Lawyers’ Job Security in a Near Future World of AI, the Law’s “Reasonable Man Myth” and “Bagley Two” – Part One

January 15, 2017

bad-robotDoes the inevitable triumph of AI robots over human reason and logic mean that the legal profession is doomed? Will Watson be the next generation’s lawyer of choice? I do no think so and have written many articles on why, including two last year: Scientific Proof of Law’s Overreliance On Reason: The “Reasonable Man” is Dead and the Holistic Lawyer is Born; and The Law’s “Reasonable Man,” Judge Haight, Love, Truth, Justice, “Go Fish” and Why the Legal Profession Is Not Doomed to be Replaced by Robots. In the Reasonable Man article I discussed how reasonability is the basis of the law, but that it is not objective. It depends on many subjective factors, on psychology. In the Scientific Proof article I continued the argument and argued:

The Law’s Reasonable Man is a fiction. He or she does not exist. Never has, never will. All humans, including us lawyers, are much more complex than that. We need to recognize this. We need to replace the Law’s reliance on reason alone with a more realistic multidimensional holistic approach.

Scientific Proof Article

brain_gears_NOTo help make my argument in the Scientific Proof article I relied on the analysis of Thomas H. Davenport and Julia Kirby in Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines (Harper 2016) and on the scientific work of Dan Ariely, a Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University.

I cite to Only Humans Need Apply: Winners and Losers in the Age of Smart Machines to support my thesis:

Although most lawyers in the profession do not know it yet, the non-reasoning aspects of the Law are its most important parts. The reasoning aspects of legal work can be augmented. That is certain. So will other aspects, like reading comprehension. But the other aspects of our work, the aspects that require more than mere reason, are what makes the Law a human profession. These job functions will survive the surge of AI.

If you want to remain a winner in future Law, grow these aspects. Only losers will hold fast to reason. Letting go of the grip of the Reasonable Man, by which many lawyers are now strangled, will make you a better lawyer and, at the same time, improve your job security.

Also see Dean Gonsowski, A Clear View or a Short Distance? AI and the Legal Industry; and, Gonsowski, A Changing World: Ralph Losey on “Stepping In” for e-Discovery, (Relativity Blog).

Professor Ariely has found from many experiments that We’re All Predictably Irrational. In my article, Scientific ProofI point my readers to his many easily accessible video talks on the subject. I consider the implication of Professor Ariely’s research on the law:

Our legal house needs a new and better foundation than reason. We must follow the physicists of a century ago. We must transcend Newtonian causality and embrace the more complex, more profound truth that science has revealed. The Reasonable Man is a myth that has outlived its usefulness. We need to accept the evidence, and move on. We need to develop new theories and propositions of law that confirm to the new facts at hand. Reason is just one part of who we are. There is much more to us then that: emotion, empathy, creativity, aesthetics, intuition, love, strength, courage, imagination, determination – to name just a few of our many qualities. These things are what make us uniquely human; they are what separate us from AI. Logic and reason may end up being the least of our abilities, although they are still qualities that I personally cherish. …

Davinci_whole_manSince human reason is now known to be so unreliable, and is only a contributing factor to our decisions, on what should we base our legal jurisprudence? I believe that the Reasonable Man, now that he is known to be an impossible dream, should be replaced by the Whole Man. Our jurisprudence should be based on the reality that we are not robots, not mere thinking machines. We have many other faculties and capabilities beyond just logic and reason. We are more than math. We are living beings. Reason is just one of our many abilities.

So I propose a new, holistic model for the law. It would still include reason, but add our other faculties. It would incorporate our total self, all human attributes. We would include more than logic and reason to judge whether behavior is acceptable or not, to consider whether a resolution of a dispute is fair or not. Equity would regain equal importance.

A new schemata for a holistic jurisprudence would thus include not just human logic, but also human emotions, our feelings of fairness, our intuitions of what is right and just, and multiple environmental and perceptual factors. I suggest a new model start simple and use a four-fold structure like this, and please note I keep Reason on top, as I still strongly believe in its importance to the Law.

4-levels-Holistic_Law_pyramid

My Scientific Proof article included a call to action, the response to which has been positive:

The legal profession needs to take action now to reduce our over-reliance on the Myth of the Reasonable Man. We should put the foundations of our legal system on something else, something more solid, more real than that. We need to put our house in order before it starts collapsing around us. That is the reasonable thing to do, but for that very reason we will not start to do it until we have better motivation than that. You cannot get people to act on reason alone, even lawyers. So let us engage the other more powerful motivators, including the emotions of fear and greed. For if we do not evolve our work to focus on far more than reason, then we will surely be replaced.

cyborg-lawyer

AI can think better and faster, and ultimately at a far lower cost. But can AI reassure a client? Can it tell what a client really wants and needs. Can AI think out of the box to come up with new, creative solutions. Can AI sense what is fair? Beyond application of the rules, can it attain the wisdom of justice. Does it know when rules should be bent and how far? Does it know, like any experienced judge knows, when rules should be broken entirely to attain a just result? Doubtful.

I go on to make some specific suggestions, just to start the dialogue, and then closed with the following:

We must move away from over-reliance on reason alone. Our enlightened self-interest in continued employment in the rapidly advancing world of AI demands this. So too does our quest to improve our system of justice, to keep it current with the rapid changes in society.

Where we must still rely on reason, we should at the same time realize its limitations. We should look for new technology based methods to impose more checks and balances on reason than we already have. We should create new systems that will detect and correct the inevitable errors in reason that all humans make – lawyers, judges and witnesses alike. Bias and prejudice must be overcome in all areas of life, but especially in the justice system.

Computers, especially AI, should be able to help with this and also make the whole process more efficient. We need to start focusing on this, to make it a priority. It demands more than talk and thinking. It demands action. We cannot just think our way out of a prison of thought. We need to use all of our faculties, especially our imagination, creativity, intuition, empathy and good faith.

Reasonable Man Article

Reasonable_man_cloudTo help make my argument in the earlier blog, The Law’s “Reasonable Man,” Judge Haight, Love, Truth, Justice, “Go Fish” and Why the Legal Profession Is Not Doomed to be Replaced by Robots, I quoted extensively from an Order Denying Defendant’s Motion for Protective Order. The order arose out of a routine employment discrimination case. Bagely v. Yale, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-1890 (CSH) (Doc. 108) (order dated April 27, 2015). The Order examined the “reasonability” of ESI accessibility under Rule 26(b)(2)(B) and the “reasonable” efforts requirements under Rule 26(b). I used language of that Bagley Order to help support my argument that there is far more to The Law than mere reason and logic. I also argued that this is a very good thing, for otherwise lawyers could easily be replaced by robots.

Another e-discovery order was entered in Bagley on December 22, 2016. Ruling On Plaintiff’s Motion To Compel. Bagely v. Yale, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-1890 (CSH). Bagley Two again provokes me to write on this key topic. This second order, like the first, was written by Senior District Judge Charles S. Haight, Jr.. The eighty-six year old Judge Haight is becoming one of my favorite legal scholars because of his excellent analysis and his witty, fairly transparent writing style. This double Yale graduate has a way with words, especially when issuing rulings adverse to his alma mater. He is also one of the few judges that I have been unable to locate an online photo of, so use your imagination, which, by the way, is another powerful tool that separates us from AI juiced robots.

Lady JusticeI pointed out in the Reasonable Man article, and it bears repetition, that I am no enemy of reason and rationality. It is a powerful tool in legal practice, but it is hardly our only tool. It is one of many. The “Reasonable Man” is one of the most important ideas of Law, symbolized by the balance scales, but it is not the only idea. In fact, it is not even the most important idea for the Law. That honor goes to Justice. Lady Justice holding the scales of reason is the symbol of the Law, not the scales alone. She is usually depicted with a blindfold on, symbolizing the impartiality of justice, not dependent on the social status or position of the litigants.

My view is that lawyer reasoning should continue in all future law, but should augmented by artificial intelligence. With machines helping to rid us of hidden biases in all human reason, and making that part of our evaluation easier and more accurate, we are free to put more emphasis on our other lawyer skills, on the other factors that go into our evaluation of the case. These include our empathy, intuition, emotional intelligence, feelings, humor, perception (including lie detection), imagination, inventiveness and sense of fairness and justice. Reason is only one of many human capacities involved in legal decision making.

In Reasonable Man article I analyzed the first Bagley Order to help prove that point:

Bagley shows that the dividing line between what is reasonable and thus acceptable efforts, and what is not, can often be difficult to determine. It depends on a careful evaluation of the facts, to be sure, but this evaluation in turn depends on many subjective factors, including whether one side or another was trying to cooperate. These factors include all kinds of prevailing social norms, not just cooperativeness. It also includes personal values, prejudices, education, intelligence, and even how the mind itself works, the hidden psychological influences. They all influence a judge’s evaluation in any particular case as to which side of the acceptable behavior line a particular course of conduct falls.

In close questions the subjectivity inherent in determinations of reasonability is obvious. This is especially true for the attorneys involved, the ones paid to be independent analysts and objective advisors. People can, and often do, disagree on what is reasonable and what is not. They disagree on what is negligent and what is not. On what is acceptable and what is not.

All trial lawyers know that certain tricks of argument and appeals to emotion can have a profound effect on a judge’s resolution of these supposedly reason-based disagreements. They can have an even more profound affect on a jury’s decision. (That is the primary reason that there are so many rules on what can and cannot be said to a jury.)

lady_justice_not_blindIn spite of practical knowledge by the experienced, the myth continues in our profession that reasonability exists in some sort of objective, platonic plane of ideas, above all subjective influences. The just decision can be reached by deep, impartial reasoning. It is an article of faith in the legal profession, even though experienced trial lawyers and judges know that it is total nonsense, or nearly so. They know full well the importance of psychology and social norms. They know the impact of cognitive biases of all kinds, including, for example, hindsight biasSee Roitblat, The Schlemiel and the Schlimazel and the Psychology of Reasonableness (Jan. 10, 2014, LTN) (link is to republication by a vendor without attribution) (“tendency to see events that have already occurred as being more predictable than they were before they actually took place“); Also see Rimkus v Cammarata, 688 F. Supp. 2d 598 (S.D. Tex. 2010) (J. Rosenthal) (“It can be difficult to draw bright-line distinctions between acceptable and unacceptable conduct in preserving information and in conducting discovery, either prospectively or with the benefit (and distortion) of hindsight.” emphasis added); Pension Committee of the University of Montreal Pension Plan, et al. v. Banc of America Securities, LLC, et al., 685 F. Supp. 2d 456 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 15, 2010 as amended May 28, 2010) at pgs. 463-464 (J. Scheindlin) (‘That is a judgment call that must be made by a court reviewing the conduct through the backward lens known as hindsight.” emphasis added).

In my conclusion to Reasonable Man article I summarized my thoughts and tried to kick off further discussion of this topic:

The myth of objectivity and the “Reasonable Man” in the law should be exposed. Many naive people still put all of their faith in legal rules and the operation of objective, unemotional logic. The system does not really work that way. Outsiders trying to automate the law are misguided. The Law is far more than logic and reason. It is more than the facts, the surrounding circumstances. It is more than evidence. It is about people and by people. It is about emotion and empathy too. It is about fairness and equity. It’s prime directive is justice, not reason.

That is the key reason why AI cannot automate law, nor legal decision making. Judge Charles (“Terry”) Haight could be augmented and enhanced by smart machines, by AI, but never replaced. The role of AI in the Law is to improve our reasoning, minimize our schlemiel biases. But the robots will never replace lawyers and judges. In spite of the myth of the Reasonable Man, there is far more to law then reason and facts. I for one am glad about that. If it were otherwise the legal profession would be doomed to be replaced by robots.

Bagley Two

Now let us see how Judge Haight once again helps prove the Reasonable Man points by his opinion in Bagley Two. Ruling On Plaintiff’s Motion To Compel (December 22, 2016), Bagely v. Yale, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-1890 (CSH). In this opinion the reasonability of defendant Yale’s preservation efforts was considered in the context of a motion to compel discovery. His order again reveals the complexity and inherent subjectivity of all human reason. It shows that there are always multiple factors at work in any judge’s decision beyond just thought and reason, including an instinct born out of long experience for fairness and justice. Once again I will rely primarily on Judge Haight’s own words. I do so because I like the way he writes and because you need to read his original words to appreciate what I am talking about. But first, let me set the stage.

Reasonable_guageYale sent written preservation notices to sixty-five different people, which I know from thousands of matters is a very large number of custodians to put on hold in a single-plaintiff discrimination case. But Yale did so in stages, starting on March 1, 2013 and ending on August 7, 2014. Eight different times over this period they kept adding people to their hold list. The notices were sent by Jonathan Clune, a senior associate general counsel of Yale University. The plaintiff argued that they were too late in adding some of the custodians and otherwise attacked the reasonability of Yale’s efforts.

The plaintiff was not seeking sanctions yet for the suspected unreasonable efforts, they were seeking discovery from Yale as to details of these efforts. Specifically they sought production of: (1) the actual litigation hold notices; (2) the completed document preservation computer survey forms that were required to be returned to the Office of General Counsel by each Litigation Hold Recipient; and, (3) an affidavit detailing the retention and production for all non-ESI documents collected from each of the Litigation hold Recipients.

Yale opposed this discovery claiming any more information as to its preservation efforts was protected from discovery under the attorney-client privilege and attorney work product protection.  Yale also argued that even if the privileges did not apply here, the discovery should still be denied because to obtain such information a party must first provide convincing proof that spoliation in fact occurred. Yale asserted that the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient proof, or even any proof, that spoliation had in fact occurred.

Here is the start of Judge Haight’s evaluation of the respective positions:

Mr. Clune’s litigation hold notices stressed that a recipient’s failure to preserve pertinent documents could “lead to legal sanctions” against Yale. Clune was concerned about a possible sanction against Yale for spoliation of evidence. While Clune’s notices did not use the term, “spoliation” is a cardinal litigation vice, known by that name to trial lawyers and judges, perhaps unfamiliar to academics unable to claim either of those distinctions. Clune’s notices made manifest his concern that a trial court might sanction Yale for spoliation of evidence relevant to the University SOM’s decision not to reappoint Bagley to its faculty.

skull_bones_yaleNote the jab at academics. By the way, in my experience his observation is correct about the cluelessness of most law professors when it comes to e-discovery. But why does Judge Haight take the time here to point that out? This case did not involve the Law School. It involved the business school professors and staff (as you would expect). It is important to know that Judge Haight is a double Yale graduate, both undergraduate and law school. He graduated from Yale Law in 1955. He was even a member of Yale’s infamous of Skull and Bones society. (What does 322 really mean? Eulogia?) Perhaps there are some underlying emotions here? Judge Haight does seem to enjoy poking Yale, but he may do that in all his cases with Yale out of an eccentric kind of good humor, like a friendly shoulder punch. But I doubt it.

To be continued … 




Predictive Coding 4.0 – Nine Key Points of Legal Document Review and an Updated Statement of Our Workflow – Part Five

October 9, 2016

predictive_coding_quality_triangleThis is the fifth installment of the article explaining the e-Discovery Team’s latest enhancements to electronic document review using Predictive Coding. Here are Parts OneTwoThree and Four. This series explains the nine insights behind the latest upgrade to version 4.0 and the slight revisions these insights triggered to the eight-step workflow. We have already covered five of the nine insights. In this installment we will cover the remaining four: GIGO & QC (Garbage In, Garbage Out) (Quality Control); SME (Subject Matter Expert); Method (for electronic document review); and, Software (for electronic document review). The last three: SME – Method – Software, are all parts of Quality Control.

GIGO & QC – Garbage In, Garbage Out & Quality Control

Garbage In, Garbage Out is one of the oldest sayings in the computer world. You put garbage into the computer and it will spit it back at you in spades. It is almost as true today as it was in the 1980s when it was first popularized. Smart technology that recognizes and corrects for some mistakes has tempered GIGO somewhat, but it still remains a controlling principle of computer usage.

garbage-in-garbage-out

The GIGO Wikipedia entry explains that:

GIGO in the field of computer science or information and communications technology refers to the fact that computers, since they operate by logical processes, will unquestioningly process unintended, even nonsensical, input data (“garbage in”) and produce undesired, often nonsensical, output (“garbage out”). … It was popular in the early days of computing, but applies even more today, when powerful computers can produce large amounts of erroneous information in a short time.

Wikipedia also pointed out an interesting new expansion of the GIGO Acronym, Garbage In, Gospel Out:

It is a sardonic comment on the tendency to put excessive trust in “computerized” data, and on the propensity for individuals to blindly accept what the computer says.

Now as to our insight: GIGO in electronic document review, especially review using predictive coding, is largely the result of human error on the part of the Subject Matter Expert. Of course, garbage can also be created by poor methods, where too many mistakes are made, and by poor software. But to really mess things up, you need a clueless SME. These same factors also create garbage (poor results) when used with any document review techniques. When the subject matter expert is not good, when he or she does not have a good grasp for what is relevant, and what is important for the case, then all methods fail. Keywords and active machine learning both depend on reliable attorney expertise. Quality control literally must start at the top of any electronic document review project. It must start with the SME.

Missed_target

If your attorney expert, your SME, has no clue, their head is essentially garbage. With that kind of bad input, you will inevitably get bad output. This happens with all usages of a computer, but especially when using predictive coding. The computer learns what you teach it. Teach it garbage and that is what it will learn. It will hit a target all right. Just not the right target. Documents will be produced, just not the ones needed to resolve the disputed issues. A poor SME makes too many mistakes and misses too many relevant documents because they do not know what is relevant and what is not.

Robot_BYTEA smart AI can correct for some human errors (perfection is not required). The algorithms can correct for some mistakes in consistency by an SME, and the rest of the review team, but not that many. In machine learning for document review the legal review robot now starts as a blank slate with no knowledge of the law or the case. They depend on the SME to teach them. Someday that may change. We may see smart robots who know the law and relevance, but we are not even near there yet. For now our robots are more like small children. They only know what you tell them, but they can spot inconsistencies in your message and they never forget.

Subject Matter Expert – SME

The predictive coding method can fail spectacularly with a poor expert, but so can keyword search. The converse of both propositions is also true. In all legal document review projects the SME needs to be an expert in scope of relevance, what is permitted discovery, what is relevant and what is not, what is important and what is not. They need to know the legal rules governing relevance backwards and forwards. They also need to have a clear understanding of the probative value of evidence in legal proceedings. This is what allows an attorney to know the scope of discoverable information.

relevance_scope_2016

If the attorney in charge does not understand the scope of discoverable information, does not understand probative value, then the odds of finding the documents important to a case are significantly diminished. You could look at a document with high probative value and not even know that it is relevant. This is exactly the concern of many requesting parties, that the responding party’s attorney will not understand relevance and discoverability the same way they do. That is why the first step in my recommended work flow is to Talk, which I also call Relevance Dialogues.

The kind of ESI communications with opposing counsel that are needed is not whining accusations or aggressive posturing. I will go into good talk versus bad talk in some detail when I explain the first step of our eight-step method. The point of the talking that should begin any document review project is to get a common understanding of scope of discoverable information. What is the exact scope of the request for production? Don’t agree the scope is proportionate? That’s fine. Agree to disagree and Talk some more, this time to the judge.

We have seen firsthand in the TREC experiments the damage  that can be done by a poor SME and no judge to keep them inline. Frankly, it has been something of a shock, or wake up call, as to the dangers of poor SME relevance calling. Most of the time I am quite lucky in my firm of super-specialists (all we do is employment law matters) to have terrific SMEs. But I have been a lawyer for a long time. I have seen some real losers in this capacity in the past 36 years. I myself have been a poor SME in some of the 2015 TREC experiments. An example that comes to mind is when I had to be the SME on the subject of CAPTCHA in a collection of forum messages by hackers. It ended up being on the job training. I saw for myself how little I could do to guide the project. Weak SMEs make bad leaders in the world of technology and law.

captcha

spoiled brat becomes an "adult"There are two basic ways that discovery SMEs fail. First, there are the kind who do not really know what they are talking about. They do not have expertise in the subject matter of the case, or, let’s be charitable, their expertise is insufficient. A bullshit artist makes a terrible SME. They may fool the client (and they often do), but they do not fool the judge or any real experts. The second kind of weak SMEs have some expertise, but they lack experience. In my old firm we used to call them baby lawyers. They have knowledge, but not wisdom. They lack the practical experience and skills that can only come from grappling with these relevance issues in many cases.

That is one reason why boutique law firms like my own do so well in today’s competitive environment. They have the knowledge and the wisdom that comes from specialization. They have seen it before and know what to do. Knowledge_Information_Wisdom

An SME with poor expertise has a very difficult time knowing if a document is relevant or not. For instance, a person not living in Florida might have a very different understanding than a Floridian of what non-native plants and animals threaten the Florida ecosystem. This was Topic 408 in TREC 2016 Total Recall Track. A native Floridian is in a better position to know the important invasive species, even ones like vines that have been in the state for over a hundred years. A non-expert with only limited information may not know, for instance, that Kudzo vines are an invasive plant from Japan and China. (They are also rumored to be the home of small, vicious Kudzo monkeys!) What is known for sure is that Kudzu, Pueraria montana, smothers all other vegetation around, including tall trees (shown below). A native Floridian hates Kudzo as much as they love Manatees.

kudzu

A person who has just visited Florida a few times would not know what a big deal Kudzo was in Florida during the Jeb Bush administration, especially in Northern Florida. (Still is.) They had probably never heard of it at all. They could see email with the term and have no idea what the email meant. It is obvious the native SME would know more, and thus be better positioned than a fake-SME, to determine Jeb Bush email relevance to non-native plants and animals that threaten the Florida ecosystem. By the way, all native Floridians especially hate pythons and a python eating one of our gators as shown below is an abomination.

python

Expertise is obviously needed for anyone to be a subject matter expert and know the difference between relevant and irrelevant. But there is more to it than information and knowledge. It also takes experience. It takes an attorney who has handled these kinds of cases many times before. Preferably they have tried a case like the one you are working on. They have seen the impact of this kind of evidence on judge and jury. An attorney with both theoretical knowledge and practical experience makes the best SME. Your ability to contribute subject matter expertise is limited when you have no practical experience. You might think certain ESI is helpful, when in fact, it is not; it has only weak probative value. A document might technically be relevant, but the SME lacks the experience and wisdom to know that matter is practically irrelevant anyway.

It goes without saying that any SME needs a good review team to back them up, to properly, consistently implement their decisions. In order for good leadership to be effective, there must also be good project management. Although this insight discussion features the role of the SME member of the review team, that is only because the importance of the SME was recently emphasized to us in our TREC research. In actuality all team members are important, not just the input from the top. Project management is critical, which is an insight already well-known to us and, we think, the entire industry.

Corrupt SMEs

Star_wars_emperor

Beware evil SMEs

Of course, no SME can be effective, no matter what their knowledge and experience, if they are not fair and honest. The SME must impartially seek and produce documents that are both pro and con. This is an ethics issue in all types of document review, not just predictive coding. In my experience corrupt SMEs are rare. But it does happen occasionally, especially when a corrupt client pressures their all too dependent attorneys. It helps to know the reputation for honesty of your opposing counsel. See: Five Tips to Avoid Costly Mistakes in Electronic Document Review Part 2 that contains my YouTube video, E-DISCOVERY ETHICS (below).

Also see: Lawyers Behaving Badly: Understanding Unprofessional Conduct in e-Discovery, 60 Mercer L. Rev. 983 (Spring 2009); Mancia v. Mayflower Begins a Pilgrimage to the New World of Cooperation, 10 Sedona Conf. J. 377 (2009 Supp.).

If I were a lawyer behaving badly in electronic document review, like for instance the Qualcomm lawyers did hiding thousands of highly relevant emails from Broadcom, I would not use predictive coding. If I wanted to not find evidence harmful to my case, I would use negotiated keyword search, the Go Fish kind. See Part Four of this series.

looking for droids in all the wrong places

I would also use linear review and throw an army of document review attorneys at it, with no one really knowing what the other was doing (or coding). I would subtly encourage project mismanagement. I would not pay attention. I would not supervise the rest of the team. I would not involve an AI entity,  i.w.- active machine learning. I would also not use an attorney with search expertise, nor would I use a national e-discovery vendor. I would throw a novice at the task and use a local or start-up vendor who would just do what they were told and not ask too many questions.

sorry_dave_ai

A corrupt hide-the-ball attorney would not want to use a predictive coding method like ours. They would not want the relevant documents produced or logged that disclose the training documents they used. This is true in any continuous training process, not just ours. We do not produce irrelevant documents, the law prevents that and protects our client’s privacy rights. But we do produce relevant documents, usually in phases, so you can see what the training documents are.

Star Wars Obi-WanA Darth Vader type hide-the-ball attorney would also want to avoid using a small, specialized, well-managed team of contract review lawyers to assist on a predictive coding project the review project. They would instead want to work with a large, distant army of contract lawyers. A small team of contract review attorneys cannot be brought into the con, especially if they are working for a good vendor. Even if you handicap them with a bad SME, and poor methods and software, they may still find a few of the damaging documents you do not want to produce. They may ask questions when they learn their coding has been changed from relevant to irrelevant. I am waiting for the next Qualcomm or Victor Stanley type case where a contract review lawyer blows the whistle on corrupt review practices. Qualcomm Inc. v. Broadcom Corp., No. 05-CV-1958-B(BLM) Doc. 593 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 6, 2007) (one honest low-level engineer testifying at trial blew the whistle on Qualcomm’s massive fraud to hide critical email evidence). I have heard stories from contract review attorneys, but the law provides them too little protection, and so far at least, they remain behind the scenes with horror stories.

One protection against both a corrupt SME, and SME with too little expertise and experience, is for the SME to be the attorney in charge of the trial of the case, or at least one who works closely with them so as to get their input when needed. The job of the SME is to know relevance. In the law that means you must know how the ultimate arbitrator of relevance will rule – the judge assigned to your case. They determine truth. An SME’s own personal opinion is important, but ultimately of secondary importance to that of the judge. For that reason a good SME will often vary on the side of over-expansive relevance because they know from history that is what the judge is likely to allow in this type of case.

Judges-Peck_Grimm_FacciolaThis is a key point. The judges, not the attorneys, ultimately decide on close relevance and related discoverability issues. The head trial attorney interfaces with the judge and opposing counsel, and should have the best handle on what is or is not relevant or discoverable. A good SME can predict the judge’s rulings and, even if not perfect, can gain the judicial guidance needed in an efficient manner.

If the judge detects unethical conduct by the attorneys before them, including the attorney signing the Rule 26(g) response, they can and should respond harshly to punish the attorneys. See eg: Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 269 F.R.D. 497, 506 (D. Md. 2010). The Darth Vader’s of the world can be defeated. I have done it many times with the help of the presiding judge. You can too. You can win even if they personally attack both you and the judge. Been through that too.

Three Kinds of SMEs: Best, Average & Bad

bullseye_arrow_hitWhen your project has a good SME, one with both high knowledge levels and experience, with wisdom from having been there before, and knowing the judge’s views, then your review project is likely to succeed. That means you can attain both high recall of the relevant documents and also high precision. You do not waste much time looking at irrelevant documents.

When an SME has only medium expertise or experience, or both, then the expert tends to err on the side of over-inclusion. They tend to call grey area documents relevant because they do not know they are unimportant. They may also not understand the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governing discoverability. Since they do not know, they err on the side of inclusion. True experts know and so tend to be more precise than rookies. The medium level SMEs may, with diligence, also attain high recall, but it takes them longer to get there. The precision is poor. That means wasted money reviewing documents of no value to the case, documents of only marginal relevance that would not survive any rational scrutiny of Rule 26(b)(1).

When the SME lacks knowledge and wisdom, then both recall and precision can be poor, even if the software and methods are otherwise excellent. A bad SME can ruin everything. They may miss most of the relevant documents and end up producing garbage without even knowing it. That is the fault of the person in charge of relevance, the SME, not the fault of predictive coding, nor the fault of the rest of the e-discovery review team.

relevance_targets

top_smeIf the SME assigned to a document review project, especially a project using active machine learning, is a high-quality SME, then they will have a clear grasp of relevance. They will know what types of documents the review team is looking for. They will understand the probative value of certain kids of documents in this particular case. Their judgments on Rule 26(b)(1) criteria as to discoverability will be consistent, well-balanced and in accord with that of the governing judge. They will instruct the whole team, including the machine, on what is true relevant, on what is discoverable and what is not. With this kind of top SME, if the software, methods, including project management, and rest of the review team are also good, then high recall and precision are very likely.

aver_smeIf the SME is just average, and is not sure about many grey area documents, then they will not have a clear grasp of relevance. It will be foggy at best. They will not know what types of documents the review team is looking for. SMEs like this think that any arrow that hits a target is relevant, not knowing that only the red circle in the center is truly relevant. They will not understand the probative value of certain kids of documents in this particular case. Their judgments on Rule 26(b)(1) criteria as to discoverability will not be perfectly consistent, and will end up either too broad or too narrow, and may not be in accord with that of the governing judge. They will instruct the whole team, including the machine, on what might be relevant and discoverable in an unfocused, vague, and somewhat inconsistent manner. With this kind of SME, if the software and methods, including project management, and rest of the review team are also good, and everyone is very diligent, high recall is still possible, but precision is unlikely. Still, the project will be unnecessarily expensive.

The bad SME has multiple possible targets in mind. They just search without really knowing what they are looking for. They will instruct the whole team, including the machine, on what might be relevant and discoverable in an confused, constantly shifting and often contradictory manner. Their obtuse explanations of relevance have little to do with the law, nor the case at hand. They probably have a very poor grasp of Rule 26(b)(1) Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Their judgments on 26(b)(1) criteria as to discoverability, if any, will be inconsistent, imbalanced and sometimes irrational. This kind of SME probably does not even know the judge’s name, much less a history of their relevance rulings in this type of case. With this kind of SME, even if the software and methods are otherwise good, there is little chance that high recall or precision will be attained. An SME like this does not know when their search arrow has hit center of the target. In fact, it may hit the wrong target entirely. Their thought-world looks like this.

poor_sme

A document project governed by a bad SME runs a high risk of having to be redone because important information is missed. That can be a very costly disaster. Worse, a document important to the producing parties case can be missed and the case lost because of that error. In any event, the recall and precision will both be low. The costs will be high. The project will be confused and inefficient. Projects like this are hard to manage, no matter how good the rest of the team. In projects like this there is also a high risk that privileged documents will accidentally be produced. (There is always some risk of this in today’s high volume ESI world, even with a top-notch SME and review team. A Rule 502(d) Order should always be entered for the protection of all parties.)

Method and Software

The SME and his or her implementing team is just one part of the quality triangle. The other two are Method of electronic document review and Software used for electronic document review.

predictive_coding_quality_triangle-variation

Obviously the e-Discovery Team takes Method very seriously. That is one reason we are constantly tinkering with and improving our methods. We released the breakthrough Predictive Coding 3.0 last year, following 2015 TREC research, and this year, after TREC 2016, we released version 4.0. You could fairly say we are obsessed with the topic. We also focus on the importance of good project management and communications. No matter how good your SME, and how good your software, if your methods are poor, so too will your results in most of your projects. How you go about a document review project, how you manage it, is all-important to the quality of the end product, the production.

predictive_coding_4-0_webThe same holds true for software. For instance, if your software does not have active machine learning capacities, then it cannot do predictive coding. The method is beyond the reach of the software. End of story. The most popular software in the world right now for document review does not have that capacity. Hopefully that will change soon and I can stop talking around it.

Mr_EDREven among the software that has active machine learning, some are better than others. It is not my job to rank and compare software. I do not go around asking for demos and the opportunity to test other software. I am too busy for that. Everyone knows that I currently prefer to use EDR. It is the software by Kroll Ontrack that I use everyday. I am not paid to endorse them and I do not. (Unlike almost every other e-discovery commentator out there, no vendors pay me a dime.) I just share my current preference and pass along cost-savings to my clients.

I will just mention that the only other e-discovery vendor to participate with us at TREC is Catalyst. As most of my readers know, I am a fan of the founder and CEO, John Tredennick. There are several other vendors with good software too. Look around and be skeptical. But whatever you do, be sure the software you use is good. Even a great carpenter with the wrong tools cannot build a good house.

predictive_coding_quality_triangleOne thing I have found, that is just plain common sense, is that with good software and good methods, including good project management, you can overcome many weaknesses in SMEs, except for dishonesty or repeated, gross-negligence. The same holds true for all three corners of the quality triangle. Strength in one can, to a certain extent, make up for weaknesses in another.

To be continued …


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