By: Brad Kelly, NBI Staff
Friday, January 27, 2023
How to Choose eDiscovery Software For Small Law Firms
“eDiscovery is effortless and easy!”, said no legal professional, ever.
If you operate a solo or small firm legal practice, you probably have even less time to devote to eDiscovery tasks than your biglaw counterparts. You juggle multiple practice areas – and clients – at the same time. You devote at least part of your day to non-legal administrative tasks since your small firm is also a small business. The discovery process is one more thing that keeps you in the office longer than you want to be.
Electronic discovery software can be a lifesaver for solo practices or small law firms. It can allow you and your team to perform legal discovery tasks such as document review more quickly and efficiently, thus allowing you to devote more time to other matters. Purchasing an off-the-shelf eDiscovery software package isn’t a decision that can be made lightly, however. You need to have a plan of attack before you pull out your firm’s credit card.
With so many different vendors out there, it can be hard to choose the right one. Which eDiscovery platform is best for your solo or small law firm depends on several factors that you need to determine. Here’s a quick guide legal firms can use to choose the best eDiscovery software platform.
Step One: Identify What You Need Your eDiscovery Software to Do
Before you can make an educated purchasing decision, you need to figure out what you need your eDiscovery software to do for your legal team. Modern eDiscovery platforms are versatile and can perform many tasks. At minimum, most can do the following:
- Use keyword queries to make searches more efficient.
- Analyze metadata, message attachments, comments and more for relevant search terms.
- Tag information relevant to eDiscovery requests.
- Locate and sequester privileged information relevant to eDiscovery requests.
- Create holds for specific types of information.
- Document review that allows you to export files into necessary file formats for storage, production, exhibits, etc.
What you need your eDiscovery software to do depends on your areas of practice. Here are a few examples to consider:
- If your firm does plaintiff-side employment law, you’ll need your eDiscovery software to feature robust data collection that allows you to search through large numbers of emails and internal communications, even if you narrow discovery requests to relevant parameters.
- If you represent businesses, you’ll need your eDiscovery software to create and track litigation holds.
- If you practice commercial litigation, your eDiscovery software will have to go through reams of contracts and communications to find relevant information.
Write down your needs before you begin shopping. You’ll find some eDiscovery software providers perform certain tasks better than others. Break your needs down into the following categories:
- What you need your eDiscovery software to do for your small law firm.
- What it would be nice for your eDiscovery software to do, but may not be essential.
Step Two: Determine Your eDiscovery Software Budget
The perfect eDiscovery software solution does everything you need it to, plus all the things you don’t realize you need it to, for no money at all. Unfortunately, this isn’t how things work in real life. After you determine what you need an eDiscovery platform to do, you need to figure out how much you’re willing to spend.
In order to determine your small firm’s budget for eDiscovery software, you need to understand how eDiscovery software pricing structures work. Though things vary by vendor, here’s a quick breakdown of pricing structures:
- Most eDiscovery software vendors operate on a subscription model. In your subscription, you get certain services.
- Depending on the vendor, if the amount of data you upload to their cloud exceeds a certain amount, you may be charged for it.
- Custom subscriptions are usually available if you need certain services above and beyond what is included in standard subscriptions, such as integration with existing systems or grouping of near-duplicate documents (aka: near-dupe).
While eDiscovery software costs can be reasonable, you need to determine how much you’re willing to spend. Prices vary for subscriptions, and many vendors do not publish their pricing without signing up for a demo. Expect to pay around $400 per month for most subscriptions.
If you schedule a demo, be sure to ask about additional costs that may not be apparent in pricing structures. If your budget is limited, or non-paying clients are causing you cashflow issues, some eDiscovery software vendors offer per-project pricing.
Step Three: Locate eDiscovery Vendors That Fit Your Needs
Now that you have determined your needs and your budget, it’s time to seek out eDiscovery software vendors and review what they offer. There are several possibilities to choose from, but here are just a few to review and consider:
To get a better idea of the capabilities of each provider, first look at each provider’s pricing page. This page typically offers a high-level overview of what is included with each eDiscovery platform, and if any additional features are available at increased price points. It’s important to know that most providers don’t provide their pricing on this page. You must schedule a demo to get this information.
The second place to look is each company’s features page, or equivalent. This goes into greater detail than what is shown on the pricing page. It also provides images or videos of the platform so you get a better sense of how it operates.
If what you see on each eDiscovery software provider’s pricing and features pages matches your needs, it’s time to schedule some demos.
Step Four: Request Demos and Begin Trialing Different eDiscovery Platforms
Unsurprisingly, most eDiscovery Software providers make it extremely easy to sign up for a demo of their platform. In addition to getting a better sense of how the platform operates, this is your opportunity to ask the sales representative questions to determine if their platform is worth trying. In addition to anything concerning your specific needs, here are a few possible questions to ask:
- What pricing plans do you have?
- Can you put pricing on a sliding scale based on my firm’s usage?
- What type of support is included? An actual person? A chat bot? An FAQ page?
- How much extra do you charge for large data uploads?
- How refined are your keyword search tools?
- Are near-duplicates grouped together in the base package?
- How do you ensure the security of anything I upload to your platform?
If everything checks out, ask if you can schedule a free trial of the platform. It is best if you can schedule a few free trials from different providers simultaneously so you can test them side-by-side.
Step Five: Choose the Right eDiscovery Solution for Your Small Law Firm
By this step you have hopefully tested several platforms to see what works best for your solo practice or small law firm. You should have a better understanding of their functionality and their respective capabilities. Now it’s time to decide which one is best for you.
You should determine which eDiscovery software platform performs the greatest number of essential tasks you listed out in step one. Though a certain platform may have a more pleasing interface or better pricing, if it can’t do everything you need it to, then it is little more than an expensive toy.
If multiple platforms can meet your needs, go for the one with the lowest price. If you still like a more expensive option more, this can give you leverage in negotiating prices with sales representatives.
In addition to meeting your needs, eDiscovery software that has a high number of nice-to-have features can also help you decide on the best option. For example, you may not need a platform that can export documents into multiple formats, but it’s a useful time-saving feature. Again, if you like another platform that doesn’t have all these nice-to-have features more, you can use this as negotiating fodder.
Once you know which eDiscovery software vendor will work best for your solo practice or small law firm, don’t forget to negotiate pricing with the sales representative. Even if they profess to have flat-rate pricing, many software companies may still be willing to negotiate.
A Quick Word on eDiscovery Training for Attorneys and Paralegals
Even if you have the best eDiscovery software to fit your needs, you still need to know the legal best practices to conduct eDiscovery. You also need to know the pitfalls to avoid. NBI offers several courses for attorneys to refine their eDiscovery skills, in addition to unlimited CLE passes. IPE offers a variety of eDiscovery courses that paralegals can use to refine their skills. Though it’s not our place to decide which eDiscovery software will meet your needs, we can train you on eDiscovery best practices. Make sure you have the legal knowledge you need before investing in an eDiscovery platform.
Brad Kelly is NBI's Content Strategist, Writer and Editor. He provides attorneys with timely, relevant information that helps them advance their law practices. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.