What is eDiscovery 'DeNISTing'? And Can It Speed Up Case Reviews?

21 August 2020 by Ross eDiscovery deNISTing case-review

Takeaway: DeNISTing is the way many eDiscovery applications catch and delete unusable files. They compare your case files to a central list and delete the ones you won’t need. It saves you time, but there’s a better solution: Find eDiscovery software that offers free uploading and processing, and you won’t need to worry about DeNISTing anymore.

Every attorney chases the holy grail of quicker eDiscovery. So, software designers continually try to streamline eDiscovery reviews.

These reviews can cost a lot, especially if you’re a smaller law firm with higher priority work. So, eDiscovery providers add time-saving features to their software. For example, automatic OCR (to make scanned documents ‘searchable’), smart tagging (to help pull up related files), advanced searches (to quickly find specific information), and technology-assisted reviews (where computers help you review files).

A useful streamlining technique is to review less data. And one way of doing this is to cull unnecessary files.

Computers and applications need a range of specialized files in order to run smoothly. But these files don’t have any reviewable content for us users. For example, each piece of hardware we attach to a computer (printers, keyboards, etc.) comes with its own ‘driver’ files. Then there are ‘executable’ (i.e., EXE) files that launch applications, and DLLs, INIs, CHMs, etc., that run the applications. There are (literally) millions of these ‘system’ file types, but they weren’t created by your custodians, they aren’t connected to your case, and they don’t have any readable material. So, there’s no point in having them clutter your case and distract you.

DeNISTing is a convenient way of weeding out these unnecessary files.

Here, your software compares the files in your case to a central list of known ‘unnecessary’ files and then deletes the ones you won’t need. [Note: The ‘NIST’ in deNISTing stands for the National Institute of Standards and Technology – a federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Their goal is to keep the economy ticking by encouraging innovation and competition. And a part of this mandate involves keeping a list of files that don’t have ‘evidentiary value.’ eDiscovery software algorithms trawl this NIST list to decide which of your files are unnecessary.]

So, how does deNISTing work? It uses the concept of ‘hashing’ (i.e., creating a file’s digital fingerprint).

When hashing, your eDiscovery software gives each document a unique string of numbers and letters – e.g., c262935cfc3af3f0a5cc5c5cdf3c0b26. This string is called a hash value. And it’s like a digital fingerprint. So, instead of ‘reading’ an entire file, the software just compares these highly accurate hash values to those on the NIST list. And this shortcut is crucial because there are about 28 million hash values on the NIST list! Incidentally, hash values are so accurate that they change if you just add a full-stop or comma to a document.

DeNISTing may be convenient, but it’s not as essential as you’d think. And that’s why many eDiscovery applications don’t prioritize it.

It’s most useful when you initially collect data, but less so later on. That’s because:

  1. Unreviewable files aren’t the ones that really need culling. Most of the time, you’re culling reviewable files like PDFs, emails, and Word documents. The unnecessary ‘system’ files are usually removed by the time you get them. And even if some make it through, there won’t be that many of them.
  2. The NIST list is limited. Even with their 28 million hashes, NIST can’t track every unusable file around. So, it’s likely that newer types of unusable files (or uncommon ones) will slip through.

Instead of paying for a deNISTing feature, find eDiscovery software that catches ‘unsupported’ files. This is just as effective, but free.

The NIST list is useful but often limited. After all, no single database can list all system files – considering new ones are regularly created. So, deNISTing might ironically end up wasting your time. That’s why many of the newer eDiscovery applications simply flag files they don’t support. This will usually catch those pesky EXEs, DLLs, etc., which you can then choose to delete. And it saves time because your software doesn’t need to compare all the files in your case to the NIST list. [Note: If you do decide to go the deNISTing route, make sure your eDiscovery provider is really using the NIST list. Many have their own hashing system that may be useful, but isn’t the same as deNISTing.]

DeNISTing isn’t the real issue, though. What we need to fix is our approach to culling files.

We’re talking about DeNISTing only because it’s a way of culling files early. But this early culling stifles eDiscovery. And it’s an offshoot of a certain type of pricing system – where you have to pay to upload files. If you need to pay for every GB you upload, then more uploads mean higher costs. So you’re forced to try and cull large numbers of files, early. But if we change the payment model, our priorities change. That’s why the better eDiscovery services offer free uploads, and instead charge only to store your data. So you’re free to upload, delete and repeat because that part of eDiscovery is now free. (Learn more about ‘Flat Rate Vs. À la Carte’ pricing and why it transforms eDiscovery.)

Looking for quick and reliable eDiscovery software? Try GoldFynch.

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

  • It costs just $27 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.