Girl in a septillion

By | 11th August 2011

“I get it entirely when you say we should not print out electronic data”, said the trainee who approached me at the end of a recent training session, but, and here she blushed, “what do I say to the partner who insists that I print out the contents of a CD or hard drive?”

It is a very good question. The trainee was right to ask it and there was no need at all to feel embarrassed about it. It is a common problem and illustrates the sometimes yawning gap between the theory and the practice of electronic document management.

The technology in this area has improved exponentially over the past 10 years. The speed and reliability have improved and the cost has plummeted. The problem arises where lawyers think they prefer to use paper rather than work electronically.

How do you persuade a client or a lawyer that they should work electronically when so may appear to prefer to deal with paper with all its imperfections?

I used to sneer at algorithms. Not because an algorithm is something inherently unpleasant or useless but frankly because I had not taken the time and trouble to understand why they might be helpful to me. An algorithm is essentially a set of instructions on how to make a calculation rather like a mathematical formula and algorithms are present in all technology software used in e-disclosure.

Since hearing about Joan Ginther[The luckiest woman in the world?, Today, BBC Radio 4, 11th Aug, 2011] I am going to take algorithms more seriously. Joan has just won her fourth multimillion lottery jackpot and has clocked up a $20 million dollar scratchcard fortune. She is apparently a Stanford educated maths genius who just may have cracked the code that determines how winning tickets are distributed.  The odds of her winning streak have been assessed at 1 in 18 septillion where one septillion is the number of grains of sand on Earth! If Miss Ginther has worked out the algorithm which decides how the cards are distributed, her phenomenal run of luck has been estimated to occur only once in a thousand, million, million years!!

Clearly algorithms are not to be sniffed at and I urge lawyers to take them seriously from now on; which brings me back to the trainee’s fascinating question.

There is no simple answer to the question but if you have been reading James Moeskops’ recent series of articles on how lawyers can waste their clients’ money, you will recall that his first example concerned printing out electronic documents – Waste #1 – Printing Electronic Documents,  Smart e-Discovery blog, 2nd June, 2011.

It will almost always be more efficient and more cost effective to work with electronic documents electronically, rather than printing them out. Before printing out electronic data, you should balance the perceived comforts against the main benefits of using e-discovery software:

  • Searching – from simple keywords through to highly complex and targeted queries involving logical operators such as AND, OR and NOT.
  • Sorting in a myriad of different ways at the click of a button using fields of metadata such as dates, authors, recipients and document type extracted automatically from the electronic documents.
  • Web based access to the documents to facilitate remote working and collaboration across offices and with 3rd parties such as experts / counsel and the end client.
  • If collected and processed correctly electronic documents retain the original structure and source information which is often of relevance and is typically disclosed in accordance with Practice Direction 31B.
  • Electronic tagging / classification of documents is more efficient and flexible than the use of ‘post it’ notes in lever arch files.

May I suggest the trainee bookmarks this post and has it ready next time the partner in the group comes calling and asks for electronic documents to printed out?  In my experience, trainees who can argue coherently and knowledgeably almost always find themselves promoted. 

Now, that’s a bit like winning the lottery without the need to buy a ticket!