Yes, Goose, There Is a Need for Speed.

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Some of you may remember the 1986 hit movie “Top Gun”, where Tom Cruise’s character, F-14 pilot Maverick, turns to his back seater, Goose, and says “I feel the need . . . the need for speed!”  Having flown jet fighters myself, I know that speed often equates to whether you live or die in the air-to-air combat scenario.  Having flown a desk as a lawyer now for a few years, I find that there is also a need for speed in the practice of law and, in particular, the eDiscovery practice.  The discovery phase of any litigation is almost always the single most time-consuming and expensive phase, so anything one can do to reduce expense and time is going to be beneficial.  

There are some in the eDiscovery space who argue that prioritization of data for review is more important than speed in search, document rendering, etc.  While I think few would argue about the importance of prioritization, it should not come at the expense of speed.  A state-of-the-art platform will do both – prioritize faster as well as search and render documents faster – and be the best of both worlds.

Are Some eDiscovery Platforms Faster Than Others?

Studies show some eDiscovery platforms are drastically faster than others, with some achieving Google-like speed.  What causes this dramatic difference in the speed between platforms?  The secret may be found in a variety of places.  It could be that the faster platform uses a better hosting platform, such as a scalable state-of-the-art cloud provider like Amazon Web Services rather than hosting on a stand-alone server in the law firm’s or someone else’s office space.  It could be the faster platform front-loaded during ingest many of the processing functions that other platforms do “on the fly”, like email threading and image creation (PDF/TIFF), so that the user sees the rendered image almost instantly and does not have to wait for the platform to “fly” before seeing the context of email conversations.  Sophisticated pre-caching techniques might also increase speed by pulling data and documents to the browser before reviewers explicitly request them.  A faster platform might also use a state-of-the-art single indexing system such as Elastic Search, that allows the user to search across multiple document characteristics and user metrics, rather than searching across multiple indices.  

The Impact of Faster Searches

So how does this increased speed manifest itself in terms of searching?  Many platforms search the corpus of documents at what seems like a glacial pace.  I hear frequent reports from users submitting a search, then leaving their desk to go to the restroom, to talk to their colleagues in the neighboring offices, or to get a cup of coffee.  These searches are measured in minutes, not seconds, and certainly not milliseconds.  

If every search you run in your platform takes 5 minutes to complete, and it takes you another 5 minutes to skim over the results of your search, you can then run only 6 searches in one hour.  If every search you run in a faster platform takes less than a second, while still spending 5 minutes to skim the results of your search, then you can run 12 searches in one hour, thereby doubling your efficiency to conduct and review searches.  If it normally takes you 10 hours to search, and now it takes you only 5, you have saved your client 5 times your hourly rate.  And money spent on searching is money usually lost on other substantive parts of a case, parts that can mean the difference in winning and losing—such as legal research or witness preparation to name a couple.

Faster Document Views

Looking at the effect of speed more granularly – at the document level – each time you need to move from document to document and page to page within a document, your platform needs to render the document for your review either in a rendered image (e.g. PDF or TIFF) or text-only mode.  Here again, studies show that the typical reviewer in a leading eDiscovery platform spends over 40 minutes a day waiting for a document or page to load.  The faster platforms can display documents in less than a second, and move from page to page at the same speed.

If every review team member is spending 40 minutes a day or more waiting for documents or pages to render in the document viewer, over an 8-hour day, that one reviewer has lost almost 10% productivity.  Multiply this loss over a review team of 50 or 100 reviewers, and the extra expense and time necessary to complete a review becomes exorbitant.  Most clients I know would find this unacceptable and question the law firm’s, or their own, choice to use such a slow review tool.

The More Insidious Manifestations of a Slow eDiscovery Platform

Speed also improves with simplicity and elegance in design.  If a platform is cleanly designed, intuitive, and its features are simple to operate, its users will learn how to use it more quickly and more effectively.  This translates into less training time needed to train users and makes them more productive sooner.  Critics may argue that a simple user interface reflects a weak or featureless platform, but they are clearly wrong – the newer platforms are built on the most robust and scalable architecture.  In other words, it does not follow that a robust platform cannot be simple and easy to use.  Google or the iPhone are perfect examples of powerful simplicity.  But simple (yet powerful) is certainly harder to design.

Conversely, latency and overt complexity leads to inefficiencies and reduced productivity.  When a reviewer is working, each time he/she must wait for a search to run, a document to load, a page to turn, that reviewer’s mind begins to wander or lose focus on the objectives of the review (and the wandering is usually about why the platform is so slow, how boring this review is, how can I get out of this review, etc.).  It may take just a few seconds for the reviewer to regain his/her train of thought or focus when the document or page finally loads.  But when you magnify those few seconds by the number of pages and documents each reviewer must go through during the course of a review, the cost can be tremendous.

And the effect of a slow platform becomes even more pronounced over time.  Let’s face it, even the most exciting case in the world will have a largely boring document review associated with it.  That is, even if the subject matter of the review is intrinsically interesting, if working with a slow platform becomes a daily struggle, the morale of the review team begins to fall.  Your review team may also begin to experience turnover or attrition, as team members will volunteer for nearly anything else available within the firm rather than work on your review.  But ultimately a slow platform leads to apathy, which might cause your team to lose focus on the objectives of the review and may result in missing those key documents that could make the difference between winning or losing your client’s case.  

And that, Goose, is the biggest reason speed is important – it means life in air-to-air combat but it also could mean the life of your case. 

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Trevor Jefferies