The myriad of published material regarding predictive coding technology has almost universally promised reduced costs and lighter burdens for the eDiscovery world. Indeed, until the now famous order was issued in the Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe case “approving” the use of predictive coding, many in the industry had parroted this “lower costs/lighter burdens” mantra like the retired athletes who chanted “tastes great/less filling” during the 1970s Miller Lite commercials. But a funny thing happened on the way to predictive coding satisfying the cost cutting mandate of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 1: the same old eDiscovery story of high costs and lengthy delays are plaguing the initial outlay of this technology. The three publicized cases involving predictive coding are particularly instructive on this early, but troubling development.
Predictive Coding Cases
In Moore v. Publicis Groupe, the plaintiffs’ attempt to recuse Judge Peck has diverted the spotlight from the costs and delays associated with use of predictive coding. Indeed, the parties have been wrangling for months over the parameters of using this technology for defendant MSL’s document review. During that time, each side has incurred substantial attorney fees and other costs to address fairly routine review issues. This tardiness figures to continue as the parties now project that MSL’s production will not be complete until September 7, 2012. Even that date seems too sanguine, particularly given Judge Peck’s recent observation about the slow pace of production: “You’re now woefully behind schedule already at the first wave.” Moreover, Judge Peck has suggested on multiple occasions that a special master be appointed to address disagreements over relevance designations. Special masters, production delays, additional briefings and related court hearings all lead to the inescapable conclusion that the parties will be saddled with a huge eDiscovery bill (despite presumptively lower review costs) due to of the use of predictive coding technology.
The Kleen Products v. Packing Corporation case is also plagued by cost and delay issues. As explained in our post on this case last month, the plaintiffs are demanding a “do-over” of the defendants’ document production, insisting that predictive coding technology be used instead of keyword search and other analytical tools. Setting aside plaintiffs’ arguments, the costs the parties have incurred in connection with this motion are quickly mounting. After submitting briefings on the issues, the court has now held two hearings on the matter, including a full day of testimony from the parties’ experts. With another “Discovery Hearing” now on the docket for May 22nd, predictive coding has essentially turned an otherwise routine document production query into an expensive, time consuming sideshow with no end in sight.
Cost and delay issues may very well trouble the parties in the Global Aerospace v. Landow Aviation matter, too. In Global Aerospace, the court acceded to the defendants’ request to use predictive coding technology over the plaintiffs’ objections. Despite allowing the use of such technology, the court provided plaintiffs with the opportunity to challenge the “completeness or the contents of the production or the ongoing use of predictive coding technology.” Such a condition essentially invites plaintiffs to re-litigate their objections through motion practice. Moreover, like the proverbial “exception that swallows the rule,” the order allows for the possibility that the court could withdraw its approval of predictive coding technology. All of which could lead to seemingly endless discovery motions, production “re-dos” and inevitable cost and delay issues.
Better Times Ahead?
At present, the Da Silva Moore, Kleen Products and Global Aerospace cases do not suggest that predictive coding technology will “secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” Nevertheless, there is room for considerable optimism that predictive coding will ultimately succeed. Technological advances in the industry will provide greater transparency into the black box of predictive coding technology that to date has not existed. Additional advances should also lead to easy-to-use workflow management consoles, which will in turn increase defensibility of the process and satisfy legitimate concerns regarding production results, such as those raised by the plaintiffs in Moore and Global Aerospace.
Technological advances that also increase the accuracy of first generation predictive coding tools should yield greater understanding and acceptance about the role predictive coding can play in eDiscovery. As lawyers learn to trust the reliability of transparent predictive coding, they will appreciate how this tool can be deployed in various scenarios (e.g., prioritization, quality assurance for linear review, full scale production) and in connection with existing eDiscovery technologies. In addition, such understanding will likely facilitate greater cooperation among counsel, a lynchpin for expediting the eDiscovery process. This is evident from the Moore, Kleen Products and Global Aerospace cases, where a lack of cooperation has caused increased costs and delays.
With the promise of transparency and simpler workflows, predictive coding technology should eventually live up to its billing of helping organizations discover their information in an efficient, cost effective and defensible manner. As for now, the “promise” of first generation predictive coding tools appears to be nothing more than that, leaving organizations looking like the cash-strapped “Monopoly man,” wondering where there litigation dollars have gone.