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Speculations on metrics revealed by a survey on e-discovery and law departments

Unable to pass up metrics that pertain to law departments, unwilling not to squeeze metrics for what might drip out, I will confess that a recent sentence left me puzzled. In Met. Corp. Counsel, March 2012 at 16, an FTI consultant shares some findings from FTI’s interviews with 31 in-house counsel. The topic was e-discovery and his metric is that e-discovery service providers to the law departments had dropped in one year “from an average of five providers in 2010 to a 2011 average of three.”

What to make of that finding? First, let us assume that the methodology was sound enough. That is, 31 in-house senior lawyers who handle discovery issues were reasonably representative and the question was clear and the group year-over-year was sufficiently the same, etc. (I noted that three out of four work in companies of $10 billion or more in annual revenue, which alone makes them highly unusual.). Second, let us assume that the median change was comparable, not that one law department that had used a large number of providers drastically cut its rolls and lowered the group average. Third, let us assume that FTI, a large and capable service provider, did not bend the findings to promote its value proposition: hire just us, not lots of others, because we can do it all.

Does, then, the 33% drop in the average number of providers hired portend drastic consolidation in the industry? Does it mean law departments have virtually eliminated some particular kind of provider (consultants, forensic specialists, hosting services, temporary staffers) or is the shrinkage shared across them all? Even more telling, and going to the nub of the implicit benefit, has the proclaimed drop in the number of retentions saved money or improved quality?