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E-Discovery - How You Search Can Save Money & Time

The third of a six-part series on e-discovery from the Taneja Group .

There is a cautionary tale in the case of Metro Wastewater Reclamation v. Alfa Laval. The defendant in a breach of contract case requested that the plaintiff produce all electronically stored information (ESI) in reference to several of the plaintiff's employees. The plaintiff was to search for all relevant digital files from email, backup and archive, and fileshares. The plaintiff protested that the request imposed an unreasonable burden, but the court ruled that the request was highly endemic to the case and therefore reasonable. The plaintiff had to cough up the documents in an expensive manual search.

If Metro Wastewater Reclamation had run advanced e-discovery search tools against their content, then they would have lifted their own burden. In fact, today search and access is more critical than ever before for e-discovery, and the ability to do so proactively can be a key advantage in court. In the course of litigation, attorneys confer at the pre-trial Rule 26(f) stage to establish the parameters for e-discovery activities. Attorneys who are armed with detailed knowledge of what information will be generated by which e-discovery queries are better prepared than their opponents.

In the example of Metro Wastewater, a simple keyword search would have returned documents with the names of the affected employees. But they would be presented to reviewers as a large and unwieldy meaningless mass of files and email whose only distinction is that they reference an employees name. Document management systems, networked fileshares, copies of emails, active files, and archived files -- all connected with user names, all without context. However, if the plaintiff had been able to search in context with reasonable and demonstrable search terms, then they could have met their discovery burden faster, better, and much less expensively.

In the law office, advanced searches can be defined around content or metadata. Within content, it should be possible to search by terms such as names and titles, phrases, matters, and court cases. When it comes to metadata, basics like creation and modification dates remain important, but so do email relationships, email lists, and the existence of attachments. This is a critical function of e-discovery. However, remember that e-discovery is by no means restricted to email. That is emphatically not true: Many sources of ESI are fair game for e-discovery searches. The same goes for any specific content stores or applications like enterprise content management systems, databases, or specific storage arrays. All sources of ESI are potentially relevant to the e-discovery process, which cannot be limited to email or any other single data source.

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