Without a way to reduce massive data volumes during the ediscovery process, legal teams can see workflows and costs quickly spiral out of control. However, early case assessment (ECA) through the use of ediscovery software solutions can provide a “preliminary walk-through” of electronically stored information (ESI).
ECA can play a critical role in decreasing data volumes to allow legal professionals to focus on the relevant information at hand and in controlling costs to assuage concerns about surpassing their budgets. By conducting a comprehensive evaluation at the onset, legal teams can adequately assess the financial impact and legal liability of taking on a potential case, which inevitably helps control and reduce costs.
Understanding Early Case Assessment
Depending on who you ask, the answer to this question may vary. Early case assessment can mean a variety of different things to a legal profession since each organization may assess a case differently due to specific variables unique to an organization. But in the broadest terms, ECA is a process used to investigate and quickly review ESI, paper documents, and other evidence in the early stages of a potential legal matter.
Once the data is collected, it is used to evaluate risk and guide case strategy. With ECA, it is much easier for legal teams to determine whether or not to pursue an early settlement, go to trial, or attempt to adjust the scope of ediscovery to make it less costly and burdensome for the parties.
ECA helps legal professionals answer critical questions like:
- What are the estimated ediscovery costs?
- What is the legal liability?
- How much data is there? How much data can defensibly be culled?
- How much data requires actual human review?
- Who are the significant custodians?
- Where does the data reside?
- What file types does the data include?
However, ECA is much more than just examining potentially relevant evidence. It is a comprehensive assessment of legal liability and potential costs at the beginning of a case, which helps organizations feel more confident about their ultimate decision.
What Happens During ECA?
Most attorneys can estimate the potential size of a case and how much it will cost by simply looking at basic facts. However, assigning concrete figures and data to initial forecasts requires an efficient ECA process involving the following:
- Search. Complex searches are one of the most essential components of early case assessment. Legal teams need to be able to create, run, save, share, and manage complex searches to simplify finding documents containing specific and relevant information.
- Data Visualization. It’s one thing to have access to data, but gaining a clear understanding of what that data means is another thing entirely. Data visualization makes the early case assessment process run more smoothly by giving legal teams a modern and visual interpretation of data points. This expedites an otherwise lengthy and tedious process, allowing legal teams to explore documents at a glance without the need to review individual documents or conduct a predetermined search.
- Search Term Reports. During early case assessment, it’s critical to see what patterns arise, from the evidence, during the discovery stage. A search term report can help legal teams identify documents containing specific keywords or terms that are important to a case and be leveraged to prove that a proposed term would be overly broad and disproportional. Teams can run numerous metadata and/or content searches simultaneously and quickly find out the number of documents that hit on any searches within a given report.
- Analytics. Data analytics can turn heaps of raw data into useful information. Legal teams use data analytics to create reports describing data volume, custodian names, date range, email domains, critical concepts, and other insights into large data sets. Data analysis can help parties make informed decisions about the best course of action to take in a particular matter.
- Sampling. Data sampling, another way to analyze large data sets, operates on the premise that by reviewing a representative subset of documents, accurate conclusions can be drawn regarding the entire data set. In ediscovery, this involves examining a small set of documents for relevancy to determine how many relevant documents might exist within a voluminous data set.
- Reporting. Reports make it easier for legal teams to understand important figures, trends, and other information about a particular case and are easy to share and export when it becomes necessary to hand them over to the court or opposing counsel. They also deliver a record of ediscovery activities for post-litigation review and analysis.
Ediscovery’s Role in Early Case Assessment
The traditional approach to data collection is to gather all potentially relevant ESI at the beginning of a matter and analyze its actual relevance later during document review. While this might help with early evidence preservation, overly broad collections can be inefficient due to the presence of numerous duplicates and unrelated information in the collection. Early case assessment makes these pain points a non-issue by leveraging processing technology to remove duplicate documents and files during the ingestion process.
Additionally, early case assessment enables legal teams to review important case information, such as data volume sizes and types. Using ediscovery software helps legal teams review documents from collections and uncover relevant documents that are likely responsive in the matter.
If you’re interested in learning more about the ECA process, download a free copy of “Getting Started with Early Case Assessment: Strategies for Performing ECA.” This white paper covers ECA basics, potential challenges, tips to enhance the process, and more!