The Future of E-Discovery and the Cloud


Dana Miller & Cara Hughes

Dana and Cara are both Directors of Delivery for EQ, the legal consulting division of Special Counsel.

What is cloud computing, exactly?

The rise of cloud computing and storage has been a growing trend in both enterprise business and in e-discovery. Simply put, cloud computing is a method of using remote servers on the internet (as opposed to on-premise servers) to process, manage, and store data. According to some sources, up to 60% of business data is stored in the cloud and this number is anticipated to grow to 65% for potential organizational ESI in the coming years. This has created a need for legal solutions that are cloud-compatible, often using cloud processing themselves to handle data as opposed to downloading it all to local servers for review.

Emerging trends in ediscovery software

In response to this trend, we have seen a rise in cloud versions of e-discovery software, such as Relativity One, and the emergence of cloud-only e-discovery software. These tools have been generally accepted in the big law litigation landscape, with approximately half of the AmLaw 200 firms utilizing cloud-based discovery tools for some part of their discovery work in 2018. The state bar ethics committees have also been amenable to the use of cloud computing options so long as the lawyer takes reasonable steps to fulfill their ethical obligations, an approach that has also been memorialized in changes to the ABA’s Model Rules of Ethics that lawyers should “keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology….” Darla W. Jackson & Kenton Brice, The Ethics of Using Cloud-Based Services and Products, Okla. Bar J. 90(5), at 14 (2007); New Hampshire Bar Association, Ethics Committee Advisory Opinion #2012-13//4; Florida Bar Association Professional Ethics Committee Advisory Opinion 12-3.

However, while we have seen a rise in the availability of cloud-based e-discovery services and adoption by AmLaw 200 firms, the ABA 2018 Legal Technology Survey Report found that generally lawyers are “still moving much more cautiously to the cloud than the rest of the business world” with only 54.6% of those surveyed reporting cloud usage. Security concerns were among the most cited reasons for slow adoption. Traditional on-premise software has enabled lawyers to exercise direct control and ensure security through their firms’ firewall and other security measures. Understandably, when it comes to large quantities of their clients’ confidential and sensitive information, many are reluctant to abdicate that control.

Correcting the misconception of cloud-based security risks

But the perception that a cloud-based system comes with greater security risks is an erroneous one today. Indeed, in many instances, the cloud may be the more secure option when compared to their on-premise analogues. “Vendors who routinely deal in the storage of sensitive information have invested significant money and resources in security.” Because it is their raison d’être, e-discovery vendors undertake the expensive and arduous task of obtaining security certifications, such as SSAE16 and ISO. They make significant investments in security research and development and have entire teams dedicated to ensuring network security. In launching Relativity One, the e-Discovery leader also established preventative defense strategies, fueled by advanced threat intelligence analytics and automated processes that are maintained daily by their security teams. As such, when a firm elects to utilize cloud-based e-discovery solutions, they also gain the robust data security resources accompanying that solution without having to create and maintain it themselves.    

Moving beyond security benefits, cloud adoption also streamlines the review process and minimizes costs in important ways. The data collected can be accessed from anywhere using any device and the costs for processing and storing the data are significantly less compared to the traditional on-premise server options. Hosting data in the cloud can cost 35% less than traditional appliance and hardware installations.

Ryan O’Leary, an IDC senior research analyst, noted that “[i]n the cloud era of ediscovery review software, buyers are looking for enterprise-grade applications with transparent, predictable pricing and intuitive user interfaces.” These features allow law firms and their litigation support and IT teams to focus on the details of the case and spend less time worrying about the e-discovery infrastructure or network stability.

Finding the right solutions partner

As these solutions come to market, it is important that outside vendors also keep pace. A Forrester Consulting survey commissioned by Relativity found that 91% of law firms and corporations work with at least one solutions provider to meet their discovery need. Along those lines, Gartner’s 2019 Market Guide for E-Discovery Solutions reinforces that vendors need to be flexible and able to adapt to the hybrid e-discovery trend that blends the stability and security of on-premise offerings with greater cloud flexibility to increase capabilities as needed. This scalability has become crucial as lawsuits and investigations are routinely involving millions of documents and terabytes of data collected from various sources. The cloud serves as a central repository for this data, simplifying the upload process and increasing the data’s accessibility.

Special Counsel is the leading provider of legal consulting, attorney recruiting, legal talent, legal technology and eDiscovery solutions. To learn more about legal technology solutions, reach out today.

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