LegalTech thoughts

LegalTech was overwhelming (NB: I only hung out in the exhibitor halls). People said that the number of vendors exhibiting was down from last year, which itself was down from the year before, but it's hard to imagine it being any larger.

My primary impression is that there isn't a lot of differentiation among the eDiscovery software vendors. With a few exceptions, they are all the same... at least, their booths are all the same. Everyone can take data and let you cull it in some fashion or another. Most then allow you to review. Some have collection capabilities. Everyone loves the EDRM.

Since the legal market is so fragmented and since the eDiscovery process is so well-defined (if you've lived it, at least), I think it's relatively easy for small software companies to gain a foothold. They can call up local firm offices and make some wins. When they all get together in the same place, though, they're indistinguishable. If I were a CIO, I'd have a very hard time telling them apart...

...which means I'd probably just call up Autonomy. Sure, if I looked hard, I might find better software than Autonomy, but the odds are I'll have to wade through a lot of bad software. Plus, Autonomy is sucking all the air out of the market at the top end. Even if a firm has a better mousetrap, they may kill themselves by mismanaging growth or their product line, or Autonomy may just buy them. I might as well buy Autonomy, run some keywords, ship the results out to counsel, and call it a day. Autonomy is too big to fail.

Or, instead of putting up with enterprise software, I can call my friendly neighborhood service provider. Even just a couple of years ago, this would be asking for per GB bilking, at $900/GB or more. If there's one nice thing about the great recession and the move to take eDiscovery "inhouse," it's that extreme pricing pressure has now been applied to eDiscovery service vendors. Frankly, I see this being a good thing: there's enough data and litigation volume that good consultants can still be profitable, and companies won't make dramatically expensive mistakes when they hire bad consultants.

The service providers do have an easier road to travel. They know they're competing on service. They can adopt new tools and approaches. They'll never grow too fast. They can drop bad clients.

In the few short demos I saw, I was still disappointed in user interfaces. Almost everyone has a web interface, but these still involve a tremendous amount of navigation, clicking, and mouse travel to get things done. With the price premiums no longer such easy pickins', I think this gives the present advantage to service providers. Sure, it's good to have some kind of content management system with a search engine, but prepping, processing, filtering, and reviewing data is still too complex to be handled correctly in-house by inexpert staff.

Another impression I came back with is that everyone can say Early Case Assessment and no one can do it. I mean, yeah, it's great that you can give me some bar graphs and pie charts, but if that's all there is, what's the fuss about? Good consultants have been able to provide the same data in spreadsheets for a long time, and good counsel have been asking for the same for a long time, too.

If I go next year, it'll be interesting to see which software vendors also return. I'm betting some won't.

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