Lean, Innovative Ediscovery with Marissa Downs

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I had the opportunity to chat with Marissa Downs, Principal at corporate law firm Much Shelist in Chicago, IL. As an experienced litigator and active board member of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law, Marissa shares how her firm differentiates their litigation practice with innovative, tech-conversant attorneys who understand how to marshal big data.

Alicia: To get started, tell us briefly about your background and the role ediscovery plays in your practice.

Marissa:  I joined Much Shelist six years ago and immediately noticed that “ediscovery” felt less like the focus of what I did every day and more like a tool to get us where we needed to go. Although Much Shelist is a full-service corporate law firm with a significant litigation practice, we’re definitely smaller than most of our competitors in this space. I love working in a midsize firm and have found that our size and lean staffing enable us to achieve cost-effective wins for our clients.

Alicia: What challenges does your firm face in discovery that you think may be different from the challenges faced by your Big Law counterparts?

Marissa: I think some might consider our small number of associates a challenge. I actually think this is a positive characteristic of the smaller-firm model that makes us an attractive solution for a company’s litigation needs. We don’t have to struggle to keep 100 junior associates productive and billing, but when we need more resources we can still supplement our team with document reviewers who are a fraction of the cost to the client. The solution we offer is more scalable and allows us to tailor our staffing solution for every case.

Alicia: Are boutique firms ahead of or behind their Big Law counterparts in terms of aggressive and progressive use of technology in their business strategies and discovery techniques?  Why?

Marissa: I can state with certainty that understanding and leveraging technology to get to the answer more quickly and economically for the client is a must in my practice. I’d like to think Big Law is innovating in the same way but when you have unlimited resources, the tendency may be to do things the way they have always been done. In a high-stakes document collection, that may mean collecting a terabyte of data and methodically reviewing each and every document to understand its relevance. That approach is cumbersome and sometimes cost-prohibitive for many disputes.

“Without a doubt, increasing discovery and litigation expense is the top challenge facing our clients today.”

At the rate documents are generated now, I think we will do our profession and our clients a disservice if we don’t learn to use technology to get at the key documents quicker and with less cost to the client.

Alicia: What technologies are you using to face these challenges? In particular, what key factors were used in selecting an ediscovery software?

Marissa: Expense and ease of use are at the top of my list. Even if a document review platform has all the latest bells and whistles, they won’t do you any good if they’re not included in your subscription or you can’t figure out how to actually use them.

Alicia: What has been your experience using DISCO?

Marissa: We have adopted DISCO as our in-house solution for document/discovery management. DISCO’s ease of use, speed, and robust search tools have made early case management and document production much easier. Overall, I have loved my DISCO experience. It is fast, easily scaleable to large-scale document reviews, and easy to master. I cannot imagine any other way.

Alicia: What piece of advice would you give to soon to be law graduates or new lawyers who are looking for ways to differentiate in an increasingly competitive market?

Marissa: There’s an urgent need for tech-conversant attorneys who understand how to marshal big data. You will stand out from the crowd if you can demonstrate that you have the skills to target and manage the evidence most relevant to your client’s case.

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Alicia Brewer