’s very important to stay on top of new developments. How can a project team help companies approach big data and the e-discovery challenge?
For one thing, I would say that most legal departments simply do not have the personnel and resources to completely manage e-discovery files and tight budgets. They need to turn the whole process over to an outside firm. However, there is a third, more cost-effective option, which is using a dedicated team of legal professionals with expertise and experience in e-discovery initiatives in conjunction with an in-house team. We saw this recently with a client that has a very strong litigation e-discovery department within their law firm. They were dealing with literally millions of emails and documents in Mandarin, and we were able to put together a team of over 40 Mandarin-speaking attorneys from throughout North America to worK remotely in our dedicated project space, all managed by senior project managers also fluent in Mandarin. This team worked hand-in-hand with the law firm and their corporate client in order to assist them in getting through that matter. There was no way that the corporate client or the law firm could have handled that without the expertise of a third party.
Project teams also deliver their expertise and legal assistance exactly when the law firm or legal department requires it. They can bring various levels of ESI expertise to the table to handle those matters effectively and efficiently. That’s one thing that we constantly talk about with our clients: letting us tailor the approach to the needs you have on this specific matter rather than trying to fit it into a one-size-fits-all approach.
You mentioned that there are also law firms and legal departments taking that proactive approach. How do they become proactive to prevent miscommunications when they have three or four people working on the same project? How do you make sure that everyone is on the same page? If you have one person managing all of that, how does it lead to increased efficiency?
The key is to communicate early and often. Team leaders need to develop a detailed description of each role to avoid confusion and miscommunication. That includes team leaders in law firms, in corporations, and in third party e-discovery expert teams. They need to establish defined roles and come to an early assessment of what those roles and responsibilities include. In addition to the team leader or leaders, a project team might need technology specialists, consultants, document reviewers, and additional project managers in various locations, depending on the demand of the engagement. Team leaders must also establish processes and protocols for the team to follow. For example, they need to create guidelines for conducting meetings, exchanging information, making decisions, resolving conflicts, and even deciding who should be included in emails and who shouldn’t. Once you delineate who will be taking over which responsibilities, you can build your processes in and around that. Obviously, we bring processes to the table with suggestions to our corporate clients and law firms. Every situation is different, so I think having an ability to tailor your approach and have your leads involved early in the decision-making process is crucial.
When you talk about assembling a team for discovery and other processes, how do you deTermine the size of the team and who the important members of that team are?
A major project, such as document review or e-discovery, is very expensive in many circumstances. It could require dozens of lawyers, paralegals, and other support professionals. For extremely large teams, an individual or group of people needs to be specifically dedicated to supervising and tracking the completion of the overall engagement and the various tasks throughout that engagement. This person or persons should be in charge of distributing periodic updates to every team member that the process outlines prior to launching that engagement. Law firms and corporate legal departments can use their professional networks to find available individuals for this, or they can work with specialized services or third party e-discovery providers such as ours to build out that team wherever they have gaps.
How do you know when to seek outside assistance? How do you know what partners you should choose and how well they’re going to work with you and with what you’ve already set up in-house?
To start, if you’re a law firm or a corporation and haven’t been involved in larger datasets for engagement and litigation before, I would suggest that you get in touch right away with providers within the industry. Start that interview process now and find your trusted providers so that, when you do have a need for them, you’re prepared. Again, it’s important to be as proactive as possible.
Many times, you need that third-party expertise in sizing up an e-discovery request and selecting the most effective way to proceed in a matter. You may also need a third party for objectively identifying available resources as well as evaluating current and projected workloads. You’ll want to include considerations for the deadline for responding to a request, the volume of data involved, and the complexity and scope of the case. For instance, complex class action lawsuits that are likely to drag on for some time might be good candidates to receive outside e-discovery support very early on.
When deciding whether to handle an e-discovery request internally, in house counsel must also consider the defensibility issue. Corporate counsel might have to testify about their e-discovery process and procedures and ensure that internal IT professionals were not allowed to handle data that may later have to be turned over. In evaluating how to proceed, I would recommend involving outside counsel so that they can determine their own capacity to help with e-discovery requests to the extent that is needed. We champion this point. We’re certainly just one piece of the overall solution, and that outside counsel is crucial to providing legal counsel and expertise. Corporations may have internal mechanisms as well, and taking a tailored approach where we can be a benefit for a law firm and the corporate client is the key.
What are some things that organizations should look for when they’re searching for a partner to help them out with e-discovery?
I think of it in terms of six different areas. Number one, which I’m sure is top-of-mind for a lot of organizations, is cost. Many companies have contracts with e-discovery providers with preferred rates, which is one way to contain cost and handle it upfront.
Number two is regional project space. To conduct effective investigations in e-discovery for corporations and law firms, a service provider needs both secure document review space and a broad geographic reach, not only in North America but with an international footprint as well. We have 24 offices in 24 different countries outside of the U.S., and it’s amazing to see the weekly requests coming in for collection, processing, and hosting as well as managed reviews beyond the borders of the U.S. and Canada. So that’s an important point.
Security is also key. A company needs to find out where the vendor will host the data, how it will be encrypted, who will have access to it, and how it will be secured.
I would rank technological capability fourth; it’s another key consideration in choosing a vendor. Does the vendor have their own technology? Can they partner with the best technology provider in the marketplace and offer that as a solution on every engagement?
Area number five touches on the process used. For example, if managed review is involved, how will the documents be routed through the various levels of review? Who is overseeing that project? What are their qualifications?
Finally, the sixth point is to make sure that e-discovery providers can show you the metrics that help you measure the value that they are providing. They should be able to show you what it would have cost you before their involvement and what it now costs based on the protocols and processes they’ve put into place.
You mentioned a few benefits of engaging outside specialists for legal projects like document review and e-discovery, such as not having to testify about your process, as you would if you kept it in-house. What are some other benefits of utilizing outside specialists?
Document review is a fundamental part of litigation, investigations, due diligence, etc. It’s also costly and time consuming. Outside specialists have the expertise to manage the people, the process, and the technologies involved in review. They offer a range of capabilities, including technical, legal, and language capabilities. So there are a lot of benefits to utilizing a third party provider.
When you meet with a third party provider, you should find out if they collect and preserve documents and if they have a hosting process. Also, there is only one leader that you should be talking to throughout the entire engagement. We’ve seen many fragmented engagements in the past, where clients were not happy because they had a different provider for all of these services without a single central manager overseeing it. That’s something that we talk with our clients about quite a bit.
We always focus on implementing a process for our clients that’s repeatable, defensible, and cost effective. You need to ask any provider you utilize what type of plan they have in place to do that.
In-house counsel are always trying to do more with less to become more efficient. What are some best practices you have seen as far as the day-to-day management of tasks such as discovery?
We’ve talked a little bit about establishing communication early and often with investment parties and leads. It is also very important for whoever is on the team that communication slows down so that it is effective. All team members must understand why the team was formed, what its goals are, and what needs to be done in order to achieve those goals. That’s why it’s a good idea to hold a kickoff meeting to discuss the action plan and its logistics, workflow, the frequency of status reports, and proper communication from top to bottom and bottom to top. This needs to be continually discussed throughout the engagement as well. Even if the procedures are clearly discussed at the outset, project teams need ongoing guidance to be effective and function appropriately.
Deadlines often change and the scope of the project can also morph and change, so it’s important to build that into your discussions as well. Group members must be informed in a timely manner about changes. They need to be aware that changes may come at any time, and it’s up to the team leader to explain how such changes impact what each Member of the team is doing. That team leader’s jOb is to see both the daily details as well as the big picture and make sure that all communication is appropriate and oriented toward that goal.
What are some things a leader can do to keep the group focused, motivated, and ready to handle high-pressure work?
It’s important that team leaders stay positive. They need to help the team overcome obstacles and move forward. They also need to be the voice of reason, especially as engagements grow larger. Being able to see an analysis and recommend the next steps is crucial. We’ve had many engagements with just three, five, or 10 people; we’ve also had engagements that are north of 500 reviewers with multiple leaders and project managers. As those projects grow, it becomes very important that we stay focused on sharing information. We see our most positive results when clients readily share information with the team leads, and the team leads then focus on that with their various teams, many of which are handling different aspects of the matter.
Finally, it’s important to develop a reward mechanism that recognizes both individual accomplishments as well as group achievements over the course of an engagement. Many engagements will be brief in nature; others can go on for a long time. It’s important for organizations to have a like mind on how to reward great work and keep these teams engaged and motivated.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I would just like to say that this landscape in and around e-discovery, or any data-intensive work that corporate legal departments have go through with outside counsels and providers such as ourselves, continues to change. It’s very important for members of a third party provider, law firm, or corporate legal department to do their best to stay on top of the changes in technology and keep an eye toward the best technologies out there as well as providers such as Robert Half Legal that are offering you a repeatable, defensible process that is tailored to the needs of a particular case moving forward.
I would also recommend that if anybody would like more information, they can download a complimentary copy of Robert Half Legal’s latest e-discovery research report at www.futurelawoffice.com/e-discovery. For more information on Robert Half Legal’s e-discovery services offering, please visit www.roberthalflegal.com/ediscoveryservices or feel free to call us at 1-855-428-2423.
Charles A. Volkert, Esq.
Charles Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal and executive managing director of Robert Half Legal eDiscovery Services. Robert Half Legal is the premier provider of highly skilled legal professionals for law firms and corporate legal departments. The company also offers legal project management and e-discovery services for a wide range of initiatives, including litigation support, mergers and acquisitions, and document review. Robert Half Legal is the legal staffing division of Robert Half International, a global leader in professional staffing and consulting services with more than 400 offices worldwide.
Mr. Volkert began his staffing industry career when he joined Robert Half in 1999 and has served as vice president of national accounts for the company. He has been instrumental in the expansion of Robert Half Legal, which has locations throughout North America and in major international mArkets, and the company’s e-discovery services offering.
Mr. Volkert advises clients on the strategic use of project teams for e-discovery and document review, temporary legal support and full-time staff to cost-effectively manage business fluctuations and workload increases. He also specializes in legAl search.
Prior to his employment with Robert Half Legal, Mr. Volkert worked as a litigator with McGrane & Nosich in Coral Gables, Florida, where he focused on complex litigation, insurance defense, medical malpractice, and product liability. Prior to McGrane & Nosich, he was an associate at Ford & Sinclair in Miami, Florida.
A noted author and speaker, Mr. Volkert helped develop the company’s alliance partnerships with the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists, Association of Corporate Counsel, Association of Legal Administrators, and Minority Corporate Counsel Association. He is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law, where he received a juris doctor, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Furman University. Mr. Volkert is a member of the Florida Bar, the Dade County Bar Association, and the American Bar Association.
Adam Mehrer is a junior content associate at Argyle Executive Forum. In this role, Mr. Mehrer works on content development, editorial speaker recruitment, and execution for 20+ annual business events in Argyle’s general counsel and chief information officer memberships. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Columbia University, where he was an ESPN Academic All-American Safety on the football team.