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ECA: A Big Trend For An Old Topic

Early case assessment (ECA) is moving farther and farther to the left of the EDRM. This means big business for ECA vendors new and old.

Early case assessment (ECA) is moving farther and farther to the left of the EDRM. Given the "early" part, it seems like ECA should already have been closer to the left-hand side. But no; it was traditionally the first pass of the review stage because attorneys lacked the tools to effectively accomplish it any earlier than that. I think of ECA primarily in terms of initial review analysis, but it could also include early interviews with data custodians. Manual ECA requires that the data be loaded into the review system already. At this point the reviewers can get to work with a first pass analysis and a full review yet to come.

The problem rose with tighter eDiscovery timelines and the need to be better informed at meet-and-confer time. Attorneys that were waiting on manual ECA were waiting themselves right out of a case-winning strategy (or smart case settlement anyway). By moving ECA to its proper place early in the workflow, the process is better positioned in planning and strategy.

eDiscovery vendors with analytics capabilities have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. First in were vendors who already provided software analytics around early collected data sets. They generally lacked full review capabilities at the time, but positioned themselves as ECA providers at an early stage in the eDiscovery workflow. The move proved popular with customers who were struggling to do first pass review earlier in the cycle. The technology also offered a way to do ECA much more cheaply because it did not require as much manual review. The software was able to form threads, comparisons, relationships and statistics much faster than human reviewers could.

The next wave of vendors into true ECA made full review packages. These vendors already provided first-pass review support but not the highly automated nature of the new ECA offerings. Most of these vendors have now announced new ECA capabilities, and the ones who haven't will shortly.

Among the first companies to offer ECA as a distinct process are Clearwell and Kazeon. Clearwell's initial offering was firmly based on ECA, and it has since expanded its abilities to include review. Kazeon began life as a search and indexing vendor but parlayed its analytics into an ECA package early on. Some newer ECA announcements have come from RenewData (newly acquired Vestigate; it already offered ECA for ActiveVault,) CaseCentral ECA as part of its review and production workflow, and Level 9's earlyCASE for PC-level ECA. I'll also mention Anacomp's combined service offering for ECA, which includes consulting, methodology and software.

Christine Taylor, an analyst with The Taneja Group, has more than a decade of experience in covering the IT and communications industries. She has written extensively on the role of technology in e-discovery, compliance and governance, and information management. View Full Bio
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