Why Law Schools Don't Teach eDiscovery [And Why They Should]

07 December 2022 by Anith eDiscovery law-school

Takeaway: Law schools often dismiss eDiscovery as a ‘practical’ process that their students can learn about on the job. But law firms want attorneys who already understand eDiscovery – not novices who waste precious time learning pre-requisite skills. There’s a fix for this, though. Find and use simple eDiscovery software that can gradually introduce your new hires to more complex processes when needed.

eDiscovery is considered too ‘practical’ to teach at law school.

Surprisingly, most U.S. law schools don’t offer eDiscovery courses to prepare their students for modern litigation. It’s surprising because eDiscovery is essential in a world that runs on electronically stored information like emails, PDFs, spreadsheets, social media posts, and more. Experts have an explanation for this, though. They point out that many law schools see eDiscovery as something attorneys can pick up on the job. So, they value it less than other legal basics. Further, many professors aren’t technologically skilled, making it harder to teach a tech-based phenomenon like eDiscovery.

The trouble is that law firms don’t have time to educate new hires.

When joining a law firm, most new attorneys must hit the ground running. So, not understanding eDiscovery can be a liability at interviews because partners want new hires with updated, well-rounded skillsets. Unfortunately, law schools haven’t caught on to this yet, even though they’re much better suited than most law firms to teach something as complex and interdisciplinary as eDiscovery. Plus, their students have free time/energy that junior associates don’t.

It’s not enough to know how to use eDiscovery software, though. Junior associates must also understand the tech behind it.

eDiscovery applications keep getting more user-friendly, but attorneys must know more than just which buttons to click on. For instance, eDiscovery search engines can carry out niche search instructions like, “Find all emails from John Peterson sent before 2019 that mention the Coleson merger.” But attorneys must understand the tech behind this. For instance, they need to know what metadata and Boolean operators are because these power 50% of most search instructions. And it’s the same with the tech behind other eDiscovery software tools like document tags, data redaction, and multi-format productions.

Attorneys need to understand background processes, too, like file indexing.

Your eDiscovery browser is merely the face of significantly more complex inner mechanisms. For instance, you upload documents by just ‘dragging and dropping’ them into your browser. But the software now has to slot all that data into massive behind-the-scenes databases. (Think of these as giant spreadsheets that help computers structure chaotic user-generated files into something more ordered and organized.) And part of this slotting-in process involves creating a data ‘index’ – i.e., a digital version of the index authors add to the end of non-fiction books. It’s a shortcut your software uses to find keywords without going through thousands of database fields. The point is that tasks like data indexing might be background processes, but junior associates will need to know about them if/when file processing errors pop up.

Similarly, new hires must know about ‘hashes’ to understand ‘file integrity’ errors.

How does eDiscovery software know if an uploaded file has been modified or corrupted? It compares ‘hashes.’ A hash is a unique alphanumeric character sequence your software assigns as an identifier to each file being uploaded. It assigns the hash based on the file’s binary identity, meaning that if even a single character in a document’s contents is modified, the file’s hash changes. (For instance, the phrase ‘Mary had a little lamb’ gets the hash value e946adb45d4299def2071880d30136d4. And this changes even if the phrase is altered to ‘Mary has a little lamb.’) Hashes might be a technical concept, but new hires will need to understand them to make sense of eDiscovery processes like deduplication, data chunking, and file integrity checks. Learn more about hashing.

Then there’s the procedural side of eDiscovery dealing with litigation holds, data preservation, and more.

With so much electronic information generated each day, businesses need data retention policies that decide which files to keep and which to discard. Similarly, they’ll need data preservation systems in place to prepare for potential litigation. These systems halt data retention when needed, based on specific preservation demands from opposing counsel. Obviously, there are many technical best practices around retention/preservation, and new hires must know all of these to represent clients competently. For instance, what will they advise clients about collecting and preserving data on Cloud platforms like Slack and Facebook? Who owns this data? And how can they guarantee none of it is mistakenly deleted or modified? Remember, you can’t use the same processes for Cloud data as you would for data sitting on private servers.

Finally, new hires should be able to adapt to a continually changing eDiscovery landscape.

eDiscovery technology is continually evolving, with developments like artificial intelligence (AI) and technology-assisted review (TAR) on the horizon. These seem intimidating but could revolutionize eDiscovery workflows. (For instance, AI can spot data patterns, group similar files, and highlight ‘representative’ documents within clusters of near-identical files.) But attorneys need to understand the technical foundations of this AI. For one, they’ll need this knowledge to monitor the software. But they’ll also need it to decide if/when to use AI. (Learn why AI might not be ideal for smaller firms.)

So, what can law firms do to prepare new attorneys for eDiscovery? Well, the trick is to keep things simple.

Ideally, you’ll want to hire attorneys who understand eDiscovery. But whether or not they do, it helps to find easy-to-use eDiscovery software. The best applications have all the essential eDiscovery tools you’ll need, presented via an intuitive interface that anyone can master in minutes. It’s this sort of accessible eDiscovery that will help novices gradually explore the more complex processes they’ll need to understand.

For simple, user-friendly eDiscovery software, try GoldFynch.

If you’re still searching for an affordable eDiscovery service that is novice-friendly, try GoldFynch. It’s designed for small and midsize firms and has some valuable advantages. For instance:

  • It costs just $25 a month for a 3 GB case: That’s significantly less than most comparable software. With GoldFynch, you know exactly what you’re paying for: its pricing is simple and readily available on the website.
  • It’s easy to budget for. GoldFynch charges only for storage (processing files 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 (our average response time is 30 minutes).
  • 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?