“In small operations, everyone is doing something tactical every day. Now we can think strategically, with account managers focusing on the objectives of corporations and law firms, not just pushing data from the left to the right”
This seemed to me to be the key quotation from a conversation with Pete Feinberg, Senior Vice President, Products and Marketing at Consilio, when I spoke to him about Consilio’s acquisition of Huron Legal. These things are relative – Consilio is a substantial organisation already, and has been making consistent, and consistently strong, strategic moves for some years now, but its latest acquisition will enable a broader role for Consilio in its clients’ strategies, well beyond just solving their discovery problems as they arise – beyond “pushing data from the left to the right” in Pete Feinberg’s nice phrase.
You can find the basic facts about the acquisition from Consilio’s press release, Huron Legal’s press release and Doug Austin’s recent interview with Pete Feinberg. Although the acquisition took most of us by surprise, Pete Feinberg’s explanation as set out in Doug Austin’s interview makes it seem an obvious fit: similar clients but with a small overlap; Consilio’s strong international presence coupled with Huron Legal’s place in the US market; Consilio’s technology and related skills supplemented by the broad range of Huron’s practice areas such as information governance, compliance, law department management and legal analytics; this is one of those acquisitions which looks completely obvious now that it has happened.
It will strike the clients in the same way, both those already in the fold and those considering a change of provider – that is, a completely different kind of provider, not just swapping one set of skills for another.
Consilio has its own eDiscovery technology, Global RPM, and it signalled its commitment to that by the acquisition in September of predictive coding specialist Backstop. It has been working on specialist applications like audio and Bloomberg Chat, and we are told that a major new version is in the works.
Only a few days ago, Consilio acquired London-based service provider Proven, bringing Relativity experience, good work, and what Pete Feinberg described as “a deep bench of experience which cannot be overstated” to Consilio. If you add Huron Legal’s UK-based people to the 60+ heads which Consilio had in the UK and mainland Europe, that gives the conjoined entity a significant position in the EU. Since it also has a strong presence in the Asia-Pacific region, this makes it a truly global practice.
Let’s just focus on Europe. The Schrems decision invalidating Safe Harbour is not the only pending development which affects cross-border discovery (that is, usually, discovery of material for US purposes from countries outside the US). The Microsoft Dublin example shows US authorities keen to reach in to non-US sources of data where it is in the possession, custody or control of an entity which is within its jurisdiction; that is still subject to a appeal in the US courts, but it provides an additional reason, on top of EU privacy and data protection considerations, why the major hosting providers like Microsoft, Amazon and Box are all setting up new or additional facilities in Europe.
Although the EU Data Protection Regulation, apparently agreed last night, has yet to be ratified, it is clear that the EU is going to take a much stricter line on the protection of private information, backed by fines which could amount to 4% of global annual turnover. The EU is recruiting enforcement people after 15 years in which its apparent laxity has caused many US companies, courts and regulators to ignore the importance of managing private data properly.
My 2016 predictions, written for the Society for Computers and Law before the Consilio / Huron Legal news broke, included this paragraph about data protection:
US corporations will begin to take the subject more seriously, partly through the fear of punishment, but perhaps also because of the effect on staff relations, customer relations and public perception. That’s work for lawyers and providers with appropriate facilities, skills and staff, particularly in the UK but also in mainland Europe. It is also something which search technology can help solve.
As Pete Feinberg sees it, there is more to this than technology and skills. It is extremely hard to bridge the divide between US and EU approaches to discovery. Difficult enough as between the US and the UK, it is very much harder within mainland Europe where there is no inbuilt concept of eDiscovery. Many companies do not understand what they are giving; many US authorities, frankly, do not understand what they are asking for.
I recently heard a lawyer from a major US corporation say that his company, which had hitherto used its US-based eDiscovery providers for EU collections, had decided to engage providers within the EU. This decision is nothing to do with the relative technical merits available from either side of the Atlantic, nor with the legal management, which would remain US-driven. The decision will have been based on the realisation that the requisite level of expertise includes an intuitive feel for the cultural, as well as the legal, environment. This has long been accepted by US companies dealing in the Asia-Pacific region. It is increasingly obvious that the same level of local understanding is needed in the EU as well.
The conjunction of Consilio and Huron Legal has that local understanding. It has feet on the ground to back its technology skills and its hosting arrangements. For the reasons I gave in my SCL predictions, this acquisition is a pointer to a different way of working and a different level of service to clients.