Discovery As Art, Science, and Shared Service
For the past four years, “simplification” has become a key theme at General Electric Company, a “thread that is woven through everything,” explains Farrah Pepper, Executive Counsel for Discovery at GE Corporate. With the simplification effort has come the creation of multiple shared services centers that are now known collectively as “the GE store.” One of the law department’s simplification initiatives has been to create the GE Discovery Center of Excellence, designed to centralize and internalize legal processes and protocols across the enterprise. Pepper calls it “our way of contributing.”
Since she joined the company in 2012, Pepper says the 1,200 -lawyer law department has been experimenting with value levers. As the creator of a practice in discovery for a law firm, Pepper was the ideal choice to realize GE’s enterprise-level vision about discovery. Striving for strategy, efficiency, and a shared approach, she and her team stood up the COE within a year.
Jennifer Lawler, Christine Hasiotis,
Farrah Pepper, Patrick Kennedy,
What makes discovery ideal for a shared services approach? Information overload and the data explosion, in large part: Discovery growing pains come from multiple sources of ESI, increasing volume, and a lack of competency across the bench and bar, Pepper says. It brings together law, technology, people, and project management. “It can be unwieldy, costly, and inefficient—a crushing burden.” Although discovery itself is very process-oriented, the creation of the COE was not. No standard protocols outline the steps: “There is no single right way to do it,” Pepper says. By bringing together a top-notch team of attorneys and specialists and letting people flex their creativity, the Discovery COE reclaimed ownership of the discovery process for GE and realized an end-to-end vision of matter management that is baked into the approach.
The Discovery COE team supporting Pepper, a lean and powerful group of in-house consultants, sits at the Electric Insurance Company in Beverly, MA, a financially consolidated affiliate of GE. Its members provide advice to business teams and outside counsel at the beginning of discovery matters on the optimal strategy and approach for collecting, processing, searching, reviewing, hosting, and producing documents; and offers project management to ensure fast, efficient matter launches and training.
“We are rigorous about the case kickoff that brings everyone together to talk about the basics, set expectations about budgets and communication, as well as create a shared understanding of the impact of the timeline,” Pepper says.
Once underway, the work is guided by standardized protocols and work streams, as well as key templates that ensure consistency. The team’s project management skills and sophisticated internal document review operation mean that discovery can be conducted internally, reducing reliance on outside counsel. A new policy has eliminated almost all first-level document review by law firms.
The Discovery COE developed enterprise-wide global master service agreements and statements of work for ease of contracting with vendors. They initiated and ran a selection process to establish a single panel of outside vendors that provide all discovery services to GE. This has saved hundreds of hours in one-on-one contract negotiations and reduced time to set up new matters with vendors by 78 percent. In 2015 alone, 96,340 hours of document review were shifted away from law firms to the vendor panel.
When outside counsel does become involved, they have been trained in discovery protocols that improve communication and promote repeatable best practices. Each panel firm has a Discovery Point of Contact (DPOC) at the partner level, who is responsible for overseeing GE discovery work. A set of discovery task codes tailored specifically to capture key spend metrics allows the Discovery COE to gain deep insight into spending and resource allocation.
That spending has declined considerably since the Discovery COE was established at the beginning of 2013. In its first year, savings exceeded initial projections by 500 percent; they continue to average 25 percent year-over-year since 2013.
In a multi-national conglomerate business structure, one would think that getting varied businesses to utilize the Discovery COE would be a challenge. Pepper and her team leveraged an internal education process to spread the word about the Discovery COE and its capabilities, and the change management process was supported by corporate culture. But the real proof was in the results.
“People are not required to engage with us, but they are required to follow the protocols. At GE, value speaks for itself. We sat down with people to discover their pain points, and designed our program to address them. Once people try it, they keep coming back,” Pepper says. In fact, the Discovery COE has seen 400 percent growth in clients since inception.
Pepper also reports greater budget predictability through the increased use of AFAs and use of authorization amount limits in SOWs. “We’ve done a lot of experimentation with value levers as we seek to understand what value is,” she says.
“It’s not just about rates. There is artistry in all of this.”