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Four Tips for Enhancing the Early Case Assessment Process

by Giulianno Lopez

A view of Everlaw software on a laptop computer, displaying an overview of assignments

How can legal teams ensure that they can leverage early case assessment (ECA) so that they not only gain a more thorough understanding of a matter but also manage costs and maximize efficiency? Here are four tips that will help legal professionals navigate the early case assessment process and enable them to make informed and cost-effective decisions:

1. Gather Context About the Case Early and Often

Before taking any action, it’s crucial to identify the viability of the case, which involves analyzing the merits of the arguments themselves. Gaining context can be the difference between making an astute decision to settle or taking on a case that builds mountains of cost. Some things that should be considered are:

  • The timeline of events.

  • The issues at hand.

  • The number of parties involved. 

  • Where to find the evidence.

  • Arguments or evidence that can hurt the case.

Legal teams won’t understand every aspect of the matter at one time, so it’s critical to poke holes and assess the weaknesses and strengths of the case throughout the ECA process.

2. Identify and Search for Relevant Terms

During the initial research stage, there will be terms, key phrases, names, dates, and so on that will be highly relevant to the matter at hand. It’s important to identify these, conduct keyword searches, and apply the appropriate filters to zero in on documents that will have the most bearing on the case.

Additionally, by identifying these key terms, legal teams can perform data culling, which is the process of setting apart files that are duplicate documents or that have no evidentiary value. This ultimately helps reduce hosting costs and minimize review time. Finding tools that make this step run smoother is critical to ensuring that legal teams are able to not only expedite the process but enhance their legal work as well.

For example, Everlaw’s Data Visualizer makes this step easier by enabling legal teams to identify potentially relevant terms. At the beginning of a case, legal teams may not be familiar with all the critical information, making it difficult to start searching using keywords right off the bat. The Data Visualizer lets users create interactive visualizations from any set of documents, giving them a bird’s-eye view of all the data. If a user looks at certain metadata in the Data Visualizer — such as “email subject” or “date” or “to” — they may find information that they wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.

3. Utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technology

Identifying and finding which evidence is relevant to the case helps establish the timeline of events and build the basis for the legal argument. However, in many cases, there will be troves of evidence (many times redundant information and duplicate documents) that can lengthen the initial discovery stage. Ediscovery providers that leverage automation and AI can expedite this process by more rapidly identifying documents most likely to be relevant.

For example, Clustering by Everlaw leverages machine learning to quickly pinpoint conceptually similar documents and present them in an intuitive graphic display. This helps you to glean valuable insights into your data set without manually building a search during ECA.

Additionally, documents can be easily filtered and sorted, allowing users to explore their data set in order to discover new search terms, find documents that potentially have evidentiary value, and make critical decisions early on (when it comes to prioritizing and organizing documents for review). Clustering also helps in post-review quality control and tracks down concepts in crucial documents. With the ability to scale to millions of documents, Clustering allows for targeted review, saving time and cutting costs.

4. Find the Right End-to-End Solution

Legal teams are looking for workflows and pricing models that accommodate comprehensive collections processes, deliver robust results to clients, and still allow for cost control. The optimal solution leverages a powerful, unified platform for both ECA and discovery that provides highly sophisticated tools with the ability to:

  • Generate PDFs and images of all documents, a vast improvement over text-only ECA processes.

  • Automatically translate foreign language documents and transcribe A/V files, automatically converting the information necessary for ECA into a natural, true-to-the-original, and ready-to-review format.

  • Create interactive visualizations from any set of documents to provide valuable insight into document dates, metadata, contents, formats, review activity, and predicted relevance.

  • Dig deeper into metadata and make it simple to drill down into the underlying file structure of documents in a data collection.

  • Explore relationships between documents at a glance without the need to review individual documents or conduct a predetermined search.

  • Leverage sophisticated tools like predictive coding to quickly identify a broad class of relevant documents that might be missed by contextual and date filters.

  • Simplify the preparations necessary for meets and confers or pretrial conferences.

  • Eliminate transfer times and operate from a single, unified dashboard through the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

A viable ediscovery platform provides all these sophisticated tools and more. Unlike other document review systems, Everlaw does not charge for processing or ingestion — only for hosting — making leveraging the platform’s full ECA capabilities affordable.

Final Thoughts on the Early Case Assessment Process

For over a decade, ediscovery software has attempted to solve two fundamental problems for legal professionals: it costs too much and takes too long to get the facts relevant to a legal matter. Growing data volumes and the high cost of document review have made affordable, fast, and defensible ediscovery often beyond the grasp of in-house legal teams and law firms. However, with increased visibility into data sources before collection, early case assessment (ECA) has become a feasible and essential part of the ediscovery process.

To learn more about enhancing your early case assessment process, download your free copy of  Getting Started with Early Case Assessment: Strategies for Performing ECA” today.