Why eDiscovery Can Get Derailed by Time Zones [And What to Do About It]

25 July 2020 by Anith eDiscovery timezones

Takeaway: Dates pop up often in eDiscovery. For example, when you’re searching for an email sent at a particular time. Or when you want to establish a chronology of events. But files get stamped with dates based on their time zone. So, different time zones may result in conflicting dates. The solution? Find eDiscovery software that can standardize time zones.

Many law firms have cross-functional eDiscovery teams working in different locations.

Electronic discovery is much more convenient and efficient than older ‘paper’ discovery. But it’s also potentially much more complicated because of all the technology involved. And there’s so much data to be sifted through that team members can’t afford to work in isolation. You need to continually review, process and analyze, as you build a defensible case. This means interacting, advising, and discussing strategies with your team who may be in different cities or countries.

So, how do time zones complicate eDiscovery for teams?

Most of your files are stamped in UTC – Coordinated Universal Time. It’s a time ‘standard’ used by most of the world to set their clocks by (as opposed to a time ‘zone’ like Greenwich Mean Time [GMT]). However, your computer considerately converts all the UTC timestamps into your local time. This is fine when you’re working alone, but it’s a problem when you bring a team into the mix.

Imagine your client has offices in New York and Los Angeles.

If a custodian in the LA office sends an email at 11 PM on September 30, 2019, it’s received at the New York office at 2 AM on October 1, 2019. Now, say you collect all their emails and start searching for the ones sent on or after October 1, 2019. Which time zone should your software use for the search?

You see the problem? Multiple time zones change the dates connected to each file.

Ideally, you want a standardized time zone across all your files. Otherwise,

  • It’s hard to track the order of events in your case
  • You might miss important files when you’re making a ‘date’ search
  • Your software won’t deduplicate exact copies of emails (because they’ll have different time stamps)

The best eDiscovery applications use a standardized time zone when stamping dates on files.

It’s the most elegant solution to the problem. The software will let you pick which time zone you want to use, right when you’re setting up the case. Usually, you’ll settle on the time zone of the producing party, but you could stick to UTC if they’re scattered.

How does your eDiscovery software alter dates? It comes down to something called ‘metadata.’

When you create a document on your computer, the software you’re using (e.g., Microsoft Word) records a bunch of information about it. Things like who created it, when they created it, when it was last opened, etc. This ‘data about data’ (i.e. metadata) is a digital footprint which tracks the history of the document. All files have metadata embedded in them, but you won’t see it unless you know where to look.

There are hundreds of different types of metadata.

Some of them are easy to find–e.g., the author of a document, how much time was spent editing the document, and where it’s stored. And some of them are hard to find unless you have technical skills–e.g., the history of all edits to a document.

  • Metadata for word processing documents. Here’s a sample of a Microsoft Word document’s metadata: Filename and size, when (date and time) the file was created and who created it, when (date and time) it was last modified and who modified it, how many times and when it has been accessed/changed/altered, where it’s stored on the hard drive or computer network, and (occasionally) the GPS location of where it was created.
  • Metadata for emails include things like who created the email, when it was created, when it was sent, whom it was sent to (‘cc’ and ‘bcc’), when they received it, and whether they read it. You can see this metadata even if you weren’t the one sending or receiving the email.

Dates and times are hugely important metadata fields, so it’s worth getting them right.

Here are some examples of how they can be useful.

  • Proving unfair termination: Your client was fired by her boss but says that he’d been influenced by an email with false accusations from a coworker. The boss claims he got the email after he fired your client, so it didn’t influence his decision. But you review the metadata and find that he indeed received and read the email before he fired your client.
  • Discovering who stole trade secrets: Steve claims that he had access to a computer with company secrets but didn’t copy and leak the information to a competitor. However, when you look at the computer’s file system metadata, you find something interesting. Steve accessed the computer at 15:33 and logged off at 16:05. But at 15:42 a flash drive was plugged into the computer and was unplugged at 15:58. And some files were transferred. That’s more than enough circumstantial evidence on which to start building a case.

Looking for eDiscovery software that tackles time zones and helps teams collaborate? Try GoldFynch.

It prioritizes things that matter to small and midsize law firms like yours. That’s why:

  • It costs just $25 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s significantly less than most comparable software. With GoldFynch, you know what you’re paying for exactly – its pricing is simple and readily available on the website.
  • It’s easy to budget for. GoldFynch charges only for storage (processing is free). So, choose from a range of plans (3 GB to 150+ GB) and know up front how much you’ll be paying. It takes just a few clicks to move from one plan to another, and billing is prorated – so you’ll pay only for the time you spend on any given plan. With legacy software, pricing is much less predictable.
  • It takes just minutes to get going. GoldFynch runs in the Cloud, so you use it through your web browser (Google Chrome recommended). No installation. No sales calls or emails. Plus, you get a free trial case (0.5 GB of data and processing cap of 1 GB), without adding a credit card.
  • It’s simple to use. Many eDiscovery applications take hours to master. GoldFynch takes minutes. It handles a lot of complex processing in the background, but what you see is minimal and intuitive. Just drag-and-drop your files into GoldFynch and you’re good to go. Plus, it’s designed, developed, and run by the same team. So you get prompt and reliable tech support.
  • It keeps you flexible. To build a defensible case, you need to be able to add and delete files freely. Many applications charge to process each file you upload, so you’ll be reluctant to let your case organically shrink and grow. And this stifles you. With GoldFynch, you get unlimited processing for free. So, on a 1 GB plan, you could add and delete 5 GB of data at no extra cost – as long as there’s only 1 GB in your case at any point. And if you do cross 1 GB, your plan upgrades automatically and you’ll be charged for only the time spent on each plan. That’s the beauty of prorated pricing.
  • Access it from anywhere. And 24/7. All your files are backed up and secure in the Cloud.

Want to learn more about GoldFynch?