The Basics of Early Case Assessment (ECA)

The conventional approach of using numerous, unrelated tools to conduct ediscovery — taking days to process the data and weeks to complete review — is time-consuming, costly, risky, and unfortunately, standard practice. The growing size and volume of data collections in ediscovery, along with tighter budgets brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, have now made value and cost savings a top priority for legal departments and consumers.

Organizations need a new approach that allows them to address ediscovery challenges by working smarter, not harder, providing them with a new level of visibility and control much earlier in the process. This capability allows legal departments to cut costs by judiciously culling down data, enhancing reviewer productivity, and ensuring their ediscovery process’s defensibility through early case assessment (ECA).

What Is Early Case Assessment (ECA)?

Early case assessment is a variety of tools or methods that play a critical role in reducing data volumes and saving time and money in ediscovery. The goal of ECA is to quickly analyze and synthesize evidence into a preliminary understanding of the document corpus. By assessing the time, money, and processes that review will require earlier in the process, legal professionals can manage expectations, budgets, and guide review workflows. Ultimately, ECA provides a high-level overview of electronically stored information (ESI) related to a potential litigation.

Historically, ECA was performed using simple, offline tools because processing and ingesting data into a fully functional ediscovery platform has been traditionally seen as cost-prohibitive. One of the reasons for excessive cost is that legacy ediscovery solutions often profit from charging for ECA and even just moving that data into active review. This means that the process of culling data volumes and then uploading them to an ediscovery platform is not only expensive but technically complicated or time-consuming.

To mitigate costs, many legal teams have turned to more straightforward and less expensive third-party tools to extract text and metadata and run primitive text searches on them before uploading documents to their ediscovery platform. Unfortunately, splitting the ECA process from the discovery and trial preparation across various tools makes for an unnecessarily complex process and leads to unintended inefficiencies.

Leveraging a robust, unified platform would provide a more streamlined and cost-effective solution for ECA and discovery that would eliminate the extra costs associated with third-party processing and ingestion and provide more sophisticated tools for ECA.

ECA White Paper
To learn more about how early case assessment can help your team investigate data, identify critical insights, evaluate risk, and reduce cost early on in the discovery process, download this white paper.

Document Review Challenges in Ediscovery 

Document review is a necessary step of the ediscovery process because it separates relevant data from irrelevant data and provides critical information regarding the issues of the matter and the opportunity to protect privileged information. It demands making broad judgments while identifying specific issues, which can only be effectively accomplished through careful organization and planning. However, there are many challenges that can get in the way of enhancing the reviewing process:

  • High Costs. Historically, document review has involved the use of simple, offline tools. Processing and ingesting data into a fully functional ediscovery platform was cost-prohibitive because legacy ediscovery solutions routinely charged extra for ECA and even for moving data into active review, making the process of culling data and uploading volumes into a separate ediscovery platform expensive and disjointed. Additionally, the hiring of document reviewers can increase the cost of an already potentially costly process.
  • Time Intensiveness. Document review can often be time-intensive because of the laborious and tedious process of reviewing every single document in a set. Predictive coding is a remedy to this challenge, as it prioritizes docs for a user, so they can avoid reviewing nonessential documents. This is especially important given that a lengthy review process can allow memories to fade, people to leave jobs, and IT departments to change, greatly complicating an already complex process.
  • Patchwork Solutions. Some teams turn to cheaper third-party tools to extract text and metadata and run primitive text searches before uploading documents to their ediscovery platform to mitigate costs. Unfortunately, separating the ECA process from discovery and trial preparation across various tools makes for a fragmented approach that often leads to other inefficiencies, such as a lack of alignment between legal teams and document reviewers and less protection from cybersecurity threats.

To learn more about how early case assessment can help your team investigate data, identify critical insights, evaluate risk, and reduce cost early on in the discovery process, download our white paper, “Getting Started with Early Case Assessment: Strategies for Performing ECA.”