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Conquering the Legal Data Mountain with Anexsys – Part 1

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Law firms aren’t naturally set up to deal with the challenges presented by our data-saturated world.  Law firms have historically dealt with the problem of information management and document-review using labour-intensive solutions: armies of paralegals and junior lawyers.

Anexsys, an eDiscovery and digital forensics consultancy, gives law firms the tools to organise and analyse huge volumes of information quickly and efficiently.  

Our Editor Becky Baker spoke to Rob Crowley, Managing Director, and Stu Craft, Director of Technical Services, to find out the secrets of their impressive success and how they are so effective at designing tools that lawyers want to use. 

In Part 1 of this two-part article, Rob and Stu also discuss how junior lawyers can accelerate their career progression by mastering eDiscovery.

Becky: What is driving law firms to come to Anexsys for help?

Stu: We provide law firms with cost-efficient and effective solutions for managing and analysing large volumes of data.  For example, law firms often have to deal with Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs) for their clients; in light of GDPR, almost all organisations will have to deal with them at some point and there’s a big onus on them to get it right.  It is also a huge business development opportunity for law firms.  If a firm has handled a client’s DSARs it will have a familiarity with its data and its issues, and that can be a real asset.  That company is much more likely to come back to a firm with that deep knowledge if it is subsequently sued.  It creates a natural stickiness with clients that a lot of law firms are hoping to capitalise on.

If a single person makes a DSAR against their employer, they would have the right to your appraisals, any personal information held by HR, plus any documents where their name is referenced, but in any documents or email string where somebody else was mentioned, their information would have to be redacted.  This is a huge manual workload for even just a single DSAR.

When many people are making DSARs, it becomes a complex and inefficient exercise without the help of technology.  Anexsys helps law firms solve the problem of DSARs by automating the redaction process; you can run a search term or expression in RTK Redact and it will redact it throughout a set of documents, instead of drawing in black boxes one by one! It can be a real problem if, say, you need to redact all email headers in a string of correspondence.  We came up with an algorithm that detected email headers, so you can redact them all at once.

Redaction can be a weighty exercise in litigation too at the disclosure stage.  Tools like RTK Redact can be used across a range of matters, and it can help law firms win work if they highlight the added value of these tools to their potential clients.

Rob: Companies constantly face the risk of cyber-security breaches, and it is essential they are able to respond quickly and effectively.  eDiscovery tools can make the data breach response process much faster and help firms manage risk better.  

When an organisation is hacked, specialists will quickly identify compromised servers and try to identify what information has been lost.  However, even if they identify which documents have been lost, they won’t be able to quickly assess the information they contain.  Anexsys will process all the data, identify what type of information the documents contain (from people’s names to political views!) and score the documents in terms of risk. 

Insurance firms often handle a lot of data breach response work, so it can be particularly valuable for them and their clients.  They can quickly find out whether highly sensitive information has been lost, and take action swiftly to let subjects know their data has been compromised.

DSARs and data breach response work are the main focus points which lawyers have brought to us.

Becky: So, why Anexsys? What makes your software so impressively lawyer-friendly?

Rob: A number of our solutions are built into existing software such as Relativity, the document review platform.  Our main aim is to make the solution feel as streamlined as possible for the specific group of people using it; for a document reviewer using Relativity daily, we make it feel like just another part of Relativity.  The solution is quick and easy for everyone to learn and get value out of, because it feels just like the software they already use every day.

Stu: I agree; as Rob says, our developers prioritise a user experience (UX) for customers that matches the software they already use.  Although there are probably more efficient, more elegant ways of designing user interaction with our tools, it would actually make things much harder for our customers to use our tools.

We tried a new UX for one of our DSAR-related solutions, a tool to redact Excel documents, which we thought was intuitive and fit-for-purpose.  The client couldn’t use it!  We redesigned the interface so it looked and felt like working in an Excel document, and the client took to it straight away.  We learned that lawyers need something that works with their existing software, and looks and feels like it too.

Rob: Lawyers can really benefit from our specific, tailored enhancements to industry-standard software like Relativity.  The reason Relativity is so dominant in the eDiscovery market is it is a complex product, so it can be adapted for very complex analysis and bespoke work.  That’s why we build our client-specific solutions on top of this industry-standard software.

For law firms, the disputes they handle vary widely and hinge on fine detail, so they need tools that are highly capable and flexible.

Becky: So eDiscovery tools are powerful for law firms, allowing them to streamline their services and costs.  But why do junior lawyers need to know about eDiscovery?

Rob: I’ve always felt that if you’d really mastered eDiscovery a few years ago you could have carved out a fast-track to partnership.  A handful of lawyers have really embraced eDiscovery, and it has been a real accelerator for their careers.  They exemplify the difference between just using and really understanding the potential of the software – they’re the lawyers who took the time to really get the full value out of the technology and pass that on to their clients.

Junior lawyers should start building their knowledge of eDiscovery now.  Mastery of eDiscovery technology will be essential before too long, as that seems to be the way the legal industry is moving.  There will probably be fewer lawyers once the tech is commonplace across the industry, but there will be a big need for people who have the understanding to be able to tell the tools what they need them to do and explain the results.

Stu: Absolutely, and junior lawyers who have the opportunity to use eDiscovery technology should seize it and learn how to get the most out of these tools.  The two key things to focus on are how to instruct the tools properly, and how to use the results sensibly in practice.  

As the courts shift towards a more tech-enabled way of operating, having an understanding of how technology and civil procedure interact will be crucial.  It can also have consequences if you get it wrong.  At the disclosure stage of a civil dispute, you will need to agree the keywords that the other party will use to search their computers, phones and databases for relevant documents.  There’s potential for big mistakes to be made here if you don’t understand how a keyword-search works and the impact it can have on your client’s case.  For example, if you agree to your client’s name being used as a search term, it would bring up a huge number of documents – for example, every email that your client was copied into, no matter whether it was relevant to your case or not.  The result would be huge document-review costs, which your client would have to pay if they lost.

If you understand the technology and can apply it in practice, you will be able to add significant value as a junior lawyer.  You can carve out a niche for yourself as a legal-technical specialist in dispute resolution just by having a solid understanding of the disclosure rules and the eDiscovery technology your firm uses.

Rob: One lawyer we worked with had carved out this legal-technical space for himself very successfully.  He used his eDiscovery expertise to question search terms at the disclosure stage, refusing to accept terms that would just yield large volumes of irrelevant material, like in the example Stu gave of using the client’s name as a search term.  He could argue these points in front of a judge, and win, using legal knowledge together with technical and mathematical common sense.  As a result, his clients went through a more efficient and cost-effective disclosure process, and would have had to spend a lot less on document-review, which can sometimes form up to 70% of the cost of a matter.

As Stu has already pointed out, it will be really important for junior lawyers to understand how civil procedure and eDiscovery technology fit together.  The new Disclosure Pilot Scheme has applied to cases in the Business and Property courts since 1 January 2019, and there’s mandate to make greater use of predictive coding, email threading and other conceptual analytical tools.  Knowing what you can do under the new rules will be a big differentiator for junior lawyers.

If junior lawyers pay attention to the technology used on a case and worked well with it, they’ll become the port of call for the partners who don’t have the time to master it themselves.  They’ll be ‘those switched-on associates’ who can steer them in the right direction.

It can be difficult to know where to start with eDiscovery, especially if you didn’t do a degree in Computer Science!  Junior lawyers don’t need to know everything, but they can start by identifying their knowledge gaps.  Even knowing the difference between a server and a hard-drive can help.  Take some basic technical courses online – we use Udemy at Anexsys – or audit courses for free.

[Editor’s note: Harvard are currently giving free access to their ‘Computer Science for Lawyers’ course]

Becky Baker was talking to Rob Crowley, Managing Director, and Stu Craft, Director of Technical Services at Anexsys.  

For more information, or if you have any comments or questions, please contact [email protected] 

Look out for Part 2 of our Anexsys series in July, where Rob and Stu tell us about the importance of cloud computing to the future of the legal tech market.

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