Discovery Genie’s Dan Culhane on Taking the Tedium Out of Litigation

By John Murph

October 9, 2019

The D.C. Bar has partnered with Discovery Genie, a web-based platform that simplifies and automates the tedious task of document production in litigation, to provide Bar members access to this new benefit at a discounted rate. Below, Discovery Genie founder Dan Culhane talks about legal technology, what law firms want from legal tech companies, and what makes Discovery Genie stand out from other document-processing platforms. 

Dan CulhaneFor Dan Culhane, a former Washington, D.C.-based lawyer now living in Denver, necessity truly proved to be the mother of invention. Back in 2011, Culhane had about 10,000 pages of emails and documents to process for one case — all by hand. This time-consuming ordeal led him to think, “There has to be a better way.” 

What drove you to develop Discovery Genie?
My paralegal and I had to open [thousands of] emails one by one, print them out, open the attachments one by one, print them out, and then make Bates labels using Avery stickers and an Excel spreadsheet. This process was incredibly time consuming and, to be honest, it almost killed off my firm because I couldn’t afford to spend two weeks to do all that stuff for every case. And I couldn’t bill that to my client because it wasn’t technically legal work. 

What legal document processing solutions were available to attorneys at the time?
There was nothing available for a firm like mine. I think e-discovery was already an issue. There was lots of discussion and debate and evolution within the courts and within people’s practices about how to deal with electronic records. But a lot of the focus was on big firms and big companies — where their data might be sprinkled across dozens or even hundreds of servers or server farms here and there. 

I was aware of the focus on e-discovery limits. How do you rationalize a world where there might be tens, hundreds, or thousands of gigabits of data that might be responsive to a discovery request? People were trying to figure out how they were going to deal with that. In my world, I don’t really have those issues. I don’t have corporate clients anymore that have tens of thousands of employees. I had that when I was working in-house for US West and Qwest. 

For me the issue was how do you take a known quantity of data from documents that might be relevant and produce it for litigation. [Data] mostly comes from emails and attachments, but also from just folders full of electronic records that you surely have on your own PC — Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, maybe some photos, maybe some other stuff.  

There was no system that just allowed me to automate the mechanics of producing documents while also preserving and transferring the metadata into a usable format so that I could create an index out of it and understand the evidence in my own case. 

How is Discovery Genie different from other document-processing platforms out there?
Some of its most important features include automated production of emails and attachments. You upload an archive file of emails and attachments. Outlook has a type of file called a PST, which contains the raw data that Outlook displays to you. So, it’s got your emails, calendar events, contacts, and other stuff.  

In a case involving Smith versus Jones, for example, you would need all the emails between Smith and Jones, put them into a folder, and export them to an archive called a PST. You upload that into Discovery Genie, and Discovery Genie will take that PST and reconstruct all of the emails and attachments. So, instead of doing anything one at a time, Discovery Genie automates that process and allows you to do the whole set at once. 

That’s the first huge advantage. There are other companies that handle PSTs and do that sort of thing. But compared to our competitors, Discovery Genie is very simple to use. 

The second thing that our system does well is running an algorithm. In litigation you are reviewing documents to see whether they are attorney–client privileged or not. We have a privilege-review platform within Discovery Genie. So, after you upload your documents, it pre-processes them. Then it runs this algorithm that tracks the discovery rules and ranks the likelihood of whether any document is going to be privileged on a scale of one to five.  

Also, when you are reviewing for privilege, there is a notes field in Discovery Genie. If it is a privileged document, you can put whatever information you want into that field to justify your claim of privilege. Then, when Discovery Genie generates your privilege log, it will include the notes you took while you were reviewing that document. It puts it all together for you. This is part of the indexing that we do.  

What hurdles do you think small firms face in keeping up with legal technology?
That’s a really important question. The biggest hurdle that I see is the flood of new companies and new solutions to a variety of problems. If you are in a fast-paced environment where you’re trying to manage a portfolio of cases, it’s really hard to know which tools you need. Then, once you identify those, how do you pick the right one that’s going to suit your practice? 

The real problem is that lawyers are not tech experts with their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in technology. That might be a skill set you would have if you were a technology journalist or in the law firm support business. But if you’re a lawyer, your focus is on how you can win your client’s case. So, I think the real barrier is that most lawyers don’t know what they need until they hit a crisis in their practice.