In a survey of UK and US law firms conducted in May 2020 by Sandpiper Partners, 43% of respondents agreed that the changes brought on by the COVID-19 outbreak would impact their practice forever. Now, two years later, we thought it would be interesting to look at the influencing factors that have continued to bend and reshape the world of eDiscovery and the wider legal sector.
While many of the initial difficulties impacting things such as court deadlines and litigation budgets have thankfully subsided, many other changes that have been brought on or driven by the developments of 2020 look set to stay for the long term. Here are the 5 ways COVID-19 looks to have changed eDiscovery for the long term.
The rise of remote collection and review:
When national lockdowns swept the UK and other countries across the globe, remote working had to be facilitated almost overnight, with 56% of firms in the UK and the US taking steps to ensure their entire fee-earning workforce could work remotely. While for many this was a temporary measure to cope with the sudden disruption to their business infrastructure, it soon began to deliver on a number of benefits. Not only did numerous sources report an uptick in productivity among remote eDiscovery teams, but commentators in the months and years since 2020 have remarked on how positively clients have responded to remote review.
Many specialist eDiscovery providers have found clients prefer the convenience and simplicity of more remote practices, and that it has removed the sense of intrusion and disruption that can, unfortunately, come with on-site forensic data collection.
This might be why 95% of legal professionals reportedly believe that by 2023, cloud-based eDiscovery (enabled by platforms such as RelativityOne) will be the industry norm by 2023. So long as teams conducting review remotely are able to achieve the same levels of productivity and consistency, and can show clients that their security protocols are equipped to handle it, remote document review looks set to be a long-term adjustment.
Openness to innovation
The move towards remote review practices also brought with it a wider change in attitudes and perspectives. Without the luxury of requesting boxes of hard copy documents, eDiscovery teams had to turn to technology. And professionals across all industries experienced a similar phenomenon.
The ripple effect of lockdown measures meant teams were forced to depart from the traditional best practices that had guided them for years, and instead look to more tech-driven ways of achieving business as usual. This has generally opened a door and meant more legal teams are open to exploring technology-driven solutions that they may not have considered in the past, such as AI and Active Learning.
Higher cybersecurity needs
Of course, not all of the lasting impacts of 2020 have been positive. As far as data security has been concerned, the past couple of years have proved more challenging than ever, for organisations and entities across all sectors. IT Governance discovered 1,243 security incidents in 2021, which accounted for over 5 billion breached records, and represented an 11% increase in security incidents compared to 2020.
All this highlights the urgency and necessity of sound preparedness when it comes to data security practices, protocols and technologies. The role of Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) is becoming more important and sought after, and organisations across all regions and sectors would be wise to assess their internal practices and training.
Increased importance of audio and video discovery
As videoconferencing burst into the mainstream after the events of 2020, the volume of data stored as audio and video files has surged. So much so that discovery of these critical sources of evidence can no longer be dismissed.
Email interactions appear to be on the decline, as video calls and disparate communications across a mix of apps and platforms have gradually become the norm. While this represents an exciting step forward for businesses and organisations themselves, it means those responsible for document review must find better ways to manage these alternative forms of communication data.
The ability to efficiently sift through audio and video information will no doubt become a necessity as the years go on. As such, tools that are capable of converting audio and video files into easily searchable text – such as transcribing bots and video OCR – will no doubt continue to be of increasing importance for eDiscovery.
‘The Great Resignation’
In 2021, a total of approximately 38 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs. And a good way into 2022, this trend is still showing no signs of slowing down. The 2022 Job Market Report from Jobslist recently found that three out of four full-time employees are planning to quit their job in the next 12 months. As well as the resource problems that come with sudden drops in personnel, it can also create vulnerabilities with regard to the safeguarding of critical business information.
When organisations see large numbers of their staff leaving for pastures new, this brings a concern regarding the sensitive data that may be leaving with them. This issue has become even more pertinent since the rise of remote working, with more employees collaborating via unofficial and unsecured channels – such as discussing work matters via their personal mobile phone, or over Whatsapp, and so on.
This, together with the frequency and cost of Data Subject Access Requests (or DSARs) skyrocketing, has led to much demand for legal teams and eDiscovery support. While investing in third-party eDiscovery support to cope with a DSAR is a smart decision, businesses and other organisations will also likely have to conduct an in-depth review of their HR processes. By giving employee ‘offboarding’ as much focus and attention as onboarding, employers may be able to absolve themselves of costly disputes with employees further down the road.