You get what you pay for. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You have to spend money to make money. These cliches are readily accepted in business but have historically been anathema to legal practitioners, whose time is quite literally revenue.
Back when Westlaw was new, you may have considered purchasing it to be extravagant when your firm already had a law library. But times change. The commonly held belief that avoiding investment in time-saving technology not only lowers the cost of practice but may even generate billable hours is being challenged by ever-increasing technological support for legal work. Software helping attorneys do everything from document review to deposition video synchronization to case chronology creation to time tracking may come at a cost, but increasingly these platforms warrant lawyers’ consideration as comparatively cheap insurance against some of the hidden costs of ignoring them.
Free-is-freeing ideology informs activities that occur in all stages of the litigation lifecycle, with particularly heavy impact on areas such as deposition review and witness assessment. Here are five ways in which “free” is the most expensive possible process to support these efforts:
“Free” obscures risk
You don’t know what you don’t know
The risks of “unknown unknowns” to case strategy and specifically deposition review can go unnoticed by attorneys who leverage “free” software tools to do this work. Identifying key excerpts of testimony with, for instance, Ctrl + F searches in a free PDF viewer, at best return only what one already knows to look for — and even then, only if the deponent happened to utter those keywords verbatim. As a result, free search methods like this one effectively preclude litigators from ensuring that they’ve found the best possible designations to support their story -- a risk almost certainly more expensive than “free.”
Doom and gloom notwithstanding, de-risking “free” deposition review doesn’t have to be expensive. In the example above, opting to pay for a modern deposition review platform that supports powerful search techniques would eliminate “unknown unknowns” at a far lower cost than leaving a case vulnerable to potential — and potentially expensive — gaps in strategy.
“Free” doesn’t incentivize improvement
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Traditionally, firms haven’t given much thought to their deposition review process, because it likely doesn’t present or create any noticeable problems. Developing case strategy with the aid of, say, legacy software you paid $100 for in 2004 may feel free — which is precisely why it doesn’t inspire improvement.
Adopting a paid solution to deposition review challenges your team currently addresses for free empowers you to reimagine and transform a nothing-to-lose approach into additional case value and even potential revenue opportunities. For example, the right software platform can automate the manual process by which your team summarizes depositions, empowering you to find opportunities in those narratives to better prepare for your next deposition or write a more compelling motion. And once your team is made aware of how much higher you can set the efficiency bar, you’ll only become more encouraged to clear it.
“Free” precludes substantive legal work
Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things
If yours is like most firms, you rely on manual work in lieu of technology during multiple stages of litigation. Unfortunately, performing repetitive, low-value work yourself as a “free” solution can rack up considerable costs both to the strength of your case and the time you have to build it in. Say each attorney on a case team marks up their own PDF copy of each deposition transcript and then repeats that process for each discovery and/or motions phase. At best, these hours will only yield work product already created from the initial review, while simultaneously commandeering time that could have been spent on higher-value work.
Paying to automate or streamline work like this that doesn’t require legal judgment is dirt-cheap when you consider the billables you’re returned that can then be reallocated to more strategic efforts.
“Free” only moves costs around
There’s no such thing as a free lunch
Foregoing paid investment in the case development process doesn’t reduce costs as often as it merely stashes them elsewhere. For example, in lieu of software that helps attorneys create and manage witness performance assessments, the right expert can only be sought via firm-wide emails sent for every case — never mind consulting work product that might have immediately signaled a candidate’s potential fit. Similarly, eschewing the seemingly high cost of deposition video synchronization may only save money until a case team attempts to review videos and transcripts together, must compel a witness to testify at trial in place of video-not-taken, or misses impeachment risk that deposition video would have made plain.
You and your clients will incur deposition review costs in some combination of dollars, risk, and time. When deciding where to pay, remember that neither risk nor time can be predicted or controlled nearly as readily as dollars intentionally put towards curtailing them.
“Free” can’t be customized
If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one
As many of us have learned from wearing masks during this pandemic, “one size fits all” is rarely true. Attorneys who specialize in a practice area may discover that trying to customize a “free” deposition review tool (like the PDF viewer on their firm-issued computer) to the precise needs of their litigation group can be far more trouble than any case is worth.
Investment in modern deposition review software can pay dividends, such as in case teams’ ability to create a custom set of issue tags that they can standardize on when annotating depositions and taking designations, or with which to assess witnesses per performance factors most relevant to a particular case. And if adoption of such a platform broadens to include other case teams, the total potential value of their attorneys’ collective work product can only lend more power to future case development by anyone at the firm.
It has never been more expensive for practitioners to continue relying on “free” solutions to their deposition review challenges. The potential added value combined with reduced risk to case strategy makes technological support for litigation the lowest-cost way to consistently over-deliver to your clients.