Once upon a time, if you lived in Greenville, SC and needed to get yourself to Asheville, NC, you would have two choices for transportation: If you were lucky enough to own a horse or mule, you could have it get you where you needed to go, or you could start walking. Either one of those modes of transportation took you over the Poinsett Bridge on the road between the two cities.
As you can probably tell from the photo, it’s been a while since people really depended on the bridge and traveled over it on a regular basis. That’s not because it didn’t do the job, but as the times changed and the technology available to get us from place to place advanced, the little bridge just wasn’t efficient any more. Sure, it’s great as a historical artifact, and I personally love the fact that it’s been kept around. If nothing else, it’s a fun place to hike around and take pictures. But it’s not how I travel up to Asheville.
No, the road that the bridge was part of has been completely replaced. Now instead of crossing over this crumbling, narrow, old bridge, we roll up US Route 25 through this area of South Carolina. That’s because route 25 can handle the automotive traffic that the old Asheville Road just couldn’t handle anymore.
When I think back on those times of tremendous technological advancement, I can almost picture one person, trudging their way up to the bridge on horseback or wagon. I’d imagine they have planned the entire day, if not the weekend, for taking the trip back and forth. Meanwhile, those of using the latest technology, were going up for a mid-afternoon meal and getting back by the time it got dark. When we try and convince this fellow up on his horse how efficient the automobile is, I can almost guarantee what his objection would have been:
“I’ve always done it this way!”
In the legal world, this is the common refrain we hear when we talk about using new technology. There was a time when we exchanged discovery using paper, because that’s all we had. When we started getting electronic documents, word processor files, spreadsheets, etc., we printed them out in order to put them in a box and send them to the other side. That’s because putting paper in a box was how we had always done things. It took a while for us to realize that we had only done things that way because we didn’t have any better options.
After that we made the huge leap to taking all of our computer files and turning them into PDFs. Great, we’re not printing them any longer! Great, we found a format that everyone can open on their computer, with no need for special software, or tools! Even better, when my client needs to send me documents for review, we can have them send the documents out to a vendor, who will create PDFs for me, with Bates numbers and everything!
We all thought that was fantastic once upon a time, didn’t we? Now we know better. Or at least, we should know better. Now we know that when opposing counsel demands the metadata of those documents, having all those PDFs doesn’t help me meet that request. Now we know that when I need to review those documents, and want to de-duplicate across my collection, cull the amount of data to be reviewed using date ranges, or use any of the advanced technology that is hitting the market, that those PDFs aren’t exactly the most useful thing. In their day, they were the bridge that got us to where we needed to go in Litigation, but now the bridge is old, and crumbling.
There are lots of little ways in which we cling to what we’ve always done. One of the things I’ve seen over and over again, in my years working in IT and now Litigation Support, is that people are always reluctant to give up how they do things, even when how they do things doesn’t even make sense any more. We learn how to use a word processor and want to create tables in it instead of learning to use a spreadsheet. We want to use spreadsheet after spreadsheet instead of learning how to create a database, and on and on. Like that guy saddling up his horse, we’ve always gotten our work done this way, therefore it must be the correct way. Never mind the new technology; I can’t use that if it doesn’t allow me to do what I’ve always done.
In other words, I can’t drive a car up to Asheville, because my horse doesn’t fit.
Remember, getting the horse to Asheville isn’t the goal. It’s what we used to have to do because it was the only tool we had. Far too many people in the legal industry are forgetting what the goal of an eDiscovery process is. They are confusing their workflow with the goal. The workflow is never the goal. Most of the time, the workflow exists not because it is the gold-standard unto itself, but because that was how we needed to get things done with the tools we had then. As technology advances, we would be remiss in digging our heels in and demanding that the technology conform to our workflow because sometimes the technology advances far beyond our current workflow, and it simply isn’t needed any more.
For example, it’s silly to spend the time, and cost, to create TIFF images of every document before we review them when we have plenty of options available to view those documents in their native or near-native formats. We simply don’t need the images. Just because that’s the way you always did things with your old tools doesn’t mean it makes sense to continue doing it. Reviewing everything in an imaged format was once part of your workflow, but it was never the goal. It’s what we did because back then we had to. Doing it now is just trying to squeeze that horse into my car.
Going forward, stay self-aware. Be willing to recognize when you are clinging to what’s always been done, and be open to the possibility that what’s always been done doesn’t need to be what we always do. Improved technology can add a great deal of efficiency that doesn’t exist in our current workflows, and the process is better for everyone when it’s more efficient.