ClariLegal recently had the privilege to interview Debbie Reynolds, Director of e-Discovery and the Data Privacy Officer at Eimer Stahl. Although her educational and early career backgrounds were in library science, Debbie was always interested in data and data flows. Debbie quickly moved into the e-discovery industry, where she had since worked for over twenty years. At Eimer Stahl, Debbie notes the firm, because it often handles large cases that stretch on for years, has internal resources to handle e-discovery needs; however, Debbie says the firm does outsource collections. Debbie further notes that Eimer Stahl may outsource legal support projects when the firm needs a unique tool or service for a project which is better suited to an external vendor resource.
Asked to define "value," Debbie says that value is "being able to get a quality product in the end for a reasonable cost." However, Debbie notes that value is not and should never be a “race-to-the-bottom” on pricing. Instead, Debbie argues that value can only be accomplished with “quality of interaction and…of service and support." Debbie adds that a lower-cost vendor may be providing less service, and as a result, it costs the client even more "in money…[or] more time that you're going to spend managing that vendor relationship”.
As for how she delivers value in her role, Debbie believes that, as a boutique law firm, Eimer Stahl need in-house litigation support services because if it were to rely on third-party vendors, the firm would be lower on those vendors' radar than the larger international firms. She says the internal e-discovery resources she oversees provides value by allowing the firm to “be nimble enough to be able to respond” to client needs and to be able to focus on delivering core legal services. She notes that having internal resources also gives Eimer Stahl flexibility in billing for e-discovery since the firm may not be obligated to charge clients for the cost of third-party vendors.
Flipping the value question on the outside vendors she works with, Debbie notes how vendors the firm works with have often made internal changes to address the firm’s concerns. Debbie says vendors provide value when they provide service responsive to the firm’s needs – for example in Debbie’s case, the vendor being capable of self-managing to free Debbie to oversee all her cases – asserting that work "isn't about checking a box."
Regarding measuring value, Debbie says she doesn't focus exclusively on quantitative metrics – "bits and bytes," as Debbie puts it. Instead, Debbie evaluates the delivery of value by how well the vendors live up to their promises, both explicit and implicit, about the vendor’s quality and how well they will perform.
We asked Debbie for her opinion on how well the concept of value is understood and communicated in the legal industry. Debbie started by noting that the concept of value is different depending on who one talks to. Debbie sees each side of the legal industry – clients and vendors – as viewing the concept of value differently. Debbie views legal service vendors as having difficulty in articulating to clients why the cost isn't or shouldn't be the final arbiter on the value the vendor brings to the table – why, for example, "the more expensive one is better.”
With regards to communication, Debbie believes that the client side wants to know how vendors are going to make the client’s work easier. For Debbie, one of the best ways for vendors to communicate value to clients is to listen to how the client defines value, then talk to the client about the vendor’s value propositions in the language the client uses. Debbie notes that vendors may have several different value propositions; therefore, it is critical for vendors to communicate each one of those value propositions to the client. In her experience at Eimer Stahl, Debbie says she always asks the client to describe their value proposition and the value proposition the client is looking for from Eimer Stahl. Debbie notes that listening to the client is critical, and says that most clients indicate they want Eimer Stahl, or any legal counsel, to be truthful and provide the advice the client needs, rather than the advice the client may want or "just telling them yes."
We also asked Debbie for her views on how the RFP process and vendor management tools facilitate communication and understanding of value. Debbie starts by noting one of the most significant pain points of the RFP process and vendor management tools facilitate communication and understanding of value. Debbie starts by noting one of the most significant pain points of the RFP process – each vendor has a different metric for pricing, resulting in clients looking at disparate information that can't be compared together. Instead, Debbie argues that the RFP process and vendor management can facilitate communication and understanding of value if vendors must utilize client-provided templates so that each proposal uses the same metrics and terminology and can be compared to one another. Debbie also argues that it is best practice to give vendors assumptions for the project for them to base their pricing on since clients often have difficulty comparing top-level pricing due to bundling and other pricing features. As for vendor management tools, Debbie says she hasn't seen many independent tools on the market, though clients and vendors do make use of in-house dashboards for project management. Debbie notes that many other vendors still rely on compiling reports or static dashboards to interface with clients.
To close, we gave the floor to Debbie for her final thoughts. Debbie noted her admiration for vendor management and selection platform such as ClariLegal, opining that parties in the legal industry “do the best they can with what they have…which [is often] not a good thing”. Debbie warns that clients should always remain cognizant of the current costs of services, particularly as projects drag on for years, since improving technology drives down costs in e-discovery. Debbie suggests clients always have employees who understand the cost and the impact it can have on a project.
Disclaimer: The statements of the interviewees in the Value Article Series are opinions and observations of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of their respective employers.
About Debbie Reynolds
Debbie Reynolds is a global thought-leader and advisor to Fortune 500 Companies on data privacy and electronic evidence handling in high-stakes litigation. Ms. Reynolds is the Director of EimerStahl Discovery Solutions LLC, an affiliate of Eimer Stahl LLP, a Data Privacy Officer for Eimer Stahl LLP, and an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University and Cleveland Marshall College of Law. Ms. Reynolds is a published author, speaker and frequent media presence related to data privacy and eDiscovery issues.
About the Authors
James Johnson is principal attorney of First Venture Legal, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based law practice focused on corporate and transactional law for very-early-stage startups. James assists entrepreneurs and small business owners with corporate formation and structuring, contracts, commercial law,
employment matters, and early-stage fundraising. His practice utilizes alternative fee structures to deliver value-based service to early-stage ventures. In addition to practicing law, James works with ClariLegal, focusing on building out its innovative platform and spreading the word of ClariLegal’s mission to reduce cost and complexity in legal vendor selection and management for law firms and corporations.
Cash Butler is the founder of ClariLegal (www.clarilegal.com), a preferred Litigation/Legal vendor management platform that matches corporations and law firms with the right vendors who have the right service offering at the right price. A seasoned legal technology innovator, Cash has over 18 years of experience in the legal vertical market, primarily working in eDiscovery, litigation & compliance. Cash is an expert in value pricing and vendor management.