The Evolution of eDiscovery

The term eDiscovery has been the buzzword in the legal field for the past several years. Since I began in Litigation Support in the late 1990s, I have personally witnessed the evolution of eDiscovery.

The term eDiscovery is the electronic aspect of identifying, collecting and producing electronically stored information (ESI) in response to a request for production in a law suit or investigation. Electronically stored information can be emails, documents, presentations, spreadsheets, databases, voicemails, audio and video files, social media and websites. Anything electronically stored can potentially be eDiscovery.

I remember back in the day when an investigator told me that he had a few boxes of documents that needed to be bates numbered and scanned. The “few” boxes turned into a van full of banker’s boxes. I learned that people have different definitions for the word “few”. So, I worked with a legal assistant the entire week manually applying bates labels to every page in those “few” banker’s boxes before scanning them.

We’ve come a long way.

I rarely see boxes of paper anymore. I still have a high-speed, high-volume scanner and I run paper through it occasionally to keep it in working order. Today, I mostly see hard drives, flash drives, discs and shared folder downloads.

In the early days of eDiscovery, the magic word was “metadata” that freaked everyone out when they realized that there was hidden data inside of most electronic documents. I laughed at the common definition of metadata at the time about it being “data about data”. That really didn’t explain the term very well to the legal staff looking at me like deer in headlights. Metadata is hidden information that is contained in any electronically stored data. This can be date created, date modified, who modified it and other pertinent information about the data that you can’t see just by opening the file in it’s native software. For instance, if you open a Microsoft Word document, you can’t see who created it or who modified it as well as additional information that isn’t visible to the average user.

We’re dealing with less paper today but…

I used to cringe at the news of having rooms of banker’s boxes in a case, now just one 4TB hard drive can force me into the fetal position. There is a whole lot more data to sort through today.

The depth of eDiscovery can come in many forms such as smart phones, computers, flash drives, emails and so much more. Just when you think you’ve covered it all, there is always something else you’ve missed. It can really be scary at times. I used to worry about missing something but now I have learned only to focus on what I have, not what I don’t have.

The tools used for eDiscovery continue to improve. When I first started in this journey, I had a system called “DocStar” which became my office’s first document processing workstation. It was a start. Fortunately, the technology has changed. We now have complex systems that are designed to process many types of electronic data. I’m glad to see the advancements in software to meet the challenges of eDiscovery.

Even with the voluminous volume of electronic discovery today, I am not longing for the days we had paper and sitting in a room for days applying physical bates labels to paper documents. I don’t want to go back. I’m looking forward to the future.