Earlier this week, I had the chance to sit down with David Tanenholz, one of the co-founders and partners at Hardinger & Tanenholz LLP (H&T), which is one of the few firms — if not the first — to promote itself solely as “discovery counsel.” And with their experience as Biglaw alumni, the two founders may represent a glimpse into the future of how lawyers can carve out a niche by fusing technology and project management.
So what is it that puts them ahead of the curve? Let’s find out….
In 2003, Tanenholz, then a young associate at Reed Smith, was dispatched to work on a hormone replacement therapy (HRT) litigation involving multiple firms. The discovery review was led by Julia Hardinger, an attorney at Williams & Connolly. That review went on for a number of years and helped them both develop an in-depth understanding of the entire discovery review process. It also helped them see how the discovery process in complex litigation matters could be better streamlined.
Hardinger and Tanenholz soon established a good working relationship and, after several discussions over coffee, decided to take an incredible leap of faith together. Although both were advancing in their respective firms, they each decided to quit their jobs in October 2006 to start their own two-person firm. The new “discovery counsel” firm was really a first of its kind. According to Tanenholz, “We always thought that we had a great idea and that it would work.”
After more than three months passed without a hint of work, however, Hardinger and Tanenholz began to wonder whether their unique idea was going to take hold. “Right when we thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t working,’ is right when it began to work,” said Tanenholz.
Based on their previous experience with pharma litigation, H&T landed Japanese pharmaceutical giant Astrellas as its first discovery review client. Tanenholz noted that this relationship has continued to bear fruit: “We still have business from that case today.”
Hardinger and Tanenholz are not just discovery “consultants”; they also manage discovery projects from beginning to end. In fact, Julia Hardinger is currently managing one in New York City. Their office in DC is filled with boxes from Barrister Digital Solutions (BDS), organized in various categories for another matter.
“We like to do a unitization of documents when we can,” explained Tanenholz. “Right now, we are organizing some paper documents into the proper parent-child relationships. It’s a small thing, but it can save our clients thousands of dollars.”
At the beginning of a case, H&T tries to take a little extra time to analyze the big picture about the documents to be reviewed in order to understand any issues that might arise along the way. Tanenholz gave an example involving a recent pharma case: “Instead of just jumping straight into the review process, we took the time to investigate any generics, abbreviations, competitors, and other items that we needed to keep in mind before the review took place.”
Because H&T only handles the discovery phase of a case, there is still a need to partner with other firms for litigation matters. Among others, H&T has worked with Tanenholz’s old firm, Reed Smith, on many occasions since his departure. He explained their philosophy when handling a case: “What we try to do is take the pressure off the frustrated associate, who really doesn’t want to be managing this discovery review, and handle those details for that person. We like to stay very much in the background so we can take care of necessary details.”
The firm works regularly with legal technology vendors and has developed good relationships with FTI, RenewData, and Cataphora, among others. Tanenholz admits to doing extra due diligence when first entering into such partnerships: “We tend to look over the first couple of vendor invoices with a fine-toothed comb, to cut down on any costs that we find prohibitive. This also helps to save our clients money on the front end.”
H&T has grown slowly over the past four years, but that is the way the founding partners planned it. Today they have a full-time paralegal, and they have just added an offsite space near Dupont Circle for e-discovery reviews.
When it comes to hiring attorneys, Hardinger & Tanenholz divides its employees into three categories: first-level review, second-level review, and a group they call their “associates,” who handle quality control and other issues. Although associates currently work on a contract basis, H&T’s goal is to hire them on a permanent basis in the near future “We want our attorneys to know that if they get hired to do first level review, they can work their way up to second review or the associate level, with good work,” said Tanenholz.
H&T’s attorneys are also compensated well compared to other contract attorneys. For example, while the market rate for contract attorneys in DC currently hovers around $30-33 per hour, Hardinger is running a project paying $38 an hour. The reason is simple, according to Tanenholz: “We pay more because, frankly, we get better people, and it’s been well worth it.”
True, it’s not as cool as $160k with a $7,500 bonus for a Biglaw first year associate, but in this economy…
Perhaps the pay is the reason why H&T has virtually zero turnover among its employees. Or it could be something else that Tanenholz mentioned: “We are not a bunch of robots. We are attorneys, and we need attorneys to be analytical in working our cases.”
Gabe Acevedo is an attorney in Washington, D.C. and the publisher of the e-discovery blog GabesGuide.com. His articles on legal technology and discovery issues appear weekly on Above The Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.