Based in Melbourne, Australia, Elevate's Abbas Hammoud works closely with customers on eDiscovery projects, particularly in the use of the Relativity platform. In this interview, he shares his observations from two decades in the litigation support and eDiscovery fields, and his thoughts about what sets Elevate apart.
What's your role here at Elevate?
I am an eDiscovery project manager. About 80% of my job is working directly with customers to take material and data obtained during the collection phase of discovery and make sure it's properly handled and loaded onto the review platform. I am usually the first person they interact with in detail once they sign on and we begin the eDiscovery project.
What was your path to litigation support and eDiscovery work?
Honestly, I just fell into it while I was still at university. The litigation support manager from the Australian law firm Allens gave a talk to one of my classes on what was then the emerging technology of document review. I was intrigued. We had to do a field placement as part of that course. When he finished his presentation, I approached him and asked if I could do the field placement with Allens. He said yes, and I had a four-week placement that I very much enjoyed. A year later, on the day of my last final exam at university, I got a call from Allens offering me a job.
I guess that it didn't matter how you did on that final exam since you had a job waiting!
Yeah, for sure! When I arrived at Allens, I almost immediately worked on one of their biggest litigation matters – around 30 lawyers conducting the review, and about three million documents, which back then was considered a massive amount. So, that's how it all began!
I was at Allens for about four years, then joined Mallesons Stephen Jacques (now King & Woods Mallesons) as a project manager. I was there for almost four years, then spent nearly 12 years at (what is now) Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) before joining Elevate earlier this year.
How has review technology changed throughout your career?
When I started, Ringtail was dominant in Australia. The pace of innovation was slow. The tool's capabilities were very limited, and nearly always, the servers hosting the review were in-house.
In the past decade, that has changed. We've seen lots of new and emerging products that make things much more manageable and technology that automates what previously had to be done manually.
When I joined Mallesons, Attenex came out, which delivered a 10-fold improvement in speed. The platform could also determine keywords and cluster documents into sets with those keywords. That was huge at the time; now, it's completely unremarkable.
Attenex drove expansion in the size of collections and reviews; that trend has continued. Once, 120 megabyte USB stick drives were considered large – now, we get hard drives that are two or three terabytes!
Still, Ringtail remained the dominant technology here in Australia. The Australian court practice notes reflected Ringtail's capabilities and features, like specifying the use of Ringtail .mdb format. That made Ringtail a de facto standard here. Then Relativity hit the market.
What has been the impact of Relativity gaining prominence in the Australian market?
In the past six years or so, Relativity has emerged as a leader. They've outperformed the competition in technology. I am a 20-year user of Ringtail at top tier firms, and to me, there's no question that Relativity's front-end is more user-friendly with features that are more beneficial to a reviewer. It's very intuitive and adds a lot of intelligence to the documents. That, and the fact that RelativityOne is cloud-based, has changed how firms in Australia do eDiscovery.
What's been your experience with Relativity?
When I came to Elevate, I saw Relativity up close for the first time – I had only used it for short periods and basic searching, certainly not as an administrator. I dove in and worked hard to get up to speed on it through online learning and the expertise of my colleagues. Now I'm RelativityOne Pro certified. I've been very impressed with it, for the reasons I mentioned.
On my first matter at Elevate, we received material in the Ringtail .mdb format, and probably the biggest issue for Australia customers is Ringtail to Relativity conversions. It's quite tricky converting from .mdb format into one you can upload into Relativity. Well, I should say it used to be quite tricky, but the team and I developed a protocol to do it and a fast, reliable, and robust solution that works quite well. It converts from .mdb to Relativity format as well as the reverse. That's very useful for our customers here in Australia who are using Relativity but have to produce in the Ringtail format. We have since completed multiple conversions for some delighted (and relieved!) customers.
What's it like at Elevate?
The culture is excellent. Everyone asks if they can help. We have a good, close team, even with me here in Australia and colleagues in the U.S. and India. You have around-the-clock support with whatever someone on the team is working on. Meanwhile, we are getting busier. The work is growing at an unbelievable rate. In just the last three months or so, almost a half-dozen new firms have signed on.
What would you describe as "the Elevate Edge"?
At Elevate, the customer is always at the forefront of our work. We strive to ensure customers aren't just satisfied but delighted. If that means working through the weekend or beyond regular working hours, we do it. And the culture here is to celebrate people for going above-and-beyond for a customer. We have a weekly "SPARC" award to recognize team members for excelling at work with customers. It's just an electronic certificate, but those are the little things that speak to a customer-focused culture. I don't think every company is like that. It makes a difference; it makes you excited to start your work each day, and proud to work at Elevate.
At Elevate, the customer is always at the forefront of our work. We strive to ensure customers aren’t just satisfied but delighted.