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Shelby Austin, president of ATD Legal Services PC, at the company offices in Toronto.

DEBORAH BAIC/The Globe and Mail

Deloitte LLP has snapped up an innovative Toronto legal industry business that allows law firms to cheaply outsource lower-level or routine tasks, such as reviewing millions of electronic documents before litigation or a merger deal.

ATD Legal Services PC, launched in 2010 by former Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP partner Shelby Austin, is now part of the international accounting firm's Canadian arm. Neither side would reveal the cost of the deal.

The move illustrates the increasing importance of what is known as "e-discovery," the process by which lawyers grab and process mountains of electronic data before going to court. The massive growth in the number documents generated by company e-mails, for example, has made the process expensive and labour intensive, prompting law firms to look to outsourcing and new technology.

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Now, ATD and its network of hundreds of subcontract lawyers will be part of Deloitte's offering to clients who need to sift through the sometimes millions of e-mails and other documents before litigation or a merger deal.

Deloitte already offers a package of services for companies looking to seize and securely store data, and high-tech software that can intelligently search for relevant documents.

Acquiring ATD now gives it a core team of a dozen legal experts in advising companies on the e-discovery process and access to ATD's network of lawyers who actually review the documents.

Peter Dent, a partner in Deloitte's financial service advisory group, said the move makes things much easier for clients: "It gives you an end-to-end solution on your discovery. You don't have multiple subcontractors that you are going to."

Ms. Austin says the move shows the concept on which she based her business, that big Bay Street law firms would increasingly turn to outsourcing, was right: "If you would have told me three years ago when I was by myself in a room that any law firms would have bought our services, which they did, which was great, and now that the concept has been thoroughly validated by the very smart people at Deloitte, I could not have imagined."

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