I like to look in on Epiq Systems when I am in Hong Kong to catch up with what is going on, and I had a meeting on my recent trip with Celeste Kemper, Director of Document Review Services, Asia, Nathan Hughes, Business Development Director, Asia and Stuart Baxter, Operations Director, Asia.
I remember the first time I heard about Epiq Systems’ plans to set up in Hong Kong. It was at an Epiq Christmas party some years ago, and John Lord, who had founded nMatrix before its acquisition by Epiq, and then established Epiq’s London presence, said that he planned to repeat that successful exercise in Hong Kong.
I knew nothing about Hong Kong then, but I did know that if John Lord had set his sights on something it was likely to happen, and shortly afterwards it did. It has been a remarkably successful endeavour. Over the years, I have taken part in educational lunchtime sessions with law firms in Epiq’s company, participated in an eDiscovery Roundtable, taken part in an Epiq panel about the then pending eDiscovery practice direction and, at a conference last year, made a set of videos with Celeste Kemper, Nick Rich and (a first for me) one in Mandarin with Jennifer Qian. (you can find them, with other videos from that event, here). I have more than once heard rivals in the region accept grudgingly that Epiq is doing well there, perhaps the best sort of reference you can get.
An Epiq eDiscovery panel in Hong Kong in 2014. Me on the left and Celeste Kemper of Epiq on the right
Epiq has had a good year in AsiaPac. Its biggest engagements involved FCPA investigations into financial and pharmaceutical businesses. One of these involved 260 custodians in four locations in China, having between them 400 devices – the growth of devices per custodian is a significant feature of the last twelve months.
Another recurring feature of the region is the ad hoc approach to email accounts in Chinese companies. Investigations reveal sudden changes to systems, involving data loss at the point of change. There is also heavy use of personal webmail accounts for company business, and a habit of sending pictures of documents by email which raises issues of its own.
Chinese employees are “nervous of data” – this does not necessarily imply that they have anything to hide, but there is a cultural aversion to producing data, particularly when it is not clear what it is required for. Epiq has trilingual speakers (fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English) on its staff who are good at educating people in conjunction with the client’s lawyers.
In addition to its Hong Kong office and data centre, Epiq now has a data centre in Shanghai, China and an office in Shenzhen, China. For cases involving sensitivities such as trade and state secrets, the data generally must be hosted and reviewed within China (Typically no documents can hit a screen outside the PRC, including HK). For an added layer of security Epiq also provides a mobile solution for occasions when the data cannot leave the company’s premises.
Different software tools are used for different purposes. The Chinese data centre uses Clearwell as a default. Sometimes Nuix is used for a first pass on the mobile solution to enable quick identification and scoping. After that, a decision is made as to the appropriate location for further processing and review and as to which are to be used. A common route is from Nuix into Relativity.
Epiq now has 30 full-time members of staff and is about to double its office space in Hong Kong. The main activities are document review and forensics. Most staff are recruited locally. Epiq looks for project management experience and commercial awareness, not just eDiscovery experience.
In addition to its permanent staff, Epiq has developed a pool of high quality tri-lingual contract reviewers, who are gaining the trust of clients through their work on FCPA matters and high profile financial investigations.
Epiq is planning to expand its PRC offering in 2015 to include in-country document review.
The growing importance of AsiaPac eDiscovery is reflected in the fact that Sedona’s Working Group 6 meets in Hong Kong in June, the first time WG6 has held its main annual event in the region. I will be there, and look forward to visiting Epiq in its new premises.