E-discovery is becoming a mainstream process and technology at law firms that also seek to reduce attorney time and create a more efficient document review process. Severson & Werson, an Irvine, California law firm of 120 attorneys, offers an example of the technology’s use in a case that cleared a client and significantly lowered costs of managing evidence.

Severson & Werson represents a variety of clients but specializes in the construction industry. In a recent case, the firm received 250,000 documents relevant to a complicated trial from multiple international parties, with no time to review each one. The combination of large volumes of evidence and short turnaround is a not-uncommon scenario in the world of litigation today, attorneys say.

The case was brought to determine fault for expensive delays during the design and construction of a condo-hotel in California. The owner sought $9 million, and the contractor responded with their own claims of $5.8 million against the architect and Severson & Werson’s client, the project’s structural engineer.

Using e-discovery, Severson & Werson was able to discover the relevant documents that led to the case being settled and proved their client wasn’t at fault.

Attorney Bruce N. Furukawa is technology partner in the Severson & Werson Construction group, primarily representing and counseling architects and engineers. Furukawa has negotiated and implemented e-discovery protocols and developed strategies for producing electronic documents in both federal and state courts. Furukawa described this case as typical in that everyone involved managed data according to their own processes. The client, for example, managed data in a controlled way. “Every time they got an email, they’d save it and print out attachments and delete the attachments. Another party saved everything. Another party saved everything intermingled with all their documents,” explained Furukawa.

The firm negotiated to upload the documents to a hosting provider that used kCura’s Relativity software, with the costs split three ways, between the owner, the architect and Severson & Werson’s client, the structural engineer. “By consolidating all the documents in the case, we saved costs on hosting by a third. We also agreed [each party] only had to pay for data you put into it.”

Cross-population and deduplication was achieved as data was entered, and all the information was processed a single system.

“You could cross-tag it or at least locate it in other people’s data without difficulty, a great efficiency for us,” said Furukawa.

The greatest efficiency was gained as Severson & Werson attorneys reviewed the documents. During the review stage, 40 to 50 percent of attorney time is consumed and billed for the time it takes to determine relevancy and physically tag documents. In the initial process, attorneys used the software to sort documents by whether they were likely to be needed as evidence or not, Furukawa said. “The physical tagging is reduced because you’re not classifying it, only saying, yes, it’s relevant, no, it’s not, or maybe.”

Software analytics are able to cluster documents that are highly relevant and likely to be related. This allowed the firm to quickly sort out groups of nonresponsive, repetitive documents.

Severson & Werson identified 200 documents that their attorneys and client agreed were most relevant. The software used these documents as a “seed set” to search the entire discovery database and make coding suggestions for each document.

The firm could then focus attorneys and paralegals on groups of documents that were similar to the example set. Using Relativity, Severson & Werson were able to bring the 250,000-document count down to 1,000 key documents.

In the end, Furukawa said, the initial review cost a little more than $100,000 using contract attorneys at a rate of $55 per hour. “If Severson & Werson had reviewed all of the documents assuming 60 documents per hour at $55 per hour, the review would have cost approximately $200,000.”

As an added bonus to the review time saved, Severson & Werson attorneys were prepared for trial well before opposing counsel even completed their review.

Furukawa said that analytics in e-discovery software can be used to iterate results at all phases of the legal process. After a first-pass review, the results were clustered again to discover documentation needed for the deposition stage of the trial. “You can use the [analytic] capabilities throughout the life of a case. We use analytics to test our attorney-client privileged documents, for example,” said the attorney Furukawa.

The cost savings and strategic advantage this text analytics technology brings to clients outweighed the firm’s upfront investment, said Furukawa.

Read more about e-discovery in an Information Management interview with Anne Kershaw, co-founder of the nonprofit e-discovery Institute.

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