Why Is Discovery So Expensive? And Does It Have to Be?

11 May 2021 by UV eDiscovery pricing

Takeaway: eDiscovery is expensive because some vendors skew the system to stay included in the eDiscovery process. And they charge a lot for services you can often handle yourself. The solution? Use affordable Cloud-based eDiscovery that puts you in control.

Modern eDiscovery can be very expensive. And law firms often spend millions of dollars over just two or three years.

Surveys from sources like the American Bar Association and Above the Law can tell us a lot about eDiscovery in 2021. For example, we can estimate that a civil case in the U.S. has (on average) 130 GB of data gathered from about 10–15 custodians. And subscribing to an eDiscovery service can cost up to $200,000 per year, not including a $40,000 yearly maintenance fee. Often, the software is hard to use (you’ll be stuck reading a 150+ page manual) and you might need an eDiscovery specialist to help you out (at $440 per hour).

Most of these expenses exist because some vendors skew the system in their favor. They stay embedded in the eDiscovery process and charge outrageous amounts for their services.

Vendors might charge you user license fees (up to $1000 per user, per month), in addition to the following:

1. You’ll pay to have your data ‘processed’ (about $125 per GB that you upload).

eDiscovery applications let you run advanced searches on your case. But to set things up for this, your files first need to be processed. Here’s what that involves:

  • Duplicate files get flagged. Up to 50% of your files could be duplicates. For example, a colleague emails you a file that you already have. That’s an ‘exact’ duplicate. Or, you correct a few typos in a Word document and save it as a different file. This is a ‘near’ duplicate. It’s basically the same file, but not quite. Your software needs to find these duplicates and offer you ways of dealing with them (i.e., leave duplicates untouched, tag them, hide them from search results, or delete them).
  • System files get flagged. When you upload whole folders, you’ll often be uploading ‘system’ files – e.g., .DAT, .DLL, .IDX, etc. These are files that your computer needs in order to run, but which aren’t part of your case. And just like with duplicates, they’ll waste your time. So your software will need to weed them out.
  • Files are converted into a common format. Your files come in different formats. You’ll have Word documents that need to be opened in Microsoft Word, spreadsheets that open with Excel, PDFs that need Adobe Acrobat, etc. By converting files into a common format, your eDiscovery software can now open them without their parent applications.
  • Embedded files get extracted. A video clip in a PowerPoint slide is an example of an embedded file. The slide is called the ‘parent’ document, and the video clip the ‘child’ document. By extracting the clip from the slide, you’ll now be able to search and review them both separately.

2. You’ll pay to have metadata extracted (about $550 per GB).

With electronic files, you get a lot of contextual information in the form of ‘metadata’. That is, data your computer records about a file when it’s created, edited, and passed on from user to user. Metadata could include things like who created the file, when it was last opened, who opened it, and so on. Think of it as a digital footprint that tracks the history of a document. And it’s extremely useful when building a case. For example, say a partner at a large law firm sends your client a document he’s worked on. Out of curiosity, she checks the document’s metadata and finds it was an associate – not the partner – who worked on the document. And yet she was billed at a partner’s rate. Metadata like this is invaluable but you’ll usually pay a lot to have it extracted. (Learn more about metadata for eDiscovery.)

3. You’ll pay to have your files reviewed (up to $1000 per GB).

Many vendors charge you to make sense of all your data. They’ll help create search terms to find important files, tag those files to add context, and help you redact privileged information. This may save you some time, but it will cost you much more than it needs to in the long run.

4. You’ll pay to have your files produced (e.g., $600 per GB to produce TIFF files).

Your vendor will charge you to produce files in one of the following ways:

  1. Native productions: Here, you keep files in their ‘native’ format (e.g., Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.). This way, you’ll be able to see the document laid out as it was created, without losing original material like comments, ‘track changes’, etc. (Learn more about native files.)
  2. PDF productions: The Portable Document Format (PDF) was created by Adobe in 1993. With native productions, you need specific software to open each file type. E.g., Microsoft Word for Word documents and Notepad for TXT files. With PDFs, though, all files are converted into a common PDF format that’s easy to open with any PDF reader.
  3. TIFF productions: The Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) was developed in the mid-1980s by the Aldus Corporation. And they are the original version of the standardized files that PDFs now represent. TIFFs were revolutionary decades ago, but nowadays, people prefer PDFs over TIFFs.
  4. A mix of native & PDFs/TIFFs: You’ll sometimes need a mixed production. For example, you could produce all word documents as PDFs, but Excel and TXT files as natives. (Here’s how to decide which production format to use.)

So, what’s the alternative to these sorts of expenses? Well, take eDiscovery vendors out of the picture. Choose Cloud-based software that’s affordable and easy to use.

The Cloud changes the way you engage with eDiscovery. Think of it as a global network of high-performance computer servers run by software giants like Amazon and Google. With the Cloud, smart eDiscovery providers get to lease storage space and computing power, instead of installing their own expensive servers. So, they pay less and pass the savings on to you. Most importantly, though, the simplicity of Cloud eDiscovery means they can design software that puts you back in control. You’ll be able to handle each step of eDiscovery yourself (including the ones discussed above) while your vendor sorts out any technical issues that pop up. (Learn more about Cloud eDiscovery.)

The right Cloud eDiscovery provider can cut your monthly bills dramatically. For example, let’s take a look at the eDiscovery service ‘GoldFynch’.

GoldFynch’s pricing is all-inclusive, so you don’t have to pay piecemeal for all the services we looked at earlier. Plus:

  • It costs just $27 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s significantly less than most comparable software. With GoldFynch, you know what you’re paying for exactly – its pricing is simple and readily available on the website.
  • It’s easy to budget for. GoldFynch charges only for storage (processing is free). So, choose from a range of plans (3 GB to 150+ GB) and know up front how much you’ll be paying. It takes just a few clicks to move from one plan to another, and billing is prorated – so you’ll pay only for the time you spend on any given plan. With legacy software, pricing is much less predictable.
  • It takes just minutes to get going. GoldFynch runs in the Cloud, so you use it through your web browser (Google Chrome recommended). No installation. No sales calls or emails. Plus, you get a free trial case (0.5 GB of data and a processing cap of 1 GB), without adding a credit card.
  • It’s simple to use. Many eDiscovery applications take hours to master. GoldFynch takes minutes. It handles a lot of complex processing in the background, but what you see is minimal and intuitive. Just drag-and-drop your files into GoldFynch and you’re good to go. Plus, it’s designed, developed, and run by the same team. So you get prompt and reliable tech support.
  • It keeps you flexible. To build a defensible case, you need to be able to add and delete files freely. Many applications charge to process each file you upload, so you’ll be reluctant to let your case organically shrink and grow. And this stifles you. With GoldFynch, you get unlimited processing for free. So, on a 3 GB plan, you could add and delete 5 GB of data at no extra cost – as long as there’s only 3 GB in your case at any point. And if you do cross 3 GB, your plan upgrades automatically and you’ll be charged for only the time spent on each plan. That’s the beauty of prorated pricing.
  • Access it from anywhere. And 24/7. All your files are backed up and secure in the Cloud.

Want to find out more about GoldFynch?