Total Time & Cost to ECA


A key phase in eDiscovery is Early Case Assessment (ECA), the process of reviewing case data and evidence to estimate risk, cost and time requirements, and to set the appropriate go-forward strategy to prosecute or defend a legal case – should you fight the case or settle as soon as possible. Early case assessment can be expensive and time consuming and because of the time involved, may not leave you with enough time to properly review evidence and create case strategy. Organizations are continuously looking for ways to move into the early case assessment process as quickly as possible, with the most accurate data, while spending the least amount of money.

The early case assessment process usually involves the following steps:

  1. Determine what the case is about, who in your organization could be involved, and the timeframe in question.
  2. Determine where potentially relevant information could be residing – storage locations.
  3. Place a broad litigation hold on all potentially responsive information.
  4. Collect and protect all potentially relevant information.
  5. Review all potentially relevant information.
  6. Perform a risk-benefit analysis on reviewed information.
  7. Develop a go-forward strategy.

Every year organizations continue to amass huge amounts of electronically stored information (ESI), primarily because few of them have systematic processes to actually dispose of electronic information – it is just too easy for custodians to hit the “save” button and forget about it. This ever-growing mass of electronic information means effective early case assessment cannot be a strictly manual process anymore. Software applications that can find, cull down and prioritize responsive electronic documents quickly must be utilized to give the defense time to actually devise a case strategy.

Total Time & Cost to ECA (TT&C to ECA)

The real measure of effective ECA is the total time and cost consumed to get to the point of being able to create a go-forward strategy; total time & cost to ECA.

The most time consuming and costly steps are the collection and review of all potentially relevant information (steps 4 and 5 above) to determine case strategy. This is due to the fact that to really make the most informed decision on strategy, all responsive information should be reviewed to determine case direction and how.

Predictive Coding for lower TT&C to ECA

Predictive Coding is a process that combines people, technology and workflow to find, prioritize and tag key relevant documents quickly, irrespective of keyword to speed the evidence review process while reducing costs. Due to its documented accuracy and efficiency gains, Predictive Coding is transforming how Early Case Assessment (ECA), analysis and document review are done.

The same predictive coding process used in document review can be used effectively for finding responsive documents for early case assessment quickly and at a much lower cost than traditional methods.

ECAlinearReview

Figure 1: The time & cost to ECA timeline graphically shows what additional time can mean in the eDiscovery process

Besides the sizable reduction in cost, using predictive coding for ECA gives you more time to actually create case strategy using the most relevant information. Many organizations find themselves with little or no time to actually create case strategy before trail because of the time consumed just reviewing documents. Having the complete set of relevant documents sooner in the process will give you the most relevant data and the greatest amount of time to actually use it effectively.

Golf and Early Case Assessments – A Drama


Effective early case assessment is dependent on a complete data set.

On the average 97% of data generated within businesses is electronic. The average employee generates and receives up to 20 MB of email and potentially hundreds of MBs of office work files per day. Litigation is a huge problem these days for businesses. A huge amount of the cost of litigation is the cost of finding and reviewing electronically stored information (ESI) for both early case assessment as well as eDiscovery request response. ESI can hide anywhere in the corporate infrastructure; custodian workstations, network share drives, USB thumb drives, CD/DVDs, iPods etc. A centrally managed and fully indexed archive can speed the collection and review of potentially responsive records for early case assessment as well as more fully control and insure the placement of litigation holds.

No matter the case, the first question when you’re faced with litigation is whether the case has merit. If you haven’t prepared a case assessment strategy ahead of time, it will be difficult to quickly and effectively determine your strategy going forward; should you settle or fight…

An early case assessment capability provides you with four obvious benefits:

  • Provides an early indication of the merits of the case – do you have any actual liability.
  • Can suggest the proper strategy going forward.
  • Can provide you an estimate of the cost of defending the case and the time required.
  • Will help you plan for the discovery process and prepare for the “meet and confer” meeting.

Let’s look at some scenarios.

Scenario #1

You’re the General Counsel of a publicly traded software company in the state of California.

It’s a Friday near the end of summer and you’re sitting in your office thinking about your Hawaiian golf vacation which begins tomorrow.

You’re checking the last of your mail before you leave for 3 weeks.

You open a letter from an outside law firm addressed to you…

(Your secretary hears a string of profanities emanating from your office)

You immediately think to yourself; once this news gets out, your company’s stock will be hammered, your board of directors will want an update yesterday, your channel partners will want to be advised on their potential liability, sales that are in process will stop, your CEO will want to know if the case has merit…and your wife will want to know why you just cancelled the Hawaiian vacation she was looking forward to (she was staying home).

What to do first?

You call the plaintiff’s law firm of Tolson & Yonamine to determine what this case is based on…what’s driving it. The Partner managing the case can’t be reached but 2 hours later you receive a fax (a fax, really?) of a printed email that looks like it came from within your company…

What the…? Who, in their right mind would seriously consider something like this much less put it in writing?

Ok, first things first. Your next steps are:

  • Find out who “Jennifer” is, who she reports to and what department she work in. Also find out if she is even still with the company
  • Call the VP of IT and let her know what’s going on and verbally tell her to secure any infrastructure data from Jennifer or Bob
  • Follow that up by sending an email to the VP of IT asking her to secure Jennifer and Bob’s email boxes, and any backup tapes for their respective email servers
  • Send an email to Jennifer informing her of the litigation hold, her duties under it and the consequences if the directions are not followed
  • Send an email to Bob informing him of the litigation hold, his duties under it and the consequences if the directions are not followed
  • Instruct  the VP of IT via email to find the original of the email in question on the email servers or backup tapes

To complicate matters, the VP of IT calls back immediately to tell you that the company only keeps backup tapes of the email servers for 30 days and are then recycled. She also informs you that the company has a 90 day email retention policy meaning that employees must clear emails older than 90 days out of their mailbox or the company will do it automatically. Copies of those emails, if they exist, will only be available on the employee’s local workstations. You think to yourself; if that’s the case, how did the outside law firm get them?

You send one of your staff attorneys and an IT person to both Bob and Jennifer’s offices to look for a copy of the email on their local computers etc.

Later, you find that Bob has a 3 GB PST, local personal email archive, on his laptop where the email might exist but for some reason the IT guy can’t open it. IT calls Microsoft support and is told that the PST is too big and is no doubt irrevocably corrupted.

In the mean time, one of your staff attorneys spends 4.5 hours at Jennifer’s office and eventually finds a copy of the email in her local PST… the email really does exist…%$#@!!. She has no idea why she would have written something like that and there are no records of any other emails associated with that particular smoking gun email. Because the email in question is older than the company’s oldest email server backup tapes, your early case assessment is stopped dead for lack of data.

Now what?

After several months of negotiating with ABC Systems and their law firm, you settle for damages of $35 million and an apology published in the business section of the San Jose Mercury News.

In the preceding scenario, the available early case assessment process suggested that the case might have merit and should be settled before more resources were expended. In this case, the early case assessment was negatively impacted by a shortage of data due to retention policies that were put into place mainly for storage management reasons.

Having access to all relevant information early on can mean the difference between fighting a winnable case and settling the case early for hopefully much less then is being asked for. An early case assessment strategy with the right tools can improve the odds of a favorable outcome.

Early Case Assessment with Proactive ESI Archiving

Let’s look at the preceding scenario with one difference… the defendant has an ESI archiving system and a more common sense retention policy which in this case includes a 3 year retention policy for email.

You are the General Counsel of a publicly traded software company in California

It’s a Friday near the end of summer and you are sitting in your office thinking about your Hawaiian golf vacation which begins tomorrow

You open the last of your mail before you leave for 3 weeks

You open a letter from an outside law firm…

This can’t be real. This must be a joke from your $*@$!! Brother-in-law. After calling him and determining it’s not a joke you think to yourself; NOW WHAT?

You call the opposing counsel to determine what this case is based on. The partner managing the case can’t be reached but 2 hours later you receive a fax showing a printed email that looks like it came from within your company…

Next, you must place a litigation hold on all potentially responsive records

  • Find out who “Jennifer” is, who she reports to and what department she work in. Also, is she even still with the company
  • Call the VP of IT and let her know what’s going on
  • Instruct one of your staff attorneys to query the email archive to determine if that specific email exists, and to provide the entire conversation thread around that email so you can review it for intent.

Your staff attorney quickly queries the archive and pulls up a copy of the email message with the entire conversation thread, puts the entire conversation thread on litigation hold and sends you the following email…

“Boss, the email in question was based on the following conversation thread starting with the CEO:”

“Based on the early case assessment using the email archive and the conversation thread capability, I found that the “smoking gun” email was taken out of context and can prove the case has no merit…We should talk to opposing counsel as soon as possible to end this now.”

You think to yourself; whatever person’s idea it was to get that email archiving system in place should be given a load of stock options…

You spend the next morning talking to the opposing counsel…the action is withdrawn a month later…

You continue with your golf vacation having only missed two days and your wife is especially happy you were able to go on your vacation (alone).

An important aspect of an early case assessment is to tell you if the case has merit. It’s difficult to make an informed assessment about a case without all the data…

Backups are an effective eDiscovery resource, if it’s the right backup


I have always been told relying on backups for eDiscovery purposes is a costly and time consuming mistake.

Searching through backup tapes or even a disk-based backup for eDiscovery is difficult. Imagine restoring 22 200 GB backup tapes of your employee workstations and

Consider an eDiscovery request which asks for any files on 73 custodian workstations which contain the terms “Mimosa” and “Iron Mountain” that were created or accessed between Feb 19 2008 and June 3 2010, all the while meeting a 30 day deadline from the court to produce. How would you quickly determine what if any responsive content exists on those 73 custodians laptops/desktops?

The scenario I laid out above is not a corner-case, made-up situation. I have seen this many times. Many of you will recognize a situation very close to this.

Now consider one additional requirement to the above scenario… you must insure any responsive ESI on those workstations are secure and not deleted (litigation hold) by the custodian starting right now.

Active content on custodian workstations and laptops is the single biggest risk when facing litigation hold and eDiscovery responsibilities for most organizations. The usual processes most organizations follow for custodian resource collection is either:

  1. Custodian led collection: the organizations legal department sends out a detailed email to all custodians’ involved asking them to search for specific content on their system (including any PSTs) and forward any results to the legal department. Many opposing counsel’s have a problem with this process

or

  1. The legal department creates collection teams which consist of a legal department employee and an IT employee to visit each custodian’s workspace to look for responsive ESI, usually including the imaging of the custodian’s hard disks. This imaging of the custodian’s hard disk takes hours and then has to be filtered somewhere else to look for responsive content.

What if you could utilize your centrally managed custodian workstation/laptop backup process for eDiscovery purposes?

Iron Mountain has addressed this major eDiscovery risk and cost with its newly announced Connected® Classify & Collect, a solution which simplifies the collection process for distributed PC ESI to comply with a legal hold request as well as discovery. The Connected Classify & Collect offering helps businesses to quickly find relevant data on laptop and desktop computers to meet litigation and compliance requirements.

The Connected® Classify & Collect offering makes laptop and desktop data easily visible, searchable and usable. It also protects data and prevents accidental deletion to support eDiscovery or internal investigations. Its enterprise-class data-classification capabilities give administrators visibility into vast amounts of data stored on enterprise PCs and allow them to lower eDiscovery costs by quickly collecting relevant information to be used for early-case assessments and first-pass reviews.

An interesting twist to this capability is the fact that even if the custodian is disconnected from the network, Classify & Collect can discover against the existing centrally managed backup of each custodian’s workstation or laptop. The next time the custodian connects to the network, additional searching will be accomplished automatically in the background on the custodian laptop.

Additionally, the Connected Classify & Collect offering helps businesses establish a thorough and defensible collection process with its ability to track all activities, including the search terms and documents returned to support internal reviews.