The BlackBerry Lesson for eDiscovery Providers

August 10, 2023

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A thoughtful piece from Doug Austin and eDiscovery Today: The BlackBerry Lesson for eDiscovery Providers.

As attorneys specializing in litigation, it's crucial to draw insights from unexpected sources. Remember the rise and fall of BlackBerry phones? The emergence of large language models (LLMs) and generative AI might be our 2023 equivalent of the 2007 iPhone introduction. These technologies could revolutionize eDiscovery workflows, but caution is key. Embrace the potential while learning from BlackBerry's mistakes: focus on targeted use cases and invest in a thorough beta period. Don't miss the lesson - it's all about being proactive yet cautious.

source: Ediscovery Today

I recently watched the movie BlackBerry, and it got me thinking about how the blackberry lesson can be applied to the eDiscovery industry.

For those of you who are too young to know or have forgotten about it, the BlackBerry phone which was made by the company Research in Motion (RIM) was a hugely popular cell phone back in the early and mid 2000s. At its peak, BlackBerry owned over 50% of the US and 20% of the global smartphone market. It sold over 50 million devices a year and was so popular that people referred to it as the “CrackBerry” because they couldn’t stop using it.

A picture of the BlackBerry shown above illustrates why it was so popular at the time. It’s considered by many to be the first smartphone and it had a full keyboard – which made us all learn how to use our thumbs to type. 😉 You could use the full keyboard to type text messages and even tie into your email platform to send emails via the device – no more cycling through letters to type a single character. It was revolutionary for its time.

So, what killed it? In 2007, Steve Jobs and Apple introduced the iPhone, which replaced the keyboard with a “giant” touchscreen. Even though BlackBerry had the market share, it was initially slow to respond to the threat and (in the movie) pitched another physical keyboard phone (BlackBerry Bold) to Verizon, which was not received well.

Only then did co-founder and co-CEO Mike Lazaridis pitch them a touchscreen model that didn’t exist yet, which came to be known as the BlackBerry Storm (even though Lazaridis was in love with the physical keyboard and couldn’t imagine a phone without one).

The Storm was rushed into production in 2008 and had major flaws, with almost all of the devices having to be returned for a replacement (and even many of the replacements being returned as well). The device was so bad that Verizon (who was selling the phones) wanted RIM to pay close to $500 million to cover its losses and RIM employees started calling it the “Shit Storm”. Ouch. It’s considered by many to be the biggest smartphone disaster in history.

Today, RIM/Blackberry has 0% of the smartphone market. iPhones and Android devices have virtually 100% of the market.

What does that have to do with eDiscovery?

I think the emergence of large language models (LLMs) and generative AI may be the 2023 equivalent of the 2007 introduction of the iPhone. As the technology evolves, LLMs and genAI have the potential to completely revamp eDiscovery workflows. It has the two things that most disruptive technologies need to thrive – it’s powerful and it’s easy to use. Both factors are required to fuel adoption of any new technology.

Of course, there are plenty of issues with genAI as well and we’re all getting to know plenty about those too. From hallucinations to data privacy concerns to copyright issues, there is no shortage of caveats with genAI technologies. And while those caveats exist, many providers are still rushing to “check the box” of providing a genAI offering to their clients. While others are finding arguments for why the technology is too immature and sticking to traditional workflows.

Which brings me to the BlackBerry lesson for eDiscovery providers, which is a two-part lesson.

In my opinion, LLMs and genAI are the “elephant in the room” that providers must be preparing themselves to address – they have the to render obsolete current eDiscovery technologies and workflows. How soon may they do that? I don’t know, but I think it may happen sooner than a lot of people think. You can’t “stick your head in the sand” on this one, folks.

The other part of the BlackBerry lesson for eDiscovery providers is simple: don’t rush. Releasing new technology that is highly flawed is even worse than not releasing new technology. The stakes are too high in eDiscovery – for litigation and other use cases. Reputational risk for failure is extremely high.

It may seem that I’m arguing both sides here, but what I’m simply saying is this: Pursue development of LLM and genAI offerings but do so in a manner where: 1) the initial use cases are targeted and more highly predictable, and 2) there is a long beta period for customer use (with caveats strongly stressed for the early adopters). You can be proactive and cautious at the same time.

Those eDiscovery providers who don’t learn the BlackBerry lesson may suffer the same fate as RIM/BlackBerry did. Now, that’s a “Shit Storm”!

P.S.: See the disclaimer below? It counts double for this post, which is very much my opinion and not necessarily the opinion of my clients or partners. 🙂

So, what do you think? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.