The Easiest Way to Handle Custodians in eDiscovery

08 December 2021 by Ross eDiscovery Custodians

Takeaway: It’s hard to define who a custodian is when we’re dealing with digital data, so try to find eDiscovery software with flexible tools to sort through incoming files. Specifically, it’ll need to offer options to collect files remotely, preserve their metadata, and filter them based on their custodian. Most importantly, look for Cloud-based software as it’s likely to both have the right features and fit your eDiscovery budget.

The idea of a ‘custodian’ in eDiscovery seems quite simple – it’s about owning or possessing data connected to a case.

Custodians are a key part of eDiscovery data collection because they’re the people from whom your case files come. More specifically, they’re an employee, person, or group who owns, has, or controls information that potentially could be relevant to a case. With ‘regular’ discovery, custodians would hand over paper documents, and you’d note down contextual information like who the files came from, when you got them, who gave them to you, and so on. With electronic discovery (eDiscovery), however, you’re dealing exclusively with electronically stored information (ESI). And that changes a lot.

The thing about a digital world is that it’s hard to know who ‘owns’ potentially-relevant data.

In theory, our definition of a custodian as someone who ‘owns, has, or controls’ information seems clear. But let’s look a little closer. Suppose you have a contract on your desk. It’s printed out and has your name on it, so we know for sure it’s yours, and you are the custodian. Now, what if you shared that contract with colleagues on Google Chat? It’s still your contract, but you don’t own or control it anymore. It’s on the group chat, so each of your colleagues has probably downloaded a copy. And we can this reasoning further. Technically, those files aren’t just on your team’s computers. They’re also in the Cloud – likely on Google’s servers. So, depending on what angle you take, the custodian(s) could be you, your team, Google, or anyone else connected to this data chain.

That’s why you’ll need eDiscovery software with tools to collect, isolate, and review any type of custodian’s files.

You’ll never know whether a case’s custodian will be a person, a group, a company, or even a network. So, focus on finding eDiscovery software with the right tools to collect, isolate, and review files – regardless of who their custodian is.

1. Collecting a custodian’s files remotely

Collecting eDiscovery data is a challenge because you can’t afford to skip custodians, unintentionally corrupt the data, or misplace key files. Just as important, you won’t want to wait for tardy custodians to send in their data. So, it’s worth finding an eDiscovery application that lets you collect files remotely. Since most people store their data in the Cloud, the best applications offer linked data collection services to download a custodian’s files. And these files can be scattered across a range of cloud services like Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo!, Gmail, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Dropbox.

2. Preserving custodian metadata

Each file a custodian sends in has valuable metadata that you’ll want to protect. This metadata is a digital footprint with information like who created a file, when they created it, when it was last modified, etc. It’s the computer equivalent of the notes you’d jot down when collecting a paper document for discovery – i.e., it adds context to a file. For example, if you don’t believe a custodian’s claim that they authored a document, you can catch them if the file’s ‘created by’ metadata field shows someone else’s name. The only issue with metadata is that it’s very fragile. (You can unwittingly destroy certain metadata fields by doing something as simple as opening a file.) That’s why it’s worth finding eDiscovery software with the right metadata protection features. (Learn more about metadata.)

3. Reviewing files based on their custodian

Once you’ve uploaded your case files, you’ll want to start searching them for keywords, dates, email addresses, etc. But an eDiscovery application’s ‘advance search’ feature lets you do even more. It gives you the option of using keyword combinations and metadata to craft a highly specific search like, ‘Find the emails that John Smith sent Kelly Andress about severance packages. But not those from 2016.’ Here, you’re linking the keywords ‘John Smith,’ ‘Kelly Andress,’ ‘severance package,’ and ‘2016.’ It sounds complicated, but the best eDiscovery applications make the process simple and intuitive. More importantly, they’ll let you isolate and search files from specific custodians (using keywords and file metadata) – so you can separate sources when building a case. Learn more about advanced searches.

4. Managing (assigning/reassigning) your custodians

You’ll want to keep all your file-custodian links up to date. So, your eDiscovery software needs to have a flexible ‘custodian manager’ feature that lets you assign/reassign custodians to files – either upfront when you first get the files or later on when you’re reviewing them. And you should also have the option of assigning/reassigning custodians based on a file’s tag (explained next) or an advanced search that you’ve saved. Plus, you should be able to assign more than one custodian to a file. (Ideally, you’ll want to be able to add a ‘custodian’ parameter to your load files, too.) Finally, the custodian manager should be able to tell you how many files each source/custodian has been applied to. (Learn more about managing custodians.)

5. Producing files based on their custodian

Just as with searches, you’ll often want to produce files from select custodians only. And eDiscovery applications help you do this through ‘tags.’ Think of tags as virtual sticky notes that you tack on to documents – making them easier to find later on. So, by giving the same tag to a custodian or group of custodians, you’ll be able to pull up and produce their files alone. And you can add short, descriptive notes to the tags to explain, for example, why you created that particular tag.

These custodian-focused features might be important, but are they affordable?

At GoldFynch, we’ve tailored our eDiscovery service to handle custodians, preserve metadata, use essential review tools, and more. But equally important, we wanted to design software that fits the budget and needs of any small and midsize law firm. So, our service comes with other key advantages, too:

  • 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. You can upload and cull as much data as you want, as long as you stay below your storage limit. And even if you do cross the limit, you can upgrade your plan with just a few clicks. Also, 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 a 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, you get prompt and reliable tech support.
  • Access it from anywhere, and 24/7. All your files are backed up and secure in the Cloud.

Want to find out more about GoldFynch?