What do you do next, when you have conquered e-mail threading, near-duplicate detection and predictive coding, and wrapped them all together with other analytical tools like Batching in an attractive package called Equivio Zoom? What predictive coding has done for us is shifted the focus back towards the lead litigators and case strategists, and taken their input at the beginning of the exercise where its value is highest. Equivio’s latest software application, Equivio Themes, launched at LegalTech 2013, carries this objective one stage further. Those lawyers who fear that algorithms are supplanting their keen intelligence and hard-won knowledge will be pleased to see them restored to their proper place.
CEO Amir Milo opened the launch by talking about how Equivio plans its future developments. One element is putting oneself in the position of potential users and thinking through what they do and what would help them do it. Another is Equivio’s willingness to experiment, trying out several development ideas and abandoning those which do not fly.
Warwick Sharp, VP of Marketing and Business Development at Equivio, began his explanation with a series of photographs, each illustrating a kind of duality – Felix Baumgartner’s view from his 24 mile high balloon before his jump brought him quickly to feet-on-the-ground detail, and Muhammad Ali floating like a butterfly before stinging like a bee. The objective behind Themes is a kind of hybrid between Google Earth and Wikipedia hyperlinks – a good analogy for an idea which begins with a high-level view and gives you the ability to focus on something specific before going sideways through connections between themes.
The starting point is that documents are not single entities, nor are they merely a collection of potential keywords. Between the two lie themes, and a document may have more than one theme. Equivio’s new application identifies salient themes in a collection, allows the user to build a vocabulary of themes, and applies meaningful labels to them. There is a network of connections between themes, and documents do not have a singular connection causing them to fit neatly into a single cluster. Like Baumgartner, the user can go straight down and quickly then, like Muhammad Ali, look for an opening and go for it – the “transition from vista to gotcha then dig deep and find similar” as Warwick Sharp put it when I spoke to him about Themes.
You can use Equivio Themes at any stage, but it is perhaps best used early on to address the question “what do we have here?” with the resulting ability to make critical decisions early in a case. Because Themes is part of Equivio Zoom, all the other tools for identifying redundant data and for analysis are available in parallel with Themes.
It is important, not just for itself and for Equivio, but for an eDiscovery / eDisclosure approach which maps to my idea about the new shape of law firms and legal departments. They will have a few very skilled people at the top – lawyers supported by those with data analytical skills – and some juniors. The middle tier will disappear, replaced by technology and by outsourced services. Tools like Equivio Themes and the wider generation of predictive coding tools would be an enabler of something which must necessarily happen anyway as a matter of brute economics. The focus will be on the application of stiletto intelligence to clients’ objectives, and away from merely using big shovels to dig through data.