E-Discovery Vendor or Partner: It’s All in the Name

A quick glance at  Dictionary.com reveals the following definitions for the word ‘vendor’ vs. the word ‘partner’:

1.        a person or agency that sells.

1.        a person who shares or is associated with another in some action or endeavor; sharer; associate.

How do you and your organization view your relationship with your external e-discovery service provider(s), as those of a vendor, or those of a partner?  Frequently razzed about my overt avoidance of the word ‘vendor’ when seeking e-discovery RFP project consultations and bids at the onset of a new litigation matter, the word ‘vendor’ still never fails to leave a sour taste in my mouth. 

Determined to avoid any cheesy car-salesman or mass-produced widget-maker associations, I tried on several words before abandoning vendor and settling on partner:  ‘service provider,’ ‘shop,’ ‘technologist’ and finally ‘consultant’ were all given trial runs.  Even after committing to ‘partner,’ like any early attempt at habit-forming behavior, I talked the talk long before walking the walk, proudly declaring the banner of partner to identify a new vendor relationship to all within earshot range before actually believing in the promise and spoils that such a relationship might yield.

Over time, however, it seems I started believing my own hype, so much so that we are frequently commended for our quality relationships with our external e-discovery partners, thereby affording us the luxury of leveraging and re-using many of these inherent benefits across multiple cases and projects on a going-forward basis. 

Knowing the high stakes, high degree of complexity, and zero tolerance for error typically involved in e-discovery projects, it’s no wonder that many otherwise capable vendors have been given a bad rap when left only to do to as their base definition implies:  to sell, but not share, and therefore fail to provide the full suite of services otherwise available.  This is not to suggest, by any means, that many of the horrific vendor stories in existence are without merit, but rather to suggest that an essential ingredient for a successful outsourced e-discovery project engagement and quality end-product deliverable demands equal contributions from both sides of the aisle.

As a result, in our efforts to develop relationships with several best-of-breed e-discovery technology service providers in recent years, it seems that this remarkably simple yet critical distinction and relationship assessment has gone a long way toward building the foundations for those relationships.  Those relationships have in fact become genuine partnerships, offering many added benefits to our firm and our clients, such as preferred pricing, strategic insights and full candor disclosure proposed workflows and technologies under consideration for any given project – all services one would expect from a partner but not necessarily a vendor.

Some of you may be wondering how an organization goes about picking a potential partner from among one of the most volatile and rapidly growing vendor markets in the world, with a predicted market of $1.5 billion by 2013.[1]  Let’s further imagine that your organization is a law firm serving as outside counsel for publicly traded companies subject to serial litigation and therefore recurring e-discovery demands, whose inside counsel are barraged on a daily basis by a wellspring of overtures from one-stop e-discovery vendors offering to simply bypass outside counsel and bring e-discovery services in-house, lured by the panacea of a single end-to-end e-discovery solutions vendor.

Following the adoption of the 2006 FRCP E-Discovery Amendments, our E-Discovery Task Force took on a vendor evaluation and due diligence initiative beginning in 2007 with regular ongoing updates, arranging for a series of personal meetings, presentations and technology demonstrations from roughly forty e-discovery service providers after performing due diligence on now over 70 best-of-breed national, regional and local e-discovery service providers.  Even armed with a powerful and ever-growing arsenal of now preferred partners resulting from this initiative, we still find it challenging to remain informed about the ever-changing foray of service providers regularly entering and exiting the e-discovery marketplace.

It was with this thought in mind that I welcomed receipt of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for E-Discovery Software research report, published a few weeks ago, and the first of its kind from this independent IT market researcher.

Expecting the typical pomp and circumstance in the introductory overview language, I made the near fatal error of leaping ahead to Page 13 to find the section describing market “Leaders.”  Had I done this, however, I would have missed the first of many juicy morsels found on Page 2, for example, and several subsequent pages, stating the prediction that consolidation among enterprise e-discovery vendors will have eliminated one in every four vendors by 2014. 

While I took exception with a few perhaps over-simplified assumptions used, I found myself agreeing with many others, and, more importantly, found the evaluation criteria used to be applied fairly and consistently.  Whether new to the e-discovery scene, or a veteran simply trying to gather some hard-to-come-by independent information about your existing relationships, this report definitely offers a slew of valuable insights about your next potential e-discovery partner.  Indeed, I discovered our firm maintains relationships with 14 of the 24 vendors, aagghh, I mean, partners, analyzed and selected for inclusion by Gartner in this particular Magic Quadrant.

Dear Gartner:  Now, about the use of your word ‘vendor’…

[1] Source:  “Magic Quadrant for E-Discovery Software”; Garner Research, Inc., ID Number:  G00212221, Publication Date:  May 13, 2011.


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