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How to Handle Legal Holds and Ediscovery More Strategically In-House

by Petra Pasternak

Efficient, defensible legal holds are the first crucial milestone on the road to successful litigation and investigation results. Yet many corporate legal teams stumble in this critical phase – and in the subsequent ediscovery journey.

One common mistake is reliance on outdated tools like email to manage litigation holds – still used by more than half of respondents per an Association of Corporate Counsel and Everlaw survey of U.S. in-house legal teams – which are poorly suited for the task. 

Another involves handling legal holds with too many ad hoc processes and point solutions for the critical discovery stages that come next. A scattershot approach to collection, review, analysis, and presentation of data at today’s volumes invites unnecessary costs and risks.  

Forward-thinking legal teams are moving beyond these traditional methods to embrace next-generation technology that lets them automate the cumbersome aspects of the legal hold process. 

But the most successful go a step further: they consolidate all their litigation and discovery workflows within a single, unified platform that supports every step from legal holds to matter conclusion. 

This new approach provides more complete control over costs, time, data – and people’s sanity.

It’s understandable why many legal teams continue to use email or spreadsheets to manage legal holds: they’re familiar tools, and the devil you know is often easier to deal with than the devil you don’t (yet). But they’re terrible for managing legal holds – especially for more complex legal matters or those stretching over the course of many years. 

The disadvantages – miscommunication, missed hold notifications, and deleted or altered evidence – are all one-way tickets to data spoliation and non-compliance. Familiar as they may be, spreadsheets and email are also hugely time- and labor-intensive, especially for complex or long-running matters. In a word, these methods represent poor data governance.

There are also specific tools for various steps in the legal hold process, but they can create their own nightmares. Users must toggle from one to the next to manage each step of each hold. 

Cloud-native ediscovery tools like Everlaw are designed to free legal professionals from these frustrations. Advanced technology introduces automation to the process of issuing holds, sending reminders and notifications, monitoring compliance, interviewing custodians, preserving relevant information, and tracking progress. 

With the right tech tools, users can streamline the entire litigation hold process. 

Imagine a tool that automatically: 

  • Keeps relevant custodians in the loop with timely reminders and updates

  • Sends alerts to legal teams when escalation is necessary

  • Releases custodians on time and with accuracy when a legal matter closes

  • Minimizes the risk of missed hold notifications, unreliable tracking, and data loss

The result is the ability to scale, with improved accuracy, efficiency, and compliance of the legal hold process.

Popular capabilities that make data preservation and litigation holds more efficient include those that connect directly to popular environments, like Microsoft, and that enhance access and insight across the entire organization:

M365 preservation-in-place: Enables secure preservation of M365 data directly in Everlaw, without requiring users to visit Microsoft Purview or copy or move data around. 

Organization administration management center: Streamlines the organization of legal hold tracking and management and enhances visibility into all holds across the entire company.

Active directory (MSFT Azure, now Microsoft Entra ID): Automates the tracking of company employee changes, including names, phone numbers, and employment status, eliminating the need for manual directory updates for custodian information. 

Solving the Toughest Discovery Challenges With a Single Platform 

Ediscovery can easily account for more than two thirds of litigation costs. But it doesn’t have to be an agonizing drain on corporate law department resources. Today’s most successful legal teams deliver business value through strategic innovation. One important method is adoption of ediscovery technology for the full litigation and discovery process – and managing it internally – for more efficient workflows, cost-effectiveness, and secure use

Everlaw, a top ranked cloud-native platform, supports litigation and investigations workflows from beginning to end. 

For teams tackling any of the following challenges, it’s time to consider a new approach.  

The level of manual work involved in using spreadsheets and email leaves too much room for human error that can lead to missing custodians, unsent reminder notices, and ultimately, lost data. The risks for your organization can be serious, and can include adverse legal outcomes, sanctions, and penalties.

Automating legal holds with the right technology eases those worries. Modern discovery solutions automate the traditionally risky steps, such as custodian notifications and reminders, and mitigate the risk of non-compliance.

2. Contain runaway review costs by managing ediscovery technology in-house. 

Leaning on outside counsel or other third parties to manage litigation and investigations typically leads to over-collection of data and oversized vendor bills. It can also hinder visibility into progress, work quality, and data security.

Because all work and communication – including with external partners – happens within Everlaw’s secure environment, in-house legal professionals retain more control over company data, work quality, risk, and costs.

3. Conquer exploding data volumes and tough-to-tap sources.

Multiple point solutions slow teams down and make the already challenging complexity of extracting data from multiple sources (Slack, Zoom recordings, email, social media, etc.) even harder to manage. 

Everlaw Zoom Cloud Connector streamlines data ingestion by moving data directly from its source into the review stream. 

For those working in the M365 environment, Everlaw's data preservation-in-place functionality ensures that information stays put, with no need to copy, duplicate, or move it and risk its security. 

4. Cull down to just the data you need with ECA.

Exploding data volumes can easily lead to spiraling costs. Early case assessment is essential to an up-front understanding of the viability, scope, risk, and potential cost of litigation. Because it’s built into the Everlaw ediscovery platform, ECA helps teams control costs by hosting only the most relevant data and narrowing the scope of review.

In 2023, Everlaw users on average removed 76% of documents in an ECA project before active review, for significant savings in human time spent reviewing information.

5.  Move straight to actionable insights with powerful AI.

Analyzing millions of documents to identify the set that is actually relevant without tech is, to put it plainly, an impossible task. Everlaw’s Concept Clustering and Communication Visualizer tools help teams understand critical players and communication patterns within large data sets with just a few clicks, streamlining the review process.

With Everlaw Clustering, an unsupervised machine learning tool that organizes documents by conceptual similarity, in-house professionals can sort through and understand millions of documents for full review or early case assessment. Without needing to code or train the model, users can view patterns at a bird’s eye view in an intuitive visual display that surfaces only the most relevant documents out of millions for human review.

Communication Visualizer by Everlaw allows users to identify anomalous behavior or interesting communication patterns in any slice of data, providing insights in a matter of a few clicks.

6. Stop recreating the wheel.

Most internal legal teams can’t afford to recreate the same tranches of data, and manually rebuild templates and documents from scratch, for each new matter. With features like legal hold automation, ECA, and powerful analytics, legal teams can scale their work with repeatable processes. 

Providing Greater Value With Innovative Technology 

Today’s advanced ediscovery tools give in-house legal teams back control over their litigation and investigation process, with support for pre-litigation steps like legal holds and later stages, like reporting and production. 

By tapping powerful functionality in modern tools like Everlaw, such as ECA and Concept Clustering, in-house legal teams can make sense of vast data volumes more quickly, assess risk and strategy more confidently, and drive better outcomes. 

Perhaps most importantly, in-house legal professionals can take back the time lost to tedious manual processes and refocus on work that has higher value and impact for the business. With modern tools, the legal team can show up as an equal partner to the business.

Dive deeper into the legal holds process with Everlaw's "Litigation Holds (Legal Holds): A Comprehensive Guide," then see how you can take control of your litigation and investigations process from end to end by signing up for an Everlaw demo.

This article was originally published on March 6, 2024, and updated with additional information about new features on April 19, 2024.