Florian Johanny, a Director within FTI Technology in Germany, has nearly a decade of experience handling legal and document review challenges in complex matters in Germany, Spain and across Europe. He supports clients with all phases of e-discovery and document review for high-stakes investigations, litigation, merger clearance reviews and data subject access requests. In this Q&A, he discusses the connection points between each phase of an investigation, and how the nature of these matters today has made technology an imperative.
Florian, you joined FTI Technology in early 2023. Will you provide some background about your experience and what brought you to the firm?
I have an international background, as a German having spent a large part of my life in Spain. My career began in Spain, where I studied and practiced law for several years before coming back to Germany. As my legal career progressed, I began working increasingly in document review, for law firms, as an independent consultant, and for more than four years at multiple Big Four firms. In those roles, I supported client engagements and led teams across all phases of the e-discovery lifecycle, from collection, processing and analysis to review and production, as well as working with the leading technology platforms.
I joined FTI Technology to continue my work in e-discovery and document review, largely because of the people and the reputation at the firm. Former colleagues of mine from the Big Four had joined the team in Germany and I did so alongside them. It’s a very strong and highly regarded team of experts doing interesting and high stakes work, so it’s a great place to be.
What kinds of matters are you focused on?
We handle a wide range of legal, regulatory and investigatory issues for our clients, including sensitive internal investigations, data privacy matters, compliance inquiries and more. All the matters I work on are large, complex, ongoing engagements, many with multinational components. Because I have extensive experience across the spectrum of e-discovery and investigations processes, and I understand the common needs and challenges that arise, I often serve as a team leader or case manager. This includes serving in a review manager capacity for managed document review (Acuity) engagements, where we have large teams of document reviewers working to quickly and efficiently narrow down document populations and find key facts for clients.
What are some of the common challenges clients should be prepared for when dealing with large investigations and discovery matters?
Despite a large ecosystem of proven technologies and workflows, unstructured data continues to create challenges. Understanding a complex data set completely, that technical aspects are involved in collecting, processing and analysing it, and the legal requirements that must be built into the methodology are not simple exercises, especially as data volumes grow in volume, variety and complexity.
This is why creating workflows tailored to the unique needs of a case and establishing predictability for outcomes and visibility of all the data in context is so important. Involving experts who understand these needs and how to fulfil them is critically important.
Clients are often overwhelmed when they come to us for help, and in many situations, it’s because they don’t have a good understanding of their data landscape — where it is, who has access to it, the kinds of data included, the scope of private and privileged information in it, etc. So, as important as it is to have experts driving the strategy and execution of an investigation, it’s equally important for organisations to keep up with good data hygiene across their systems, to help reduce risk and pitfalls when an investigation arises.
What is your view on the role of technology in investigations and e-discovery, and how does technology support managed review?
Given some of the data issues I mentioned, it’s really become impossible to run an investigation today without technology. For example, even for matters where paper documents are in scope, it’s commonplace now for physical documents to be scanned so they can be reviewed digitally alongside the other electronic evidence. Additionally, machine learning tools are essential to enabling efficient workflows and defensibly reducing large document populations.
One fundamental note about technology, though, is that it is not a replacement for quality reviewers and expertise. The tools will only produce results that are as accurate as the human inputs provided to them. Technology should be viewed as a means to enhancing the team and the review workflows, to achieve more precise results, efficiency, cost containment and high quality control.
What makes FTI Technology’s approach to managed review different from other firms?
We have multiple teams of experts who are truly specialists in their practice areas. Many firms have teams of generalists, but that’s not our approach. We have digital forensics experts who can provide defensible data collection for the most obscure and complex data sources, processing teams dedicated to processing in the most efficient way, e-discovery specialists who are masters of the technology and managed reviewer attorneys who provide legal perspective. That’s all in addition to our depth of experience with complex tools and technology workflows, as well as our approach to taking the time needed to tailor every workstream to the client’s case.
What do you think is the most important feature a company should look for when selecting a partner for investigations or managed review?
Depth of expertise is the top factor. Providers should be able to demonstrate a long history of reliability, trustworthiness and integrity alongside practical skills and experience with handling complex investigations. When a provider can demonstrate that, it provides a comfort to clients and helps alleviate the stress and overwhelm that typically accompanies a high-stakes legal or regulatory issue.
Global reach is also important as many cases span multiple jurisdictions. For example, our international teams across Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Asia Pacific enable a follow-the-sun approach, so that teams can ensure timely completion of reviews without the need to rush any phase of the project. This also enables localised support when certain aspects of an investigation must be handled in country.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your personal approach?
I’m very communicative and transparency is important to me. I work closely with all the reviewers on my engagements to ensure we’re on the same page and that needs are met both for the client and for our people.
I think back to when work suddenly shut down during the start of the pandemic, and everyone was isolated. At the time, I was part of a team that was engaged on a two-year investigation. For the reviewers, this meant eight-hour workdays reviewing documents without any personal interactions, which can be very draining. When we started making a priority to hold daily calls and stay connected via group chats, I received a lot of feedback from the team that it was those touchpoints that lightened their days during that difficult time.
By communicating often with the team and making personal connections, I can support them in staying engaged and finding ways to ensure the project remains interesting and motivating to them. That human touch is very important, especially in managed review projects.
The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.