Choosing a partner to help you manage your firm’s eDiscovery is usually a tricky business. In a recent post, I discussed the Vendor Questionnaire and how it can help you narrow down your list of prospective firms, with the goal of meeting just two or three top contenders and then making an informed decision that suits your comfort level and your budget.

In this post, I offer a short list of crucial questions you should ask during that meeting, conveniently grouped into 3 S’s: security, scalability, and service.

Get Serious about Security

Data incidents are on the rise, and the last thing you want is to wake up one bright Thursday morning to the news that your eDiscovery vendor has been hacked, and your valuable, confidential, sensitive, subject-to-a-discovery-deadline data has been stolen or encrypted pending payment of a ransom. It’s vital that your vendor has implemented – and strictly maintains – robust information security practices.

When you meet with a prospective partner,

  • Ask whether they’ve experienced a data incident in the last five years. If they say no, ask for that in writing. If they say yes, that isn’t necessarily a negative. It’s possible for companies to learn a great deal when they have to deal with a data incident – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – so what you want to find out is, did it make them stronger? Ask them to explain what happened, what the vector of attack was, and how the incident was remediated. Get that in writing too.
  • Ask to see the vendor’s information security policies.
  • Ask for proof of routine employee training in security practices and mandates. 
  • Ask if employees’ access is restricted to data and systems they absolutely need in order to perform their jobs. If the answer is “no” or “huh?” think twice about hiring the firm.

Exploding Data Is a Thing

Inevitably, the anticipated volume of data somehow turns out to be noticeably less than the actual volume of data. It happens to everyone: no matter how carefully you try to assess the scope of a case, in the end there’s always more. Your vendor has to be able to scale systems and people rapidly in order to meet deadlines in the face of exploding data.

When you meet with a prospective partner,

  • Ask how many days it takes to spin up additional processing workers. If the answer is anything other than “one,” you might have an issue.
  • Ask if the vendor can quickly re-dedicate team members to keep pace with processing, hosting, and production needs. Use your instincts here – if they don’t sound confident, they probably can’t.
  • Ask whether you’ll work with a single, dedicated Project Manager. Having a single point of contact who is thoroughly knowledgeable about your project, deadlines, and whether/when things need to scale is a huge advantage.

It’s All About You

Even though your partner likely works with dozens or even hundreds of clients, you deserve to know that your matter, well, matters. Much of the stress in eDiscovery is a direct result of three things: poor or absent communication, inadequate planning, and shoddy customer service. To develop a mutually beneficial, long-term relationship with your eDiscovery partner, make sure their organization culture emphasizes customer satisfaction, accountability, and personal responsibility.

When you meet with a prospective partner,

  • Ask about their ethics policies. You want to see that they actively push their employees to do the right thing, treat customers respectfully, and go above and beyond.
  • Ask about the kinds of status reports that are available, and the frequency with which they’re generated. If you prefer a self-service reporting model, ask if an externally-facing client dashboard is available.
  • Ask to speak to references – and then actually call them. And when you get those satisfied customers on the phone, ask them what the vendor did best, and what they did worst. Then ask if they were able to improve.
  • Ask if the vendor performs routine project post-mortem analyses to identify weak areas, problems, and sources of client dissatisfaction. Ask to see the notes from a recent post-mortem discussion.

No one hits nothing but home runs, so don’t be surprised if your questions uncover a few shortcomings. Every eDiscovery shop has its own unique specialties, as well as its own failings; the important thing is that your vendor is self-aware, honest, and forthcoming, and that you leave that meeting with a clear sense of the team you’ll really be working with once you’re in the trenches

About the Author

Unicorn Avatar for AutherSusan Ethridge is a writer and editor with more than fifteen years’ experience in marketing and business development for industry-leading eDiscovery service providers. She enjoys cooking, literary fiction, and cool technologies, and tends to get OCD about music and bourbon. She is a die-hard fan of the Oxford comma.

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