Managing Early Case Assessment
Early case assessment (ECA) is an excellent tool to decide the merits of a civil case. However, in a world of fast-growing electronic data and shrinking review times, ECA has become one cumbersome process.
Attorneys traditionally begin the ECA phase by interviewing data custodians and requesting all related materials. The custodians usually do their best but thinking back 3 or more years - not to mention their natural inclination to protect themselves - leaves the interviewing process much to be desired. Attorneys leave the custodians with instructions to stop deleting any potentially relevant data and to forward every potentially relevant email on their hard drive to the attorney. As you can well imagine, this process is so muddled as to be a mere formality in some settings.
The real search happens when attorneys ask IT to search network email stores and backup tapes for relevant ESI. These too start trickling in as IT has time to do it. The end result of this entire process is that hundreds to thousands of duplicate messages enter the data set, email may or may not be relevant, and timeframes stretch out as users and IT rarely feel the same sense of urgency as the review team does.
On top of this awkward and inadequate process, the attorneys will be looking at the data set for the first time. They will frequently encounter two main challenges at this stage: a large initial data set and frequent search term revisions.