7 Basic eDiscovery Concepts Every Attorney Should Know

09 March 2021 by UV ediscovery

Takeaway: Before taking on your first case, make sure you understand these 7 concepts: (1) Cloud eDiscovery, (2) Drag-and-drop uploads, (3) Advanced searches, (4) Virtual review tools, (5) Technology-assisted reviews, (6) Production formats, (7) Metadata.

Both electronic discovery (eDiscovery) and older ‘paper’ discovery do the same thing. But eDiscovery uses a brand new virtual toolkit, powered by some basic tech concepts.

With ‘paper’ discovery, you’d (1) Manually read through banker’s boxes full of papers, (2) Mark important evidence by highlight key points and sticking post-its to pages, and (3) Produce Bates-stamped printouts of the pages you’ve reviewed. With eDiscovery, you’re doing all the same things, but using computers. And computers give us a whole new toolkit built using fundamental tech concepts.

So, here are 7 eDiscovery concepts every attorney needs to know.

The best eDiscovery applications are designed around the following concepts.

1. Cloud eDiscovery: Finding a place to store your data

Your eDiscovery data comes to you as electronic documents (emails, PDFs, Word documents, etc.). But where will you put all this data?

  • Option 1: Store the data on your servers. This ‘on premises’ hosting seems like the easiest and safest option because the data stays with you at all times. But running your own servers costs a lot and needs significant technical know-how.
  • Option 2: Store the data on your eDiscovery vendor’s servers. Here, your vendor has a private ‘server farm’ for your data. So, you don’t have to worry about tech issues. But private server farms are expensive to run, so you’ll still end up paying a lot.
  • Option 3: Store your data in the ‘Cloud’. Instead of private server farms, the smartest eDiscovery vendors store your data in the Cloud. I.e., a global network of servers belonging to software giants like Amazon and Google. This saves you money because thousands of companies share a server and split the bill. Plus, your Cloud provider handles the tech issues. Services like Dropbox and Google Drive use the Cloud, so you know it’s a secure, reliable option. And vendors don’t store only data in the Cloud. Many eDiscovery vendors run their software in the Cloud, too!

2. Drag-and-drop uploads: Getting files into your eDiscovery software?

The best eDiscovery applications let you drag-and-drop your files into the software. But behind the scenes, there’s a lot of complicated processing your software has to do.

  1. Flagging duplicate files. Many lawyers estimate that up to 50% of their files are unnecessary duplicates – for example, a colleague might email you a file you already have. While processing your data, your software detects and flags these sorts of duplicates.
  2. Spotting system files. When you upload whole folders, you’ll often be uploading ‘system’ files – e.g., .DAT, .DLL, .IDX, etc. These are files that your computer needs in order to run, but which aren’t part of your case. And just like with duplicates, they’ll waste your time. So your software weeds them out.
  3. Converting files into a common format. Your files come in different formats, each needing their own parent application to open them. For example, Word documents need Microsoft Word, spreadsheets need Excel, PDFs need Adobe Acrobat, etc. By converting files into a common format, your eDiscovery software can now open them without their parent applications.
  4. Extracting file metadata. Metadata is a file’s digital footprint, and it can help win cases. For example, when you want to find an email your client sent to a colleague last January, your software scans the ‘date’ metadata field of all your emails. We’ll explore metadata more in a bit.
  5. Extracting embedded files. Sometimes a file can have another one embedded in it – for example, a PowerPoint file with a short video clip in one slide. Your software will extract the embedded file, making it ‘searchable’ using advanced searches (explained below).

3. Advanced searches: Finding the data you’re looking for.

With eDiscovery, you don’t need to spend hours reading through documents. Your eDiscovery software will search your documents for keywords the same way Google searches the internet.
And with ‘advanced’ searches, you’ll be able to find complex keywords combinations.

Imagine, for example, you want to find an email ‘John Anderson’ sent to ‘Sally Nedry’. Advanced searches make the process so much quicker.

With a ‘simple’ search, you’d find the email using multiple steps. First, you’d find emails from John and Sally. Then you’d search those results for other keywords. And you’d search those results for more keywords. And systematically, you’d zero in on the email you want. In contrast, an ‘advanced’ search lets you give your software a complex instruction like, ‘Find all John’s emails to Sally about severance packages – but not the 2015 packages’. How? Well, it’s all done through the magic of Boolean operators. (Learn more about advanced searches.)

4. Virtual review tools: Highlighting important evidence.

As you review files, you’ll want to organize them and jot down relevant thoughts. These are the tools to help you do this.

  1. Tags: Think of a tag as a virtual post-it. With paper documents, you stick post-its to important pages so that you can find and categorize them easily. With electronic documents, you use tags. These tags don’t change the documents, and they let you pull up relevant files with a single click.
  2. Notes: You also get to add little ‘notes’ to each document you review. This way, you can add missing information or leave behind thoughts for yourself and your teammates. And you’ll be able to add multiple notes to each document, to record different ideas as they arise without having to break your flow.
  3. Annotations: These let you add notes to specific parts of a document. So, you’ll be able to attach more targeted insights to particular paragraphs. And when you’re reviewing documents, you can click on the list of these annotations, and you’ll be taken to the corresponding page in the text.
  4. Comments: This feature adds nuance to your review because you’ll be able to comment on the notes and annotations from your teammates. It’s the perfect way to start conversation threads without having to switch to email or flood your inbox.
  5. Redactions: With paper documents, you’d redact privileged information by crossing it out with a black marker. With electronic documents, though, these virtual scribbles over sensitive text won’t work because they’re easily reversible. An eDiscovery redaction tool will help you solve the privacy problem by ‘burning in’ the redactions properly. (Learn more about electronic redaction).

5. Technology-Assisted Review (TAR): How to deal with massive volumes of data.

This feature is only for larger firms with massive case volumes, but it’s still worth knowing about. With TAR, your eDiscovery application learns which files interest you and starts pulling up similar ones. It’s like how Netflix figures out your taste in movies and suggests ones you might like. TAR can help you review thousands of GBs of documents quickly, accurately and efficiently. But if you don’t have gigantic cases (and most small-to-midsize firms don’t), TAR isn’t worth the upfront costs. Instead, it makes more sense to invest in eDiscovery software with a powerful ‘advanced’ search engine. (Learn more about the pros and cons of TAR.)

6. Native, PDF and TIFF production formats: How to present your files.

With paper discovery, all your data is printed on sheets of paper. So, how do you present your files for eDiscovery? The best eDiscovery applications will let you choose from one of the following options:

  1. Native productions: Here, you keep files in their ‘native’ format (e.g., Microsoft Word, Excel, etc.). This way, you’ll be able to see the document laid out as it was created, without losing original material like comments, ‘track changes’, etc. (Learn more about native files.)
  2. PDF productions: The Portable Document Format (PDF) was created by Adobe in 1993. With native productions, you need specific software to open each file type. E.g., Microsoft Word for Word documents and Notepad for TXT files. With PDFs, though, all files are converted into a common PDF format that’s easy to open with any PDF reader.
  3. TIFF productions: The Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) was developed in the mid-1980s by the Aldus Corporation. And they are the original version of the standardized files that PDFs now represent. TIFFs were revolutionary decades ago, but nowadays, people prefer PDFs over TIFFs.
  4. A mix of native & PDFs/TIFFs: Most eDiscovery applications let you create a mixed production. So, you can produce some file types as PDFs & TIFFs and others as native files. For example, you could produce all word documents as PDFs, but Excel and TXT files as natives. (Here’s how to decide which production format to use.)

7. Metadata: Confirming that your data is authentic.

You’ll always have some background information about paper files – things like who created them, who gave them to you and when, etc. With electronic files, you have the same information (and more) in the form of ‘metadata’. That is, data that your computer records about the file as soon as it’s created, and as it gets edited and passed on from user to user.

Think of metadata as a digital footprint that tracks the history of a document.

A document’s content is its ‘data’, but a description of this content is the ‘metadata’ (i.e., data about data). And metadata can give you valuable bonus information. For example, say a partner at a large law firm sends your client a document he’s worked on. Out of curiosity she checks the document’s metadata and finds it was an associate – not the partner – who worked on the document. And yet she was billed at a partner’s rate. The metadata has caught the partner red-handed!

Metadata is everywhere but gets damaged easily. So you’ll need eDiscovery software that can open files without changing their metadata.

The great thing about metadata is that it’s everywhere, attached to any digital content. That means electronic documents (Word documents, spreadsheets, PDFs, etc.), emails, social media, mobile devices, photographs, videos, web pages, and more. Unfortunately, metadata gets damaged really easily. For example, you can change the ‘Last Accessed’ metadata field just by opening an email in Outlook. So you’ll need to find metadata-friendly eDiscovery software. (Learn more about metadata for eDiscovery.)

Looking for easy-to-use eDiscovery software with all the right features? Try GoldFynch.

It’s an eDiscovery service that’s perfect for small- and midsize law firms and companies.

  • 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’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 3 GB plan, you could add and delete 5 GB of data at no extra cost – as long as there’s only 3 GB in your case at any point. And if you do cross 3 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?