Wednesday, August 19, 2009

CONTRACT MANAGEMENT AND DOCUMENT REVIEW ARE CRYING OUT FOR PROCESS IMPROVEMENT, AUTOMATION AND UPDATE.


This article is an attempt to explore the potential of technological utility in transforming analytical data into work product. However we would be circumscribing ourselves to two most important legal processes being outsourced. This article will attempt to overview the existing platforms for document review and contract management and will envisage towards developing the ideal module with edge cutting capabilities.

INTRODUCTION: - Document review (a/k/a doc review) as popularly understood is an assignment undertaken by an attorney in anticipation of legal proceeding or during the discovery phase of litigation. Primarily Document Review rivet huge amount of data into useful work product. Document review postulates attorney to review the relevance and/or responsiveness of documents, by employing the facts of the case and the ratio. Later stages of document review (also known as privilege review or second level review) further analyzes privileged (on the basis of attorney-client communication and/or work product) and may be either withheld from production or redacted for content. The actual review of the documents is performed electronically (e-mails, files, scanned copies of documents). With proliferation in electronically stored data, an e-discovery first level document review estimates 75% of the average litigation cost. Data explosion, technological evolution, and the sudden increase in electronic stored information has catalyzed technical role, as the total quantity of documents has multiplied several times over the years. Besides in litigation, document review is also performed in matters of regulatory compliance, merger and acquisition and corporate due diligence.

PLATFORM:- whether through FTP, remote desktop or other networking concept as soon as the ESI (Electronic stored information) is received for review, an idle platform should give best technology integration to accomplish purposes.

Document review platforms have, for some time now, offered the possibility of order, control and cost-avoidance. These tools promise easy organization of large document collections, ready access for reviewing attorneys, status reports and programmatic production of relevant materials. Unfortunately, all too often, their promises fall flat. Available tools are limited by shortcomings in the areas of security, flexibility and scalability – issues which severely limit an organization's ability to use them successfully. Most often they behave like idiots to your command and at times completely collapse with 1. Reading different file formats, 2. Cluster operations, 3. Segregating duplicates or near duplicates, 4. Setting of milestones and 5. Quality concerns.

One by one illustration of these issues is necessary to clarify behavioral expectations and perfect technological integration desire. File formats. Recognizing the entire different files format (including but not limited to gif, excel, movie player, ppt and zip) and the platform's ability to present it within desired layout in an understandable form is a challenge many platform fail to meet. Many platforms are outdated and do not recognize WIN 2007 files. The platform must be intelligible enough to extract zip files. Cluster and duplicates though used interchangeably is remarkably different concept. The best platform must offer the choice of flexibility in determining the percentage of similar contents to mark duplicates. Duplicates must be clustered well and a flexible but intelligible approach is desired to give similar treatment to all duplicate and cluster, which most platforms miss out. Milestone. Should not only be limited to distances covered in the DR assignment but must give a graphical depiction of work done and the ability to compare with personal and other records. My dream platform would also track the number of clicks and ticks and would tell me the exact idle amount of time wasted by each reviewer. Quality. Provision of a milestone in quality is also desired from the platforms. A true high-end user friendly platform should have the ability of generating quality reports vis-à-vis milestones. This feature lacks in most platforms.

So am I claiming the world? No, many of these problems have been consistently faced because of no improvement in the reviewer interface with the platform. My dream platform would have short keys for marking of documents, and the marked docs would be saved automatically and the new doc pop-ups in the interface. This would limit and answer half the concerns and would increase the efficiency.

CONTRACT MANAGEMENT: - Contract Management is often confused with document management and repository. Though both of them are related to Contract Management the scope is much broader. Contract Management or contract administration is the management of contracts made with customers, vendors, partners, or employees. It is a methodical management of contract from inception to conclusion. Contract management includes negotiating the terms and conditions in contracts and ensuring compliance with the terms and conditions, as well as documenting and agreeing any changes that may arise during its implementation or execution. Only if parties are aware of the deliverables in agreements can they take pre-emptive and anticipatory action on critical contract milestones and triggers.

Organizations are typically good at certifying payments to suppliers, but not good at ensuring compliance of contract obligations. Conversely, Suppliers do not always maximize the potential of each customer relationship. Lost revenues and over-expenditure occur when parties lack good systems in place. Since Contract Management is the process of systematically and efficiently managing contract creation, execution, and analysis for the purpose of maximizing financial and operational performance and minimizing risk. CM Software has the responsibility of managing the contract life-cycle, from identification of a need, through negotiation, agreement, monitoring, and close-out. Many software developers concentrate too much on terms like signing date, effective date, termination date, expiry, automatic renewal (ever greening) and signatory to compromise with other vital terms like indemnity, warranty, inspection, liability, payment and penalties. Change is also desired in the interface, perfect Contract Management software should pop-up like a calendar showing all milestone and decisive actions to be taken for each and every day on the entire contract repository in the database.

To wit, the consequences of reliance on substandard Contract Management software can cost dearly and choosing good software with multifaceted feature can save beyond imagination. Not that we have an option, except to wait for some charismatic software's to come. Suffice it is to say at the conclusion that there is only one difference between LPO of Contract Management and software companies handling Contract Management stuff, that is indigenous technology that the later possesses. An attempt is being made by Contract Management software companies to outsource repository and other core competencies to India (Pontus to begin with and many to follow), which will broaden their horizon and limit costs.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Firmsourcing, the latest trend in LPO

With the proliferation of outsourcing gaining new edges, an innovative outsourcing concept is emerging which is going to revolutionalise the legal outsourcing paradigm. Firmsourcing is the concept where the offshore law firm outsources its services to Indian law firm, thereby saving smartly the costs retaining the same quality. The pool of top Indian legal talent with proven exposure to out-sourcing industry is already evident.

Once the recession is over, there would be a large flow of outsourced legal work to be catered. Is the Indian legal industry prepared to take up the challenges?

To meet out the needs of growing Offshore law firms firmsourcing is the ultimate concept. It culls the unnecessary technicalities and formalities, encouraging firm-firm relationship. The offshore firm sends the project and receives the same consistent quality work product before the deadline without being caught in the web of technicality and formalities. Since there is little or no intervention in the relationship, both the Indian and the offshore firm are set to grow steeply.

The advantages of firmsourcing over traditional outsourcing to an LPO company is two fold. First, no formalities and technicalities, thereby creating direct relationship with Indian law firms, which results in a better turn around time. Second, since the law firm is not an LPO company it can give you competitive work product at a highly affordable price. This is possible because the expenses of the Indian law firm are far below LPO companies allowing the law firm to offer you more affordable solutions to your outsourcing demands.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Document Review : The X-Files revealed

  • Document Review (popularly ‘doc review’) is a task performed by an attorney in anticipation of legal proceedings or during the discovery phase of litigation. Generally, Document Review process is a part of pre-trial discovery procedure (i.e. during the production of evidence/document phase in litigation). The term Document Review includes analyzing, organizing, compiling and summarizing of documents, e-mails, correspondences, contracts, spreadsheets, reports, invoices, memos and attachments in order to make them ready to be filed in court as evidence. Basically, the whole need for Document Review arises when one party to the litigation (requesting party) wishes to have access to other party’s (producing party) documents.

    Document Review requires the attorneys to assess the relevance and/or responsiveness of documents, utilizing the legal expertise to the facts of the case and the issues of law. Later stages of document review (also known as ‘privilege review’ or ‘second level review’) further analyzes documents as privileged (on the basis of attorney-client communication and/or work product) and not privileged. The Privileged Document may be either withheld from production or redacted for content. The actual review of the documents is generally performed electronically (e-mails, files, scanned copies of documents). With proliferation in electronically stored data, an e-discovery first level document review estimates 75% of the average litigation cost.

    Outsourcing of Document Review’ is a term commonly used for delegating all or some portion of the e-discovery process to a LPO company. Primarily like all LPO processes, Document Review involves intelligible analysis of data into useful work product. Data explosion, technological evolution, and the sudden increase in Electronically Stored Information (ESI) has catalyzed steep growth in offshoring Document Review work, as the total quantity of documents has multiplied several times over the years. With more and more streamlining and channelizing of legal processes, a need is felt to cut upon the cost involved in Discovery Processes. Offshore outsourcing to India has emerged as an effective and economical tool for managing Document Review needs. The LPO company conducts searches and evaluates the data (in the form of e-mails, pictures, design or sketch) for Relevance, Confidentiality and Privilege, and related activity such as redaction as per client’s requirements.

    Besides in litigation, Document Review is also performed in matters of regulatory compliance and corporate due diligence.

    Rule 26(f) of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) expects the litigating parties to establish methods and formats (such as TIFF, Native file, etc.) for production of ESI (Electronically Stored Information) early on in the litigation.

    The Discovery Process

    During the Document Review process quite often millions of documents have to be searched and identified for

    · Relevancy and responsiveness

    · Confidentiality

    · Privileged /protection such as attorney-client and work product

    · Client defined "key” or "hot" status,

    For large scale Document Review processes the Privilege filters are implemented as soon as documents are received, even before they have been reviewed by an attorney.

    The litigating parties participate in the initial meet and confer sessions to reach an agreement as to the:

    - Identification of all sources of discoverable data,

    - Collection of data (from sources such as tapes, drives, portable storage devices, networks, etc.) and

    - Processing of data (which involves reducing the overall set of data collected by filtering out duplicate or irrelevant files, and determining whether additional data extraction of relevant data may be required).

    Search techniques that software like Attenix has to offer for the purpose of culling are:Keyword, Boolean, proximity and concept searching. Such techniques, as used by the in-house IT dept. of the client, facilitate the process of initial culling of the documents, including de-duplicating, before a LPO company is provided access to them for the purpose of review. Processing also involves maintaining a full copy of all data collected, creating a duplicate set of the culled data for further de-duplication, processing, review, analysis, production and presentation.

    Rule 26(b)(5)(B) of FRCP contains responses to the mistaken release of privileged information. Such a provision of the FRCP enables the producing party to recover back its identified confidential documents which inadvertently were passed on to the requesting party. This provision is called “Claw-Back” clause.

    Data Preservation - When outsourcing to an LPO, the client is most concerned about preserving its metadata. Therefore, all the documents uploaded on to the third party software are not original, but duplicates of the original. Backup tapes of the original documents are also maintained. This is done to maintain a valid chain of custody and authenticity protocols, including full preservation of metadata, ensuring that all ESI is protected against destruction or alteration.

    The Production Process - Typically, the production format is at the option of the requesting party, unless that format can be shown to be unduly burdensome. FRCP 34(b) overtly states that the requesting party may select the method of production, subject to producing party’s objection. However, if the requesting party fails to specify a particular method, the producing party may produce the documents in any electronically searchable form.

    Data Collection - For the purpose of having the documents reviewed, the client (one of the parties to the litigation) may either directly approach the LPO or may come through a third party vendor.

    In case an LPO is approached by the client through a third party vendor which has the software to showcase the documents in the agreed format, such vendor coordinates between the LPO and the client regarding the username, password, license for accessing the software (license ordinarily being accorded keeping in mind the number of reviewers that the LPO company engages for review). Such software acts as a web-based user interface, and facilitates access to offsite database. This whole process is called “customization of software”.

    Data Analysis

    ANALYSIS Process - Before getting down to tagging the documents on the software, it is important for an LPO company to seek summary information from the client regarding the subject-matter of litigation to which the documents to be reviewed pertain. This helps with important early decisions as regards the criteria to be set when assessing the documents for various sensitivity levels.

    REVIEW Process – The review process involves segregating all privileged and confidential documents, and preparing a Privilege Log, say, an excel sheet that LPO reviewers will prepare, describing every document. Even though the tagging of the documents into Hot, Confidential, Not Privileged, Questionable, etc. is done on software’s as part of first pass review, it is advisable to maintain an excel sheet in order to track any later changes in the tagging of certain documents made in consultation with the client.

    After the first pass review is over, the client accesses the documents through the common software provided to both the client and the LPO by the vendor, (such software thus acting as a bridge between the client and the LPO). The client would then express its concern regarding the flagging of the documents after spot checking, and if clients conveys satisfaction about the tagging done so far, the LPO company would begin with privileged review, which entail further sub-categorization of documents tagged as “Confidential” into “Work Product” or “Attorney-Client Privilege” or both (commonly referred to as AC/WP).

    If a document is tagged as “Work-Product”, it means that the document (which may be an e-mail with an attached document proposed to be submitted in the court) contains matter prepared or discussed in anticipation of litigation.

    On the other hand, any correspondence or exchange between the client’s attorney and the client that discusses the progression of the case, the strategy to be followed or any future court dialogues, etc. are flagged as and protected under “Attorney-Client Privilege”.

    Share of offshore document review

    To start with, it was the “e-Discovery Laws” of US Regulations, 2006, which brought to fore the need to find solutions to the problem of non-availability of affordable attorneys and the management of the enormous workload owing to these Regulations. So the obvious answer to this was to outsource these services to a country with relative cost advantage and with no compromise of quality of work.

    India became an answer to this owing to, firstly the similarity between the legal systems of India to that of US & UK. Secondly, due to the availability of inexpensive but highly educated and experienced attorneys and above all, because of its high quality standards of work.

    Offshore Outsourcing of Document Review: - Three important reasons inspiring the growth behind offshore outsourcing of Document Review process to India are:- 1> Cost, 2> Quick TAT(turn around time) and 3> Concentration on other core aspects. Almost all the LPO’s in India and locations like Philippines are into the document review process.

    Cost

    The cost per hour charged by an US Attorney when compared with the Indian Counterpart falls around 1/10th (as detailed below).

    Quick TAT (turn around time)

    The time difference and the availability of 24x7 support staff fostered outsourcing. The time difference between India and US is 10.5 hrs., this reciprocity of day and night helps documents to be reviewed in a 24 hr. schedule. Also for an attorney heading home, this implies that he could assign the work to an Indian LPO and be assured that the work would be finished, as per his requirements, before he reaches office the next day.

    Concentration on other core aspects

    By outsourcing Document Review like processes, the client can better concentrate on other important and core aspects of litigation thereby saving time and monies.

    Indian Offshore Market

    Document Review and Litigation Support services comprise approximately 35% of the total offshored legal services revenues in India. Indian offshore revenues from legal services were $225 m for the calendar year 2007 and are expected to reach $610 m by the end of 2010. There are over 100 vendors in the Indian market offering document review services.

    India meets many elements necessary to cater the challenges and emerge as a primary destination of global cost-saving workforce. Largest pool of graduates, English as the medium of education, 80,000 law graduates churning out every year from privileged law schools, English Common Law based Indian Legal System and Time Zone advantage areinter-alia the factors inspiring growth in the LPO industry.

    Offshore document review maturity

    The outsourcing industry is all about getting rid of time consuming stuffs. Substandard deliverables is a perception left long behind. In recent times, there has been a rapid acceleration in high end processes like Contract Review and Management and Litigation Support. Indian vendors are satisfactorily delivering briefs, pleadings and motions apart from Legal Research to US/UK based clients. To wit, the Legal Outsourcing industry is in the initial stages of developments. The maturity level however is vertically raisin. From First level review to Second and Privileged Review they are all now within the circumscribing limits of legal outsourcing to India.

    Billing methods

    Typical billing rates

    Hourly rates for Law Firms and associates in US market now begin at more than $200 and average more than $300

    Hourly rates for service providers other than law firm e.g. contract professionals in the US market typically average between $60 and $150.

    Typical hourly rates for offshore attorneys in India range from $10 to $30 for a lawyer.

    For large scale document which involves high level of efficiency and quick Turnaround time Indian outsourcing companies also offer $1 to 1.5 per document.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Recession: - Circumstances, Impact and Survival kit for LPO vendors.

Recession: - Circumstances, Impact and Survival kit for LPO vendors.


CIRCUMSTANCES: - Recession is the term interchangeably used for slowing down of the economic engine, decrease in the buying power of the currency and an alarm to optimize the profits by reducing costs. The US economic history has evidenced many financial droughts. 1929 stock market crash, pre and post 1941 WW II, 1965 Vietnam war, Y2K IT crisis in 2000 and the 9/11 terrorist attack on the World trade centre are but a few examples when the economy was bear hit. There are allegations and counter allegations in search of the corollary to assessment behind the recession. Some dedicate it to splurging, mismanagement, Bush administration and US participation in the Iraq, Afghanistan war. Others blame pumping of excess currency and unreasonable surge and seizure of the value note in the economy as a reason.

Let it be as it may, for our purposes, US is hit by the fiend recession, which is more or less a ricochet of its capitalist economic policies. With the raise in alarm by the Obama administration and the welfare schemes of bailout there is a complete antithesis in the legal paradigm of US.


UNDERSTANDING THE US LEGAL MARKET: - Law every where is a noble profession. In the US a lawyer is made out of a minimum 6 yrs. of high school studies. After completing formal education, law school graduates still must pass their local state's bar exam, pass a character fitness review, and swear an oath to abide by and uphold the local rules of practice as an officer of the court. Out of approximately 1 million attorneys practicing in US, about 75% of them are in private practice. About 8% of attorneys work in private industry, some as in-house lawyers, and others as managers. Another 8% work for the federal, state or local governments, most at the local level. 3% of lawyers work for the judiciary. Most of the remaining attorneys work in education, public defender's offices or non-profit organizations.


The condition however for new attorneys joining the profession is common to India. To begin from the beginning they submit to struggle and financial calamity. The larger the law firm the lofty ones packages accrue.


CHALLENGES FACED BY U.S. LAW FIRMS AND CORPORATE LEGAL DIVISIONS DURING RECESSION :-


Keeping the bankruptcy and the foreclosure aside, there has been decrease in litigation throughout US. The myth about actual raise in litigation lacks foundation. "Lawyers are rich in good times and richer in bad times" holds true only for smart lawyers and law firms. Those Law firms, who learned from the errors of the past, were better equipped than ever before to handle an economic downturn but to the contrary the small and mid-size growing law firms were the worst hit. Many do not come in press because of negative publicity associated with press and damage of market repute. The bigger law firms are as well scrambling for safety with the challenge of maintaining their credentials. Client retention, discounts and value based billing are the core concerns for bigger law firms. Market climate has extremely pressurized the way things are delivered. Bigger law firms though reluctant of large scale downsizing winnow their teams by elevating performance standards and quietly letting go those lawyers who fail to meet the standards.


To wit, the U.S. law firm's revenue has deteriorated day by day if not collapsed and the indications are certainly not bullish as projected. US firms and companies are diligent in conserving cash and are less likely to make long-term strategic investments in offshore infrastructure during this recession and especially if this recession deepens. The demand for legal services is already declining and could drop even lower by the recession to end. When Americans do not have money to spend on bare necessities, they are not expected to extravagant revenue on litigation which can be otherwise avoided or delayed. The above discussion applies in toto to the corporate division of companies as well. The companies want to cut cost on everything for basic survival and legal division is not an exception to this. The economy of a company has to be appreciated by the Break-even and Shut-down points (a detailed discussion of which is beyond the scope of this article). But clear beyond clarity is the fact that they will emphasize on their corporate division or law firm to cut cost without even taking a risk to outsource in the present scenario. Thanks to the bailout and other concerns associated with outsourcing which will be discussed in the impact portion of this article.


IMPACT: - Whenever the US sneezes, the world catches a cold. India definitely has reasons to worry. Global economic meltdown is bound to affect all countries. Strongest of American, European and Japanese companies are facing stern crisis of liquidity and credit. India is not insulated, either. However, India's cautious approach towards reforms has saved it from probable catastrophic implications. But the truth is, Indian economy is also facing slowdown. The prime reason being, world trade does not functions in isolation. As compared to last year 9% GDP growth Manmohan Singh announced a projection of 6.83 for the year 2009-2010 on the eve of Independence Day. All the economies are interlinked to each other and any major fluctuation in trade balance and economic conditions throw impact on all other economies.


The outsourcing industry is gonna be the worst hit. IT and ITES companies whose prime business target is USA are bound to suffer but LPO (Legal Process Outsourcing) would be facing the worst blow for a simple reason that it was on the pedestal of growth. Exult about growth of the recession proof LPO industry is hollow. It was a hype being created to tailor the marketing strategy of handful big players. The reasons why Americans would not outsource during recession includes (but is not limited to) 1> The recession period is not certain and definite, 2> A general belief that by outsourcing they are taking jobs out of U.S, 3> Bailout and other options, 4> Concentrate on retention of client and not compromise on quality for the time being, 5> Survival is important and strategic decision like outsourcing can be delayed, 6> The Satyam fraud, 7> The Mumbai attack, 8> Quality and Confidentiality and 9> Lack of immense Indian legal talent. The sanctity of the above statement is evident from the market report of big LPO players. Most of the big players have downsized, other closed and many have no work to do.


Only handful of LPO are hiring and have projects in pipeline (majority of these projects were procured before recession) others are merely updating database and creating hype/ploy by releasing job vacancies. Even the LPO players are to be blamed for the scenario. In the last one year every other faction has come up with a LPO. A majority of these mushroomed LPO neither have infrastructure, team, marketing people nor understand the LPO processes. For many it is a money generating tactic. True is the fact that there are certain LPO services/processes which does not require great legal acumen. Those are rather PLPO's (paralegal process outsourcing) but definitely the industry is not all about that. These concerns however need greater unanimity. Suffice it is to mention at this point that Lexadigm a LPO drafted briefs for submission to both Circuit Courts of Appeals as well as the U.S. Supreme Court. There are other players who are helping US law firms and attorney into active litigation support. So the variety is immense.


The crux of the matter is that the US outsourced work is going to minimize and would be streamlined and channelized in the near time to come. This would mean a greater challenge for the LPO players. "Survival of the fittest" and the Darwin's theory of natural selection would apply to globalized LPO industry. Once the recession is over, or atleast in the last quarter of 2009 and in the beginning of 2010, there would be large inflow of work with every US body looking for outsourcing to gain savings. "A perfectly unanimous group breaks unanimously", once outsourcing regains pace all would compete to outsource. But for the next couple of quarters survival for many mushroomed player is vital.


SURVIVAL KIT: - There is a difference between Captive and Vendor off shoring. The views expressed herein may not hold true for captive. Any legal department of company is not revenue generating department and its fate would fade or bloom with the fate of the company. To the contrary the vendors are service providers who rely on generated revenue. This is a 10 step sequential evaluation for a vendor. In case if a vendor fails on any of these steps the survival kit collapses and such company is due to exit with financial losses in the next couple of quarters. The vendors' need to look within themselves to answer this 10 step sequential test:-


  1. Do you have a website, if yes, what have you revealed about yourself and your team?
  2. Do you have an infrastructure in place, at least enough to invite a client visit?
  3. Do you have a minimum team of 10 attorneys, which can be extended on demand?
  4. Do you have sufficient other English speaking staff, who can at least understand US client guidelines?
  5. Are your attorneys trained in the basic American Court structure and the LPO processes?
  6. What is the expertise of higher management?
  7. What are your quality deliverables guarantees?
  8. Do you have US attorney to supervise your deliverables?
  9. Do you have access to high end technology, database and software?
  10. Do you have client references and sample work product document?


In case if a vendor fails this sequential test and still claims to be a leading LPO, it is causing injury to the entire industry. Those vendors will wither away like dry leaves of tree with more challenges to come for a reason that every client in US whether it is a corporation or law firm will pose the exact queries for all to reply. Even a vernacular consumer buying potato chips is concerned about quality, and vendors need to deal with quality skeptical American Lawyers.


Those passing this sequential test have greater responsibility to shoulder. You are a leading LPO and now your endeavor should be to succeed the perfect competitive market. To face the challenges outside, first ensure a talented and united team within. Hiring is the most vital of all steps that makes you a LPO. Hire good attorneys and then retain your employee as they are your biggest asset. Remember that every service cannot be outsourced and learn to say "no" for something you are not capable to perform. Emphasize and reemphasize on training and retraining your attorneys. Create a perfect MIS, ERP and R & R to ensure that the productive time is not lost due to demotivation. Ensure Intellectual and monetary appraisals.


Now that you are rock within, understand what your core competencies are. Never deviate from your core competency for the sake of monetary gain. You cannot cater the entire spectrum of legal services outsourced; ascertain your priorities. This will ensure introspection, learning lessons and process development. Business development is a steady process and might cause irritation in inception but patience needs to be instilled. This is an investment into not just a process but knowledge based high-end quality offshore process. For all the work you procure organize meeting to clarify and ascertain the scope of project. Never hesitate to seek clarification from client for two reasons, 1> There is no question like "Stupid question" and 2> Rather than wasting time on a wrong approach you can donate more time on better quality.


Once you deliver quality deliverables client would come automatically and one would refer other for your services. That is how business grows.

People are reading this blog from

Google analytics