Facing A Lawsuit? Here's Where To Find The Data You'll Need.
Takeaway: When gathering data for a lawsuit, create a data inventory tracking where your files are stored, how they’re categorized, and who is responsible for them. Crucially, ensure you don’t change any valuable file metadata when creating this inventory.
Your first step in a lawsuit is to gather all potentially relevant data and hand it over to your attorney.
If you find yourself caught up in a lawsuit, one of your first and most crucial steps must be to safeguard your electronically stored information (ESI) like emails, documents, spreadsheets, etc. This process, known as electronic discovery or eDiscovery, is the foundation of lawsuits because it gives opposing attorneys the same information to build their cases. So, the moment you find out about an upcoming lawsuit, you’ve got to start preserving all digital data. And it’s not just the obvious stuff. You may need to catch hidden files like server, access, and transaction logs. And in some cases, you’ll preserve instant messages and text messages, too.
The good news is that we can break data gathering into clear, repeatable components.
Navigating the massive volumes of ESI can be overwhelming, especially if your data are scattered across multiple platforms and locations. And pros use a handful of vital concepts and techniques to streamline the process. For example, there’s the concept of data mapping, where you create an extensive inventory of your relevant files. Whether they’re on local servers, cloud storage, or even on individual employee devices, knowing their locations is a key step in effective data preservation. Then there’s backup and archiving, where you regularly back up all changeable data (e.g., transaction logs or customer databases) so you can track how they change over time. And then there’s the habit of time stamping, where you add a time stamp to your data so it’s easier to establish a timeline of events later. For example, time stamps can verify when a document was created, modified, or accessed.
Still, all this often feels overwhelming. So, we can simplify things by following a stepwise data-gathering system.
We’ve overviewed a few concepts and practices to help you gather lawsuit data. But are they that easy to follow? For instance, establishing a chain of custody is a great way to record and track who handled what data and when. But it’s a pain to do. Similarly, data mapping, time stamping, and backup/archiving sound useful – but how do they all fit together? Here’s why it’s worth having a stepwise data-gathering system to follow. A system that takes out all the guesswork.
Step 1: Inventory your data sources.
The initial step in your data preservation journey is to compile a thorough inventory of all the locations where data is stored, either by you or your organization. This isn’t limited to just servers and workstations, though. Rather, it extends to virtual machines, cloud storage, databases, external hard drives, and even personal devices that are used for work-related activities. Take your time with this because it’s the foundation for all future data preservation and eDiscovery. And, if you’re part of a large organization, consider using automated tools to create this inventory by scanning your network and identifying all connected devices and storage locations. Also, conduct employee surveys to identify personal and unofficial storage locations that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Step 2: Strategically organize your data.
Once you’ve assembled a complete inventory, start organizing your data. This makes it easier to retrieve specific files when needed, enhances your security by identifying sensitive information, and can even cut storage costs by helping you identify and eliminate redundant or irrelevant files. So, how should you organize your data? Well, you can organize them by data type – i.e., keep files of the same format together. (So, store emails with emails, documents with documents, spreadsheets with spreadsheets, etc.) Alternatively, you can organize them by content. So, you’d mix emails, documents, and spreadsheets based on a common topic like ‘financial records,’ ‘customer databases,’ or ‘internal communications.’ You could even organize data by lifecycle stage (e.g., are they in active use, archived, or scheduled to be deleted?). Or you could organize them by sensitivity level – ‘public,’ ‘internal,’ or ‘confidential.’
Step 3: Figure out who is responsible for what.
Your next step is to identify who owns what data. This means listing which individuals, teams, or departments interact with each file and categorizing them into specific roles: owners, stewards, and custodians. Owners are the creators and primary users of the data. (They are often subject matter experts responsible for the data’s accuracy and relevance.) Stewards decide what to do with the data – i.e., use, archive, or delete it. And custodians (typically IT staff) handle the technical aspects of data management, such as storage, backup, and security measures. Assigning these roles is important because it keeps everyone accountable for protecting their data. And it helps break through data silos where files are compartmentalized (and lost) within specific departments.
Step 4. Actively protect file metadata.
Metadata, often described as ‘data about data,’ is a treasure trove of bonus information that helps create context for a file. It includes details such as who created the file, when it was created, and any modifications made. Metadata can contain keywords, tags, and summaries that describe the file’s content. And sometimes, it may include application-specific details like ‘track changes’ and comments or geospatial details like geographical coordinates. The trouble is that metadata is highly fragile and can be altered simply by opening a file or booting a hard drive. So, you’ll need to take extra precautions to protect it. Learn more about metadata.
Here’s where eDiscovery software is essential because it helps with all the steps we’ve discussed.
A cloud eDiscovery service will help you with the four steps we’ve discussed. And it offers a suite of essential eDiscovery review tools your attorneys will need. So, ask your attorney about using applications like GoldFynch to keep costs low during your lawsuit. First-timers love GoldFynch because:
- 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?
For related posts about eDiscovery, check out the following links.
- A Complete Glossary of Essential eDiscovery Terms
- A Quick Primer on GoldFynch’s eDiscovery Software
- A Free PST Analyzer to Check If Your eDiscovery PSTs Are Intact
- Use This In-Browser PST Viewer to Explore Your eDiscovery Emails For Free
- The Secret to Choosing the Best Low-Cost eDiscovery Software for Your Small Law Firm
- How To Make Your eDiscovery Productions Less Hackable
- Is Social Media the Future of eDiscovery?