eDiscovery in SA - could 2018 be SA’s most important year thus far?

A very Happy and Successful New Year to everyone and the answer to the question in the title is a resounding YES!

I say that with the knowledge of happenings within what I now feel I can actually term a Litigation Support industry in SA. Throughout my time here and my numerous blogs, meetings, seminars etc. I have been forecasting that education, information and awareness will bring about changes and help to develop this important market and industry in SA. My passion, knowledge and experience has been driven to move us along this road and perhaps for the first time, I see the clearest examples of the real birth of eDiscovery in SA. 

More and more law firms and their clients are acknowledging that they must embrace electronic documents when looking at a case and they realise that help is required through technology. Corporate clients are feeling the pinch with the plethora of regulatory investigations and litigation which lead them to looking closely at the cost of dealing with these internally and externally. Law firms are looking at initiatives to handle the increasing amount of data in their cases and to search for differentiators when targeting corporate clients who are putting the billable hour under pressure. 

All of these factors and more put timely pressures on service providers to scale up, upgrade and generally improve their knowledge and service offering. I believe that law firms and service providers alike are realising that if they up their respective games they can play at a higher level which would attract opportunities and work from other jurisdictions. Regular readers know that I have complained for a long time about data in cases leaving this country, partly because we don’t have a sufficiently skilled eDiscovery industry and also because it can, until POPIA is properly implemented. As to the latter we saw positive movement in 2017 and many believe that POPIA will be fully implemented this year. Let me now talk about the former, i.e. eDiscovery skills in SA. 

Again, regular readers will know that I rarely mention specific companies or people for fairly obvious reasons and will only do so; when the circumstances demand it; it is positive; and I have personal knowledge by way of verification.  The biggest news within eDiscovery in SA that has already happened is of a major expansion and investment by Lextrado - a sister company to the highly renowned forensics and cyber company, Cyanre.

Lextrado is all about eDiscovery services and it has quietly gone about its business for a number of years now, learning and teaching and growing. I know the owners very well, Danny Myburgh and Benni Labuschagne, and the story of going to the USA many years ago to learn more about eDiscovery as they could see the future for SA when others could or would not, is a great one. I am currently, and have in the past, worked with them on SA cases and advised them on international eDiscovery, and now they have made a real statement. They have employed Waseema Harrison as Head of Litigation Support Lextrado eDiscovery Services, effectively giving them a base and presence in Cape Town as well as their Head Office in Centurion and internationally.  Okay, okay those of you who know me are going to say that I am bound to write about this when I declare an interest in that Waseema is actually my wife! However, I want to concentrate on the work, rather than personal aspect, of this appointment. It is incontrovertible that Waseema is the most experienced and most certified eDiscovery technology practitioner in SA and the wider Africa. She has 15 years experience in the global industry and has worked on some of the biggest cases in the world throughout that time, using a variety of technological solutions that no one else in SA has ever used nor is ever likely to do so. Her knowledge of litigation technology is exceptional as is her experience of eDiscovery in the UK, USA and in SA for the last 4 years. I can also say, because I know and have seen for myself, that she is quite the best trainer to users of eDiscovery software that I have come across. This is a huge statement in the market by Lextrado, as they have grown steadily in this difficult marketplace over the years, developing an excellent team to a point that now, I suspect, they are handling more eDiscovery cases than any other provider in SA. The appointment of Waseema takes them to another level in SA and internationally, and they know they have my unqualified support and congratulations. 

Another company, in which I know the owner very well, and have seen grow and develop is Infology - based in Cape Town. Brendan Hughes is a qualified Attorney and founder of Infology who “cut his teeth” in the industry many years ago in London UK with Williams Lea. In my time here, I have seen Brendan’s excellent technology focussed team develop their product Sharebrief and eDiscovery services generally to a very high level. I am delighted to be currently working with them on a large matter and seeing Sharebrief at first hand helps me to include Infology in this post. 

What we have here is 2 local companies servicing local clients as well as having expanded their horizons outside SA and working with international clients, developing their technology skills in this hugely demanding industry. It warms my eDiscovery heart! It also proves, as I mentioned, that at least one of my forecasts about eDiscovery in SA has come to fruition in that technological skills have flourished in my time here. That 2018 will be a defining year for both of them, is another prediction from me!

I know of other initiatives within the eDiscovery space that are happening in SA but cannot say more at the moment. I can say however that I have already had some excellent meetings with law firms in JHB and CT in 2018. Together, all of this news combines to provide my affirmative response to the title of this post.

Of course, what would represent the icing on the cake would be confirmation from the Rules Board of the DOJ to amend the Uniform Rules to incorporate eDiscovery. I have done all that I possibly can on this and we just have to continue to wait. However, Rules or not, at last people are realising that eDiscovery is here in SA right now.