Where the Vendors Go

Just want to add a couple of further thoughts about ILTA that didn’t occur during one of the sessions.

One of the more interesting things about ILTA is that, with all the legal technology vendors in one place, it’s a great place to compare them, and get a feel for where the market is going overall. Obviously the big question on everyone’s mind was where was HP going with the very high price they paid for Autonomy. I heard a few rumors, and had a few thoughts of my own, but maybe the one that made the most sense to me was someone who pointed out that Autonomy has always had this great IDOL search engine, but never really figured out how to build it in to a product, so maybe HP was going to build it in to a server appliance?

In order to explain why I think this is so, let me talk a bit about some other vendors. First off, the move among ediscovery vendors has been, and continues to be towards integrated systems, and online review. Even the old stand-bys of Concordance and Summation are moving in that direction. Lexis is continuing to develop the desktop version of Concordance, but is also offering Evolution now, a web-based quasi-native review tool. Meanwhile, AccessData is really scrapping the entire back end of Summation, iBlaze and Enterprise both, in order to build it back onto the same back-end that is used with their forensics tool, FTK. In fact, they have positioned themselves to be not just a product for law firms, but a product for law departments. The AD Ediscovery product can be used to collect, which rolls right into their ECA tool, which rolls right into their review/production platform, and since it shares the same database structure, you can jump back and forth between the products.

In their presentation, they talked about being able to de-dupe globally, or only load the last email of a thread into the review tool, and when it came time to produce, you could go back into the ECA tool and grab those other copies, or earlier individual messages as needed. So, with one tool, you can collect your own data, search and cull it, and either send what’s left off to a hostedreview, or a firm, or simply add on the Summation piece, and give your outside counsel access through the web.

Now, think about what we talked about earlier in the week with the corporate law departments. They want to control the process, not give control to law firms. They want to get predictability in costs, and what better way to get that than to make the investment in infrastructure yourself, and use it as much as you need to use it, for the fixed price of that investment? This is where corporations are going, and why vendors are seeing so much growth outside of law firms. AccessData sees that this is where the market is headed, and is responding by making their tools more usable for law departments.

Back to the HP-Autonomy appliance rumor, if the market for legal technology is headed toward direct purchase by clients, and away from law firms, I can’t help but think that HP is not trying to build a better legal platform for lawyers, but a better legal platform for companies to use inside their own organizations. Imagine a company with litigation readiness needs. Now imagine that they could buy an appliance that would give them the ability to search across their organization for relevant material, archive it, and then make it available using Autonomy’s Introspect platform for attorney review, and all you have to do is plug it in. HP will build it and configure it for you.

Large organizations, and those frequently involved in litigation, are moving in this direction. Demanding their outside lawyers use the processes they decide on, the tools they decide on, and that they learn how to best use these tools. It’s no longer the law firms who are driving this train.

But, you say, there are always the small businesses that will continue to let us do business as usual. Maybe for now, as the investment costs for some of these tools are higher than their litigation risk is, but this won’t be true once Google gets completely into the ediscovery game. (Yes, there was someone from Google at ILTA, someone with their edicsovery area in fact.). Right now, if your business uses Google Apps, it’s pretty close to ready for ediscovery. Google can easily search across Gmail, Google Docs and all the other tools that come with an Apps account. Heck, even if you’re not using Gmail, they have Postini setup in front of your email server and can be configured as an email archive. Once they pair that up with a collaboration tool that would let you grab a copy of all those search hits and make it available online to your attorney, you have yourself a complete ediscovery solution, all part of your $50 per user, per year, Google Apps account. I don’t believe they are that far away from this. Go back and read that paragraph again, and think about all of the various tools they already own, or have investments in. It’s really more a matter of putting it all together as a service than it is developing a whole new tool.

Where does that leave law firms, and in-house Lit Support at law firms? Good question. I don’t think the need for Lit Support will ever completely go away, but the work is changing. It’s going to involve a lot more working with clients, and supporting a variety of tools being used across various clients. Some firms will still offer some processing and review services, but it’s not going to be a big revenue generator for firms. We simply can’t compete with companies where this is their area of expertise. It’s not the core function of a law firm. The revenue is going to come from helping clients develop their own processes and tools, as more of an expert, as opposed to a document reviewer. That’s also going to require lawyers to learn a whole lot more about the process and the technology than they currently know. Those that do, will be successful in the new world of ediscovery process being driven by clients. Those that don’t, should think about working elsewhere.

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