E-discovery and the long, electronic arm of the law

Electronic legal discovery is where storage administration meets Damages

Supporting e-discovery is an issue that many system administrators will face at some point, and some organizations have specialized admins who support archiving and e-discovery full-time. There are actually several parts to the e-discovery process, some of which are normally beyond the responsibility of a storage admin, but which IT groups should be aware of.

First, potentially relevant data to the search needs to be identified, whether this is just e-mail or also includes corporate documents. Next, the data needs to be indexed and searched, to winnow it down to only the data that should be relevant to the case at hand. The legal department may have a hand in designing the search criteria, but this process is usually carried out by the storage admin. Sometimes, the data is winnowed twice, first with search tools and second by hand, discarding documents that the search engine erroneously added to the pile but which aren't relevant.

After a data set is created, the storage admin's job is usually done. The admin hands the data over to the legal department, and that's that. However, the process continues on. Typically, data is reviewed a couple of additional times, starting with a fast-pass review by a paralegal or lawyer to determine relevance to the case at hand and then followed by a critical four-corners review by an expensive lawyer before evidence is introduced. The requirements of these two additional reviews may determine the form in which the storage admin needs to deliver the data.

In some cases, pages of data are rendered as TIFFs and delivered on CD-ROM, or over the Internet, as individual files. In other cases, tools from companies such as CaseCentral, Kazeon, and Statify might be used. CaseCentral provides a collaborative environment that enables review by different people in a secure way without shipping CD-ROMs around. The system can also track the cost of review by different legal personnel, enabling the legal department to track expenses more accurately and determine the efficiency of various law offices.

Kazeon allows the search tools to be operated by the legal reviewers directly, whether an internal legal department or an external law office. Lawyers can securely run searches on e-mail and other corporate data, with low impact on servers and internal resources. This frees up the storage admin for other tasks. Once the relevant data is identified, it can be locked to prevent additional changes, and then saved in whatever format is necessary for additional processing.

Stratify is a search tool designed for legal discovery, but also manages the legal review process and on through to litigation. In addition, Stratify includes functionality to enable the legal department to further process and manage data for multiple legal cases. It enables tracking of data over the lifetime of a case (potentially years) and across multiple cases.

In addition to affecting how storage admins should make data available, these tools also have the potential to save companies a lot of money, by streamlining the overall process from e-discovery to litigation. Although this crosses a boundary between IT and legal, it's worth getting to know both parts of the process, because of the savings to be realized and because e-discovery requirements are bound to impact more companies as time goes by.