Getting to know you: the importance of personal relationships in choosing eDisclosure providers

An eDiscovery software event in London gives me the excuse to revisit a point which I made when I first met kCura’s CEO Andrew Sieja, one which applies beyond any one provider and to the whole business of choosing eDisclosure providers. Price and competence are important – but so is the ability to get on with them. Start warming up your relationships now.

Being old (or older, anyway) brings some advantages. One of them is the occasional opportunity to catch up with our children’s friends as they go out into the world. They are in their twenties now, and the paths which they are taking are much more interesting than all that talk of years ago about A-level choices, music grades and university selection.  As they chatter away around our table, I sometimes think back to what they were like when I first met them,  and can see simultaneously the children they were and the adults which they have now become.

It may seem odd to look on companies in the same way, but eDiscovery / eDisclosure is a young industry, and I was there when it was born. I have recorded elsewhere that I came across kCura in about 2004 or 2005, shortly after its first software release, at the suggestion of Mark Dingle. I was then a litigation software provider in need of some software to provide, and Mark had presciently identified kCura as a horse worth watching. I met CEO Andrew Sieja in the summer of 2008, and used that meeting as the springboard for an article called Meeting people is right about our walk by the River Thames at Oxford. The article’s purpose was to urge lawyers to take time to investigate technology solutions and to get to know the people who provide them (someone referred to that article recently, which was gratifying so many years later).  I commended kCura’s website and said that “if Andrew Sieja is as entertaining a demonstrator as he is a companion on a long walk, you will not find the demo a waste of time”.

Five years on, I found myself recently sitting in the impressive Glaziers Hall, again next to the Thames but this time in the City of London. I was sitting next to Mark Dingle, now established as a Relativity consultant and developer through his company LitSavant; the room was filled with the brightest and best of the UK’s eDisclosure providers and users; on the stage was that same Andrew Sieja, talking about Relativity functionality. He began by reminiscing about kCura’s first steps into the London market at about the same time as I met him, and traced the development of Relativity penetration in the UK. As with my children’s friends, I can see the lines which connect the youthful entrepreneur of my first meeting with the CEO of the successful technology company which kCura has now become.

Much of Andrew Sieja’s talk was about the enhancements to Relativity. There are many of them, but he gave us just ten, each of them a convincing reason for upgrading if you are an existing Relativity user or becoming a new user if you are not already converted. This was more a ceremonial launch than a formal one and we will get the enhancement details in due course. My focus is less on the developments and more on the way this US company has developed and expanded its UK presence, measured not merely by the number of installations, users and terabytes, but in the broad feeling of “family” which kCura has managed to preserve whilst becoming an industry giant. This is a difficult thing to achieve, and it depends much more on the personal relations which I wrote about in my Meeting people is right article than on glitzy marketing.

This matters in England and Wales at the moment because any lawyer wishing to engage in commercial litigation has no alternative but to become familiar with electronic disclosure, its technology and its players. If that sounds like routine marketing crap (“He would say that wouldn’t he?”) just run your eye down the provisions of the new Rule 31.5 CPR and ask yourself if it is possible to comply with it without some understanding of the technology of disclosure. Many lawyers who have managed to duck this subject (“I hope I retire before I have to understand all this”, as one senior lawyer once put it to me) are now going to have to pick up the phone to providers of software and services designed to manage electronic documents.  Price and competence are important factors here, but you will soon discover that most of the software companies which have survived the culling and consolidation of the last few years are competent; you will also discover, once you have fought your way through the apples and oranges of comparative pricing models, that you get pretty well what you pay for in this market as in others. What then distinguishes one provider from another? The answer is the people.

We have, by and large, seen the back of providers whose marketing technique consists of droning on about the risks and burdens of eDiscovery / eDisclosure. Those who have survived and prospered are much more interested in working with their users to solve business problems. Whether you like them or not will not influence your choice if the price or the quality of the technology is wrong, but it may well be conclusive as between equally-priced and equally-competent solutions. Do you want to work with these people? Do they answer the phone when you have a problem? Are they there for you when things go wrong (and something always goes wrong)?

If you had been there at this friendly and enjoyable event, you would have come away concluding that these are people with whom you would like to do business. In a fiercely competitive industry, full of nice people, that will not by itself win contracts, but it is a good start.

I am not exactly a party animal, but I stayed till we were thrown out. This launch was a model of its kind, formal enough for us to be clear that some serious enhancements are coming for Relativity, but equally a friendly atmosphere which would not have alarmed a novice.  There were screens all around the venue where you could get a proper introduction to Relativity whilst holding a glass and chatting with people whose problems were the same as yours or who had solutions to offer.

In due course, I will pass on the details of the more formal launch which is yet to come. Meanwhile, those of you wondering what to do about that imminent case management conference might like to fix meetings with a few of those who vie to offer solutions in the market (and by “a few” I mean two or more – kCura may have given me the hook for this article, as with my 2008 post, but one of the features of this marketplace is choice). Do it now even if you do not have an imminent requirement. Give yourself time to decide who you would like to work with when the need arises.

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