Ediscovery 101: The Basics of Ediscovery for Small Law Firms
- What is ediscovery? Why do I need it?
- How does ediscovery work?
- Do I really need ediscovery software? Can’t I make do with what I have?
- How do I find the best ediscovery software?
- What is cloud computing? And is cloud-based ediscovery safe?
- Why is Goldfynch the perfect ediscovery software for my small law firm?
What is Ediscovery? Why do I need it?
Ediscovery (i.e. ‘electronic’ discovery) is the process of collecting, sharing, and searching electronically stored information (ESI).
When companies or people take each other to court over a dispute, their lawyers have to collect, review, and share all the electronic data (e.g. Microsoft Word files, PDFs, audio files, etc.) to do with the case. In the past, they exchanged cardboard boxes full of paper files and folders–a process called ‘discovery.’ Today ‘discovery’ is often electronic, with lawyers sharing computer files via the internet and using special ediscovery software. They still share paper documents, but it’s becoming more efficient and cost-effective to go electronic.
What’s so great about ediscovery?
Here’s why ediscovery is better than ‘paper’ discovery:
- It’s so much faster. Instead of sifting through thousands of files manually, computers will find you your keywords in seconds. And you can search through all kinds of files – emails, photos, scanned images, PDFs, and more. Plus, your ediscovery software will find and delete duplicate files and save you time.
- It saves space. Instead of boxes (and often, rooms) of files, everything sits on a computer server. An entire server–which can store the equivalent of 1000s of boxes of files–only occupies the space of a tiny box.
- It’s more convenient. With cloud-computing, you don’t even need any special hardware. And you can access your files from anywhere in the world, using your desktop or laptop. So, you can travel and still work on your case.
- You have access to metadata. Computer files and documents have metadata. I.e. information about the files themselves–like when they were created, who created them, etc. This data comes in handy, for example when you have a recorded interview and want to know when the recording was made.
- It’s better for the environment. What happens to paper files after the case is done? There’s no paper waste with ediscovery. And most cloud computing centers run on renewable energy.
Lawyers and paralegals usually have 2 problems with e-discovery.
Problem #1: “It’s too complicated.” Reality: It is newer technology, which is usually not taught in law schools. But the right software can make ediscovery simple. If you can use Google and apps on your phone, you’ll have no problem with ediscovery.
Problem #2: “It’s too insecure.” Reality: With the right software, your electronic data is safer than it would be under lock and key in your office. Paper files can be destroyed by moisture, fire, and insects. And backing them up takes a lot of effort. Also, it’s easier to steal them because there’s only physical security protecting them. With cloud-based ediscovery, your electronic files aren’t on your premises. They’re on the internet. Protected by passwords and advanced digital security.
How Does Ediscovery Work?
Step 1: Collect all the relevant data for your case
You’ll have electronic documents (e.g. spreadsheets and word processing documents), databases, mobile phone messages, voice recordings, and instant messages. Most of the time you’ll ask your clients for the data because they’ll know what to find and where to find it. For more complicated projects, you can always hire an IT consultant or ediscovery expert or email us email@example.com .
Step 2: Upload all the data to a central location
Now, where do you put the hundreds (or thousands) of PDFs, Word documents, scanned images, and emails? You upload them to your ediscovery software, and they become ‘searchable.’ Good ediscovery software makes this uploading easy. Plus, it detects and alerts you of duplicate files, deals with password-protected files, uses OCR ( i.e. converting scanned documents into machine-readable text that’s searchable), and extracts the names of people, places, organizations, and dates.
Step 3: Review your data
You search for keywords (names, places, dates, etc.), tag files, redact information, mark documents as privileged, and take notes.
Step 4: ‘Produce’ your data for opposing counsel to review
First, you attach a Bates stamp (i.e. a special number) to the bottom of each page. The stamp will help you identify and refer to specific documents.
Second, you choose the format in which to produce your files. You’ll be given options, but most of the time files are produced as PDFs.
The better your ediscovery software, the easier all this becomes.
Good software helps you move seamlessly from step to step. And will give you the tools you’ll need along the way.
Do I Really Need Ediscovery Software? Can’t I Make Do with What I Have?
You can get your work done without ediscovery software. Here’s how that would look:
- You have to organize all your files so that you can sort through them systematically. So you create a hierarchy of folders and sub-folders.
- Some of the files are paper documents that need to be scanned. And you use OCR (optical character recognition) to convert them to PDFs that your computer can process. That means finding and paying for OCR software (you quickly learn that the free ones aren’t accurate).
- Next, you’ll need to start reviewing your files. You notice at least three major groups of files: Word Documents, PDFs, and emails. So you start opening them in their respective apps. But this is annoying because they need three separate windows. And you have to keep going back and forth between them. Also, you’ll need to download new software to open unfamiliar file types (e.g. CAD drawing and MBOX files). What about those those duplicate files that have slipped in there? You’ll have to find and delete them, or they’ll waste your time and pop up in ‘production,’ below.
- Now you’ll want to start searching for keywords, to build your case. Again, for every keyword, you have open three different apps. It’s the same when you want to tag and redact your files.
- Finally, you’re ready to ‘produce’ your files. So you go from file to file, converting them to PDFs. It takes forever. It takes even longer to convert emails to PDFs.
Now, here’s what ediscovery looks like with specialized software:
- You drag-and-drop all your files into your ediscovery software. No need to organize them, because your software will help you search through them quickly and easily. Plus, it comes with in-built OCR, so it processes scanned images automatically. And it will find duplicate (and near-duplicate) files and offer to delete them.
- You review all your files in a single window. Because your ediscovery software recognizes and processes all file types. Word documents, PDFs, emails, images, whatever. No need to open multiple windows and go back and forth.
- Searching your files is like searching with Google. There’s a single search bar that pulls up all the Word documents, PDFs (scanned files included), and emails to do with a topic or keyword. They all open in the same window, and you can edit, tag, and redact them there too.
- You produce your files with a couple of clicks. You don’t have to open each file individually to convert them to PDFs.
Ediscovery without specialized software is possible. But is it worth it?
You’ll spend all your time piecing together random apps and scrambling to fill in the gaps. Which means fewer billable hours and less focused work.
How Do I Find the Best Ediscovery Software?
There are a lot of ediscovery apps out there.
The customized ones are expensive, though. And quite unnecessary for a small law firm like yours.
Your best option is to tap into the software-as-a-service (SaaS) trend.
Here, an ediscovery provider hosts your files in the ‘cloud’ and runs the software for you. (What is the cloud? We’ll cover that in the next chapter). In exchange, you pay a monthly subscription fee. You won’t have to install anything. And you won’t have to worry about things like keeping your computer secure, checking for viruses, or updating software. Just log on to the internet, use the app via your web browser, and log off when you’re done.
So, how to choose an ediscovery provider?
Here are 5 questions to ask:
- “Will I be able to start working immediately?” You should be able to sign up and start uploading files in less than 10 minutes. And if you need to upgrade your case, that should be quick too. Is the provider showing you complex pricing tables with many caveats? Run for the hills.
- “How long will it take to learn how to use the software?” The best software is intuitive. You should know what to do without having to study a manual. For example, if you want to copy files from one folder to another on your computer, what do you do? You select all the files with your mouse and then drag-and-drop them into the other folder. Uploading files into your ediscovery software should be the same. If you have to learn a new way of doing it, the software is wasting your time.
- “Does it have OCR?” You’ll certainly have paper documents that need to be made ‘electronic.’ You could have those documents typed out, but that’s wasting time. It’s much simpler to scan them. Here’s the problem though: those scanned documents have text–but to a computer, they are ‘pictures’ of text. You won’t be able to edit and search them the way you could a regular Word file. So, it’s important that your ediscovery software has optical character recognition (OCR) to convert the scanned image into text your computer can read.
- “Do I need all these features?” Quality ediscovery doesn’t have to be expensive. The mistake many providers make is to lose sight of what matters. They start adding features that aren’t necessary. This clutters the interface, and you have to pay for the excess. For example, ‘predictive coding.’ This is where the software looks for patterns in the way you review and label files and then makes suggestions automatically. It’s exciting, cutting-edge stuff. But you never really need it. Certainly not when you’re trying to grow your firm, find new clients, and keep costs down.
- “What am I really going to be paying every month?” Many services have hidden costs built in. For example, you have to upgrade just to get the features you need. Keep this in mind when you’re going through prices on your provider’s website.
Take your time shopping for ediscovery software.
There are many options out there, but answer those 5 questions and you’ll find the right one for your firm.
What is Cloud Computing? And is Cloud-Based Ediscovery Safe?
Ediscovery deals with electronic data. So, where is this data being stored?
Depending on the ediscovery software you use, it gets stored in 3 different ways.
Option 1: The data is stored on your own servers.
This is called on-premises hosting. Large law firms with deep pockets and extensive technical support develop custom ediscovery apps. And they store their clients’ data on their own private servers.
The problem is it costs a lot and needs a lot of technical know-how. You have to install specialized hardware and software (which can be a long and complicated process), and you have to maintain them yourself. You also need to use advanced digital security to protect your data from viruses, malware, and theft.
Does your small law firm have the resources and time to do all of this? If not, an on-premises solution isn’t your best option.
Option 2: The data is stored on someone else’s private servers.
Some ediscovery providers encourage you to use their private servers to store your clients’ data. Your data is backed up on multiple servers run by a company that specializes in ediscovery. And that’s an advantage. It’s a step up from the on-premises solution.
But this option costs a lot, and your data isn’t as secure as it can get. It is expensive to run a server farm. Private servers eat a lot of electricity, are routinely hacked, need infrastructure that can withstand natural disasters, and require trained IT personnel to manage them 24/7. What you want is to have someone else manage the infrastructure, but at an affordable rate. That is option 3.
Option 3: The data is stored in the ‘cloud.’
Cloud hosting has been around for a long time. In fact, if you use Dropbox, Google Drive, or any Apple product, then you’re already in the cloud.
Software giants like Amazon and Google lease storage and computing power to businesses all over the world. And their thousands of interconnected servers form a ‘cloud.’
The more people there are in the cloud, the less the costs for everyone. That’s the beauty of cloud economics, and it means you pay much less than if you were using the private servers we discussed in option 2 above.
Also, these high-performance cloud servers come with bank-grade security. Which means your data is as secure with them as your online banking information is with your bank. The data is encrypted both when it’s being transmitted and when it’s stored on their servers.
And your technical support is much better in the cloud. Remember, the best minds don’t go to small companies offering you private servers. They go to Amazon and Google.
But, is the cloud safe?
With all your data in one central location, isn’t a cloud server an obvious target for criminals looking to hack your files? Well, it’s not that easy. Companies like Amazon make billions from their cloud services, which gives them a huge incentive to use the best security. Trust ruined means money lost. So, your data is more secure on their cloud than it is in your office. Just be smart and pick a strong password, don’t share it with anyone, and never use public Wi-Fi for secure information.
If using the cloud is daunting, think of the alternative: Hiring a 24/7 IT team to run and maintain an in-house server.
Sounds expensive? You’re right. That’s why in a recent IBM study, 85% of the 150 Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) surveyed said that while they did worry about security, it wasn’t stopping their organizations from moving to the cloud.
The bottom line? Cloud-based ediscovery is safe. And it gives you the tools of larger law firms.
All for the price of an internet connection (or a $50 mobile hotspot) and a small monthly fee.
Why is GoldFynch the Best Ediscovery App for Small Law Firms?
GoldFynch makes ediscovery simple.
It’s so easy to use. You just drag-and-drop all your files into GoldFynch and you’re ready to go. Search, tag, redact and ‘produce’ files. All from the same GoldFynch window. Plus, it has in-built OCR (optical character recognition) for your scanned documents.
You can get to work right away.
You don’t have to install anything. GoldFynch runs off the internet. So you use it through your web browser–from the nearest PC, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone.
Signing up at GoldFynch.com takes just minutes. All the information you need is on the website. So you won’t have to ask for quotes or negotiate. You won’t need a credit card. You won’t have to answer annoying sales calls. And you’ll get a free case to try out.
Most importantly, it’s affordable.
It’s just $25 a month for a basic case (3 GB in size). That’s significantly less–every month–than the nearest comparable software. And hundreds of dollars cheaper than many others.
And it’s a fixed monthly price, so you always know exactly how much you’re paying. No fine print. No hidden costs or premium features to ‘unlock.’ With other pricing systems, your bill changes depending on how much data you use.
GoldFynch grows with your firm.
Cases start at 3 GB and go to more than 100 GB. So, GoldFynch has the perfect case-size for you, whatever the size of your firm.