eDiscovery Supply Chain: Discovery as Factory

This is a guest post by Clinton Sanko, shareholder with the law firm Baker Donelson and the firm's eDiscovery and document review officer. Mr. Sanko has led the development of Baker Donelson's LeanDiscovery™ system, which seeks to closely integrate process, technology and the various team constituencies for the cost-effective and efficient management of eDiscovery and document review. He is also the author of the Firm's LeanDiscovery blog. The views expressed herein are the author’s and do not represent Epiq and do not constitute legal advice.

We don't talk about eDiscovery as a factory very often, but think about the concept for a second. Think about what we are doing in an eDiscovery project. Everything that goes into "machining" the production documents requires a careful integration of legal expertise, process design, project management and operational execution.

The eDiscovery Process

The process invariably starts with a design session, with the legal team and client setting forth the project requirements (usually based on what the opposing party asked for). After that, the raw material is amassed, usually in large quantities (the data collected from the client). That raw material is then machined using both precision technology (eDiscovery tools) and highly-skilled labor (lawyers and technologists). The end product is a set of documents that is relevant to the particular matter (the production set). A mistake in specifications (search terms), an errant command (coding mistake) or a flawed execution (inadvertent production of privileged documents) will affect the ultimate quality (cost, defensibility and value) of the production.

This factory analogy is not intended to take anything away from the experienced professionals it takes to execute a successful eDiscovery project. Far from it. At a factory, design of virtually any complex product starts with highly experienced and qualified design engineers. Those engineers map the client's requirements to the product design. Manufacturing begins on a schedule, with a complex array of workers and machinery doing highly skilled tasks. If a mistake occurs at any station, the product must be reworked or scrapped.

The factory steps should sound repetitive. They are.

Electronic Discovery as Factory

The lack of clear industry recognition that eDiscovery is a manufacturing operation has had some negative consequences. Most notably, without that recognition, the industry has stalled in using proven manufacturing techniques to improve review productivity and cost. Of course, once you see eDiscovery as a specialized factory, it's easy to see opportunities to apply modern manufacturing techniques.

A great example is the "eDiscovery supply chain." Just a few years ago, Volkswagen opened an assembly plant in Chattanooga's Enterprise South Industrial Park in Tennessee to build the Passat. Of course, the opening of an automotive assembly plant brought with it many parts suppliers, who also opened up facilities at Enterprise South to be close to their customer. This has been the way of the industry for many years, as automobile manufacturers realized that they couldn't make every part needed to manufacture an automobile, and still keep the price affordable.

Manufacturing automobiles, aircraft, computers, cell phones, dog houses, lawn mowers – any product requiring a complex assembly of component parts – now rely on a network of parts suppliers, referred to as the "supply chain." defines supply chain as "a network between a company and its suppliers to produce and distribute a specific product, and the supply chain represents the steps it takes to get the product or service to the customer. Supply chain management is a crucial process, because an optimized supply chain results in lower costs and a faster production cycle." [Emphasis added.]

The eDiscovery Supply Chain Can be Optimized

As the eDiscovery unit of outside counsel, we at Baker Donelson are the "general contractor" for eDiscovery projects. In this role, we ensure the project follows our established process, we perform quality inspections and we make sure each step meets the compliance standards and value-add objectives set by the client and trial team. We choose to partner with leading vendors for a variety of critical services. This eDiscovery supply chain enables us to lower costs, enhance quality and eliminate bottlenecks.

Relying on our supply chain partners to execute the eDiscovery process we've designed, our team is free to focus on managing the process and our partners. This tighter focus allows us to concentrate on excellent advocacy. In addition, we are able to prioritize consistency and predictability, lower total costs, and design new ways to deliver value to the legal team.

Since we view our vendors as partners, we spend almost a year evaluating a vendor before we invite them to join our supply chain. By that time, we not only know what their strengths and weaknesses are, but they understand the commitment we jointly have to continuously improve the eDiscovery process to deliver increasing value to our trial teams and clients. Our vendor/partners are an important part of our ability to service our clients, and we both invest in our relationship over the long term. This allows close integration of our supply chain.

As a trusted advisor to our clients, our firm recognizes the value to our clients of a robust eDiscovery supply chain. The consistency of projects allows greater integration, better and more consistent processes, established quality controls and clear boundaries for project management. We invest in regular meetings, a metrics program, security audits, process design, consistent project management teams, established escalation procedures and much more. This is the result of our focus on process quality, which in turn enables the best results for our trial teams and clients.

If you want to learn more about Baker Donelson’s general processes and how they view eDiscovery design, visit

Clinton Sanko, a shareholder at Baker Donelson and the firm's eDiscovery and document review officer, is a seasoned litigation trial lawyer who focuses his practice on bringing client value through efficient, effective and expeditious managing of the work associated with eDiscovery and document review. While Clinton has been the lead lawyer on various high-stakes commercial litigation, he principally manages the critical juncture where electronically stored information intersects with legal need, whether that intersection occurs in litigation, investigations, information governance, litigation preparedness, or mergers and acquisitions. Clients turn to Clinton for advice on maintaining a proportionate approach to finding what is needed and complying with all legal obligations, while keeping costs measured and finding the case story in the documents.

Filed under: ediscovery

The contents of this article are intended to convey general information only and not to provide legal advice or opinions.

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