Covid-19 has forced eDiscovery service providers (SP) to solve data security challenges whilst employees work from remote locations with no clear end-date in sight. This has created challenges toward maintaining a secure review environment whilst SP’s and their employees face limited options outside of working from home. The importance of data security means SP’s must quickly adapt. Beyond data security is the challenge of employee engagement. Maintaining performance standards can prove difficult if the remote environment throws employees and contract review teams out of balance as they juggle family proximity to work, monotony, and mental health of both themselves and their loved ones.
To understand the full scope of this problem, it’s important to review the pre-existing industry standards for document review. It is fair to say that despite rapid advances in AI solutions, SP’s have been slow to change their standard review process. Prior to Covid-19, traditional review methods had indeed remained dominant. For many SP’s, managed review is a lucrative business vertical within their existing operating models. Conversely, it has been a costly process for law firms and corporate legal teams. Expensive operational overheads and management fees have dominated an essential part of the eDiscovery workflow for years. The motivation for a better solution has been limited to the imagination, or willingness, of the SP’s themselves. If there is not significant market pressure to disrupt existing practices, no change in process will occur. The SP’s client remains paying high review fees because they perceive there is no alternative.
The review process places a heavy reliance on the ability to scale quickly with the appropriate number of reviewers and applicable technology. The key market fear to remote review is a lack of security. This is an industry which has operated in the same way for many years. Review teams have been traditionally located within a secure physical environment. Most service providers would maintain multiple offices specifically designed for this purpose. The investment in designated workspaces would enable SP’s to deliver a repeatable product that satisfies a client’s expectations for the safe oversight of their legal data, with demonstrated and agreed upon operating standards. This includes rigorous security compliance standards on infrastructure, careful monitoring of the review team itself, and ensuring protocols are in place for reducing risk.
The shift to remote creates both a break in tradition and an opportunity for innovation. Because review teams currently have few options but to work remote, SP’s must expand their virtual capability with security standards that go beyond satisfying client concerns. This is an opportunity to grow the trust in the relationship through demonstrating competence in the face of adversity, and a willingness to innovate at a time where increase efficiency can carry a message of empathy.
The shift also presents an opportunity to take managed review beyond glorified staffing. SP’s that embrace a philosophy of implementing sophisticated next gen AI coding protocols will have the opportunity to elevate their service quality and equip employees to achieve more with less. This means paying careful attention to the quality of the review tools, their integrations, the process by which the algorithm learns and the quality of the algorithm itself. Remote review is an opportunity to not only embrace virtual environments and their relevant efficiencies, but also cut the fat from traditional review services that overstaff due to substandard tools. The client comes first, and that includes implementing AI platforms as part of a secure review environment which saves them money. This serves to both protect and grow the client relationship.
The appropriate standards for a successful remote managed review environment include maintaining highly secure cloud hosted virtual rooms that provide fully controlled access to a hosted review platform coupled to a virtual desktop. Some advantages of this approach include preventing passwords from being cached and ensuring settings are in place for read-only access to the virtual desktop. This helps ensure that data cannot be transferred. Users can also be prevented from savings and/or accessing documents. In addition, no data is stored at any time on any personal device or SP provided hardware (laptops, etc). Multi-factor authentication should be implemented, alongside the removal of access to cutting/pasting tools or clipboard. The use of facial recognition software can provide an added layer of security, which the SP themselves should recommend. This is not a box-ticking exercise, this is a demonstration of competence and trust.
As mentioned above, the security benefits of implementing a robust remote review environment should not be the only consideration. Additional benefits should include highly efficient access management controls and processes that create an optimised review environment for all reviewers. This process provides a complete ‘umbrella’ control over the software and communications, resulting in fewer problems with downtime, user queries, access queries, etc. The human element is not lost either. With the use of secure chat applications such as Microsoft Teams, you can enhance communication beyond traditional standards and maintain a sense of comradery as the review team works on the tasks at hand. There is literally an option for every type of reviewer to reach out in their preferred communication style. The knowledge gained from these improvements in communication and workflow can then be consolidated and deployed to the wider team.
Training review teams usually takes the best part of a day. Whilst this is still the case for remote review, it has the advantage of potentially providing for multiple learning styles. For example, SP’s can host live presentations from the law firm or client where ‘visual’ learners can interact and ask questions. The presentations can be logged, securely, for the review team to refer to later on. If the review team are ‘readers’, they will be provided will an overview of the matter and other relevant accompanying materials in document form. For those that thrive in an iterative learning style, they can chat live with co-workers and management. This removes the perception of hierarchy whilst maximizing employee engagement and productivity.
Finally, developing a secure remote work environment provides for the removal of the SP’s dependence on location-based talent. Subject to GDPR, you can staff your teams from the pick of the global/national crop. The benefit is particularly apparent in resourcing review specialisations such as industry/vertical knowledge and experience, as well as different languages.
The increased risk of distraction, challenges to engagement, and security concerns means there is an urgency for SP’s to re-assess traditional review methods and implement secure virtual environments with AI solutions that reduce the heavy staffing burden through more efficient predictive coding workflows and pre-built AI models. By taking a client-focused ‘bigger picture’ approach, SP’s have the opportunity to remove a tired operating model and implement solutions that can dynamically adapt to the clients changing needs.