Friday, April 16, 2010

Small Firm eDiscovery

Back in January, Craig Ball wrote an article in Law Technology News about eDiscovery on a budget.  Also known as the "EDna Challenge", Ball took a hypothetical lawyer (Edna) at a small law firm, with a bunch of ESI sent to her by her client on two DVDs.  The total number of documents (including emails) was going to be no more than 100,000 by the time the case was done and she had a budget of $1,000 to spend on software and hardware, but not a penny more.

Ball polled some of the leading minds in eDiscovery to see what they could come up with.  There wasn't much in the way of off-the-shelf software.  But with some ingenuity you can put together a suite of tools that will help those on tiny budgets to review ESI without spending upwards of $10,000 for the "standard" suite of LAW/Discovery Cracker/etc. + Summation/Concordance/Caselogistix.

First, it's a good idea to figure out what you have on those DVDs.  A large collection of zip files is going to require different handling to a bunch of regular MS Office files and PSTs (though PSTs can present their own challenges . . .).  A couple of good options, both mentioned in Ball's article, for figuring out what you have are Karen's Power Tools ($30), which includes utilities for listing directory contents and hashing files, or FTK Imager (FREE!).  FTK Imager will not only inventory what you have, but export it along with file system metadata and hash values to a csv file which can be loaded into your review tool of choice.

dtSearch was mentioned a number of times in Ball's article and is a relatively inexpensive option at $199 per license for robust keyword searching.  It has fuzzy, phonic, wildcard, stemming and thesaurus search options and will provide you with search reports showing you the hits in context.  Plus it has forensic indexing and searching tools (always a good option to have). 

dtSearch can be used to search within PST files, but only if that PST is available through an Outlook profile.  An easier approach would be to use either Aid4Mail (about $50) or Trident Lite (FREE!)

A license of Quick View Plus will run $46 and not only saves you the trouble of having to purchase software you don't have just so you can view ESI in that format, but also saves you having to open & close umpteen programs as you conduct your review.  Or having numerous programs open with numerous evidentiary documents of various formats open within them.  Either way, you're saving yourself a time and money hog.

For reviewing all the data, Edna could use either MS Excel (about $200 if you don't have it) or MS Access (also about $200 if you don't have it).  Of the two, MS Access is probably the better choice thanks to its more powerful search features among other reasons, but in a pinch, MS Excel could be used. 

So what is Edna's total cost here?
  • FTK Imager:  FREE
  • dtSearch:  $199
  • Aid4Mail: $50
  • Quick View Plus: $46
  • MS Access: $200
Total expenditure: About $500.  And that's assuming she doesn't have MS Access, which, is included in MS Office Professional 2007.

So what should Edna do with that extra $500 (or $700) in her budget?  She should buy an independent eDiscovery consultant's time.  $500 should buy you about four hours with a consultant which should be enough time to put together the all important process documentation and get a decent MS Access database set up for reviewing the documents.

Having the right tools is certainly helpful, but understanding the right way to use them is even more important.  This is what I do for my clients on a budget - get them the inexpensive tools they need, but also help them figure out the best workflow for their case.  A botched workflow can lose a case; using one good tool over another rarely makes a difference.


Micrapol said...

Great article Debbie - and a good plan for your clients!

Richard Careaga said...

Yes, and no. Yes to a well reasoned selection of off-the-shelf proprietary software; no to lifecycle cost and the broader question of what is a lawyer's responsibility for understanding what these packages really do and, especially, how they really do it.

The true cost of software is using it. If you can think of the $1,000 budget as representing 4 billable hours (to pull a number out of the hat), you can also think of the number of billable hours spent operating the software through point and click, which is much higher.

Open-source software is, with informed eyes, transparent. It's advantage is not that it's free but that it can allow you the option of assigning the lobotomized monkey work to someone who doesn't mind doing it--an otherwise idle CPU.

Family said...

Thanks much for sharing.I found your list very useful for my compilation of tools for lawyers in Singapore. The E-Discovery scene here is just picking up, with the passing of the much needed Practice Direction at end 2009. Our e-discovery consultancy is targetted at smaller firms, and I was very happy to come across your post. Keep up the writing.

I have not used DT yet,but I liked the X1 desktop search which could do most of what is needed for small cases.

I would also have liked to attend your talk as well. Hope that goes well.

Serena Lim
Bizibody Technology Pte Ltd