Saturday, July 19, 2008

Where is the value add in litigation support?; bigger is not necessarily better...

Over the last 7 years we have seen a tremendous growth in the Litigation Support Industry as shown by companies posting record sales volumes and legitimate support providers being gobbled up by companies with very little knowledge of the industry who only see opportunity to maximize profits for their investors. Capitalism at its finest has made this industry one of the most sought after today.

Its a fairly simple proposition to start a litsupport business; one can simply get on the Internet buy some software and read white papers written by others. Providing just enough information to allow one to be considered a professional; or if you're daring an expert. The next step is to come up with a catch phrase to sell your newly acquired skill to gain work from a law firm or corporate general counsel. With a wee bit of luck you land a project, get overwhelmed, and outsource the work unknowing to your client so that you can make the deadline. After mitigating your way with the client explaining delays in processing and such, the client discovers an issue that you have no idea on how to support.

There are many National companies in this industry that operate with that exact approach. The national providers of litigation support industry have the ability to meet with clients and present their proven solutions and success patterns to wow the client. Most clients feel more comfortable with a house hold name simply for the fact that no one wants to be a "test dummy"with the localized vendor who claims to have this new service offering. Especially in "high profile" cases.

Often times national litsupport providers operate very well and truly support the entire litigation lifecycle. This tends to be the norm, especially when you're being charged 4x more than a competing localized litsupport provider. For one automatically assumes the the justification in paying more is based on the perception that the larger provider is more versed and has more resources to handle any challenges that may arise.

Here's how I see this paradigm:
Yes, national litigation support providers have greater capacity.
Yes, national litigation support providers have more Senior Level employees.
Yes, national litigation support providers have more resources.

What they lack?
Customer Appreciation

Here lately I have been engaged in conversations with prospect clients where they have been working with a household name national provider on various cases. Most times the client has been satisfied with their ability to get them up and running quickly to review the document collection. The client has been able to search and cull documents at the speed of light in lieu of the fast approaching deadline to produce. The national provider creates the production sets and delivers to the client within 3 days or less. The client receives the data and begins to spot check the production before producing to opposing counsel and/or the Judge and finds what appears to be...forgive the error.

What to do now? There are only hours before the production is due and the case gets thrown out for failure to produce. Naturally the client calls the national provider to demand answers for how to resolve. In most cases the client finds that the IDK (I don't know) dance begins as they are referred to person after person before the answer is given "...that we will look into the problem and get back with you". In the mean time the client has assigned a document clerk or paralegal to rifle through every image on the production disk to identify other problematic images. Therefore, while still waiting for a return call from the provider, in less than an hour you call back the provider to disclose your findings. The provider begins to review your findings and says "....we can definitely address this problem further...we can have new images ready for you tomorrow...we will need to charge as it is a more intense process to correct...which goes beyond the scope of our initial agreement..."

Now what? The client is still faced with the non-forgiving production deadline and at this point the OS factor (oh shit!). The savvy paralegal makes the suggestion to get the problematic native files sent via FTP download and do the conversion correction in-house, merge the corrections into the production set and get it out the door to opposing counsel.

The new problem. The client doesn't have the tools/resources to correct the files in-house nor the time to make the production set look consistent. The document clerk suggests, "...what about local provider x located here..." As more desperation sets in local provider x is called and responds with, "....we are most willing to assist...can we come over in the next 15 minutes to evaluate and provide a realistic time frame to complete..." Within 15 minutes local provider x is within the client office and recognizes where the problem exist and provides a solution for how to correct in time to meet the ever encroaching production deadline.

Local provider x takes and completes the project in less time than originally anticipated; delivers work back to the client; client makes production deadline; client now turns to local provider x and informs them that they will need a break on the pricing as it will be a firm expense because the cost for corrections can't be justified to their client.

The nut in today's blog is quite some instances when attempting to compare apples to apples between your local provider and the national provider the deciding factor needs to more focused on level of service and post production responsiveness. Far too often I have seen my clients get burned on the cookie cutter services of national providers and the rigidness of their ability to be creative; all while hiding behind the shield of "the services agreement". Some will read this post and claim that I'm way off response to them is it will happen one day and local vendor x won't hold it against you. Just give them a chance on the next "large case" better than they got for this one.

My initial experience with this industry, in 1991, was working with folks who understood the benefit of hard work and proved their worth to clients by making sure instructions were clearly followed and they performed above and beyond the client request. These same individuals also made it a point that before one could advance in the company he/she exhibited the desire to learn. This value system has lead to producing some of the most respected business owners, business executives, sales professionals and project managers in our industry today. This same value system also has created a long sense of trust among those of us that continue to pass it along to those in their employ now. We follow one simple creed:

"...never give up for there is always a way...just think about it and do your homework...a solution exists..."