The Truth Matters in E-Discovery

Lady justice, blind and weighing the truthThe truth definitely matters. We’ve all read horror stories from the criminal courts. Unqualified experts, bad identification evidence, perjured testimony, tainted DNA, corrupt cops, less than candid prosecutors–all these things lead to unreliable outcomes in the mostly analog world of criminal jurisprudence. It’s no different in civil litigation when it comes to the use of electronic evidence. Information that companies possess and control can be manipulated, altered, corrupted, or deleted—inadvertently or deliberately. In most instances, there’s nothing nefarious going on, but occasionally parties and lawyers are sanctioned for wrongdoing in civil litigation as well.

Regardless of the forum, the expectation is that the information put before judicial factfinders, hearing officers, and others, is complete and accurate. One would like to think that good, accurate information leads to the “truth and justice” in our system of jurisprudence. Because, at the end of the day, the truth matters in both civil and criminal cases and fact-finders simply cannot get to the truth if the information presented is bad.

Information is Everywhere

But the fact is that the pursuit of truth is more complex today because we live in a world in which almost everyone is surrounded by vast amounts of electronically stored information (ESI). The Radicati Group estimates that the business world accounts for more than 108 billion emails sent and received per day. They estimate that number will to grow to 140 billion by 2018.[1]

And there is more information created in the world in the last few years than exists throughout all of humankind in the thousands of years prior. Ubiquitous computer devices transmit and store information. Our locations, up-to-the-minute news, sound bites, email, texts, and social media feeds, not to mention “Alexa,” new doorbells, and smartphone-controlled appliances. All this information may play a role in the truth-seeking process. It can help litigants to investigate events and tell their stories in court.

Information is now everywhere and nearly everything we do today is dependent upon electronic devices that store information. These machines are integral to daily life and they supplement the shortages of mere mortal memories. Indeed, computers now perform some functions that previously only humans performed. And computers are now smarter with technologies like Watson’s augmented intelligence and machine learning.

Still, there is work to be done.

The E-Discovery Market

In the United States, which is 80% of the global market, electronic discovery is a growing and thriving field. The market worth of the global e-discovery industry doubled since 2010 and the projection is it will quadruple by 2020. Driven by the massive increase of ESI and the need to manage that information for civil litigation, the market, including services and software, grew to over $7 billion in 2015.[2] One report projects 16% compound annual growth rate for services and software through 2022, increasing the market to more than $20 billion.[3] A Gartner report similarly projects double-digit year-over-year growth in e-discovery software.[4]

At the same time, due to the recession and slow economic recovery, the legal services industry is undergoing considerable change. Consider that law firms are folding and merging or reducing personnel to stay afloat. Corporate legal departments face pressure to reduce legal expenses. One need not have an MBA or a law degree to conclude that the current business model at many firms may not be sustainable in the long term. To survive, lawyers and legal support staff need to change the way they practice and deliver legal services.

By far, the most costly and time consuming aspect of litigation is the discovery process. The Rand Corporation reports that 75% of expenditures in litigation are attributable to discovery costs.[5] It used to be that junior lawyers would sit in rooms filled with boxes to review documents. Discovery is no longer about boxes of paper; instead, it is about terabytes of data. And discovery costs are higher not because of inflation or because attorney hourly rates have risen. In fact, e-discovery costs are considerably lower today than 15 years ago. No, discovery is more expensive now because there is so much more information and the higher volume of ESI drives that cost.Truth and justice at the Supreme Court The tsunami of information that has washed over the practices of the world’s largest organizations is not receding.

The Federal civil rules, adopted in 1934 and infrequently revised since then, have been amended twice since 2006 specifically to address ESI. The number of reported cases relating to e-discovery has skyrocketed recently and continues to grow. There are now e-discovery professional organizations and a multi-billion dollar e-discovery software and service provider industry capitalizing on the changes in legal practice and the deluge of ESI. Recruiters and headhunters now specialize in placing project managers, technical analysts, e-discovery specialists, and yes, e-discovery attorneys.

Going from Good to Great

So, the question becomes how to distinguish between organizations that are managing e-discovery projects well and those who are not. The solution, I propose, lies in identifying those organizations that have a consistently structured process for managing e-discovery more effectively and efficiently. I’m talking, of course, about organizations that apply project management principles to discovery projects.

There has been considerable discussion regarding the applicability of project management in a legal setting. Driving the debate is the need of law firms and corporate legal departments to find efficiencies and reduce legal expenses. Law firms, which rely upon corporations for a slice of the $300 billion legal services market, have begun to listen. Firms are adjusting rates, staffing leanly, or entering unique and tailored billing agreements. Few firms, however, are dramatically changing the ways in which lawyers work. And fewer still have adopted project management principles into their business model.

Applying project management methodologies to e-discovery projects is one tool that will differentiate great firms from good firms. And it will provide the efficiency and sustainability needed in a legal market that is very different today.

Bringing Order to Chaos

Project management brings structure and common business sense to law firms, which traditionally do not operate like a business. To the majority of people in the world –even the legal business—the words “electronic discovery” have little or no meaning. But “project management” is intuitive and people understand it to mean leading people, marshaling resources, and managing processes that lead to a desired outcome.

Most people have an inherent if not instinctive desire to be organized and efficient. It is why we categorize almost everything; it is frankly how the human mind works. Some people do it better than others, for sure. But in the end, we all want to get from point A to point B by the most direct route. And this means completing a task in the most efficient manner possible.

The use of planning, budgeting, and scheduling techniques, if executed correctly, can only enhance the discovery process. Ultimately, this aids the delivery of professional legal services. Monitoring and controlling e-discovery processes are critical as well. To maintain quality and effectively manage changes in scope, timing or cost, it is necessary to monitor each phase of an e-discovery project. And closing a discovery project is equally important. Performing a post-project review, archiving project documentation, and recording important metrics serve to prove a defensible process. They also provide much needed information for estimating The gavel of wtruth and justicefuture analogous projects.

The use of project management in electronic discovery can end the self-inflicted wound the legal industry imposed upon itself. Just like the record industry missed the boat on digital content, much of the legal industry missed the e-discovery boat. In many cases, it sailed right by.

Project management simply brings order to the chaos and puts the focus on sound, defensible processes. With project management, parties to litigation have reasonable assurance that managing their ESI is consistent with winning strategies. And this can help parties present their case in court. Quite apart from the cost, if missteps occur in the process it may be difficult to present good, accurate and complete information to the fact-finder. Following a consistent, structured process can only enhance a litigant’s chance of success.

Conclusion

Discovery of the truth is a foundational principle of our civil and criminal justice systems. When courts render judgment in a legal proceeding we want to believe that the truth has enlightened the path to justice. The judicial truth-seeking process, however, is only as good as the information presented as evidence. If you present unreliable information, the truth is compromised. It has now become clear that using project management principles can and will serve law firms and their clients well. An added bonus is the improvement of the truth-seeking process.


[1] The Radicati Group, Email Statistics Report 2014-2018.

[2] E-Discovery Market by Solution, Service, Deployment, Industry, & Region—Global Forecast to 2020 (Research and Markets, July 2015). http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/zhg5cn/ediscovery  (global e-discovery software and services market expected to grow from $7.01 billion in 2015 to $14.2 billion in 2020—CAGR of 15.3%).

[3] eDiscovery Market–Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends and Forecast 2014-2022 (Transparency Market Research, 2015), http://www.transparencymarketresearch.com/ediscovery-market.html.

[4] , Zhang & Landers, Magic Quadrant for E-Discovery Software, Market Overview (Gartner, 2015), http://www.gartner.com/technology/reprints.do?id=1-2G57ESF&ct=150519&st=sb (e-discovery software market grew to $1.8 billion in 2014 and estimating five year CAGR of 12% with growth to more than $3 billion by 2019).

[5] Where the Money Goes: Understanding Litigant Expenditures for Producing Electronic Discovery (Rand Corporation, Institute for Civil Justice 2014).


Michael Quartararo is the firm-wide Director of Litigation Support Services at New York-based Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and the author of the book Project Management in Electronic Discovery, published in June 2016 by eDiscoveryPM.com, LLC. He is a graduate of the State University of New York and he studied law in the UK. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS). This article is adapted from content first published in Project Management in Electronic Discovery.

Alternative Facts and Artificial Intelligence

A few months back, a post here began by asking “Who Put the ‘Artificial’ in Artificial Intelligence?” At the time, I was sort of complaining about low adoption rates for technology tools in legal. I suggested that good marketing and “shiny object syndrome” are responsible for the rise of new technologies in legal. In the end, I question whether it’s appropriate to describe technology tools in the legal business as “artificial intelligence” tools.

Generally, I hardly think of myself as an “I told you so” type of person. If I’m being honest, though, I do think I told you so more than I articulate I told you so. (I like to think I’ve learned something tactful over the years). But an interview on Fortune.com got me to thinking.

IBM Logo Artificial IntelligenceFortune spoke to David Kenny, leader of the Watson Group at IBM. I thought while reading the interview that if anyone has a good grasp of artificial intelligence it’s IBM, right? Well, I have news: the word “artificial” really has no place in the technology tools that are in use in the legal industry—at least not the ones in use in e-discovery.

It’s Elementary My Dear Watson

To distinguish between the many AI terms out there, David Kenny said,

“Deep learning uses more advanced things like convolutional neural networks, which basically means you can look at things more deeply in more layers. Machine learning could work, for example, when it came to reading text. Deep learning was needed when we wanted to read an X-ray. And all of that has led to this concept of artificial intelligence—though at IBM, we tend to say, in many cases, that it’s not artificial as much as it’s augmented. So, it’s a system between machine computing and humans interpreting, and we call those machine-human interactions cognitive systems.”

“As for what we would call unsupervised learning—which is to say, we’re not training it to process but it’s beginning to learn on its own—that is moving more in the direction of what some consider true artificial intelligence, or even AGI: artificial general intelligence. I would say we’re at the early stages of that.”

Explaining how Watson is able to ingest the text of 26 million medical and scientific articles to help doctors find clinical trials for cancer patients, Mr. Kenny said:

“. . . it starts with knowledge extraction: reading documents, finding common phrases, associating those together. It does the same with paragraphs. Then it has to get corrected. The human annotation is critical here: Out of the gate there’s no way that I would trust the system to do unsupervised learning and just find the patterns on its own. You literally tell Watson, “Yes, that meant this, yes those go together. Yes, you have that right, or, no, you don’t.”

“And when you tell the system the “no’s,” it re-weights its algorithms until it gets to a point where it would have produced the correct answer. And it gets better over time.”

True Artificial Intelligence: Who’s Supervising Who

There you have it, folks. That is machine learning, hands down. And it’s precisely how the technology applies in e-discovery. It’s not a stretch, then, to say that what we are currently doing in e-discovery is not artificial intelligence. Additionally, what many now refer to as artificial intelligence is actually machine learning. Or, for the marketing folks out there, augmented intelligence (it’s still “AI” but not quite as sexy, right?)

To call it anything else, I think, is irresponsible and misleading. Lest we forget –and unless I missed something—the TAR, predictive and analytic programs in use in legal are algorithmic tools that require some level of human input. That’s not AI, as Kenny points out, because true AI is not supervised.

Why Does This Matter?

It matters because I think it’s not accurate. The reason it is “augmented” and not “artificial” in its application in the legal business is fairly obvious. But in addition, as far as I know, there are no lawyers –none who want to keep their licenses anyway—who are making important decisions, giving advice to clients, or reviewing and producing documents based on true artificial intelligence. No one plugs documents into a computer and spits them out without lawyers being involved (at least I hope not). Seems to me that there’s always a human to some degree augmenting the process.

Now, I’m not a scientist or a linguist. Heck, I barely qualify as a writer. It’s troubling, though, that in an industry in which facts and a search for the truth are paramount too much time and money goes to promoting products and ideas that are, how should I say, “artificial.”

I think it was the first celebrity law enforcement officer, Joe Friday, who said “Just the facts Ma’am.” So, let’s just stick to the facts in e-discovery and try not to promote tools that promise the stars and regrettably fall short. Ultimately, I think doing so will help foster adoption of technology in the legal industry.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue, especially those of the scientists out there.

Information Governance: The Foundation of E-Discovery Projects

Sound information governance practices are easily the foundation upon which successful electronic discovery projects are built. I know this because I have lived it. Without question, projects run more smoothly when the client has strong information governance practices in place.

Records Management Reinvented

Information governance involves managing the creation, use, storage, and disposition of data, records, and information maintained by an organization. It encompasses ideas, concepts, and practices involving but not exclusively relating to electronic discovery. And it involves managing not only paper and electronic records, but all information maintained by an organization. It also implicates compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to records retention, information security, and the privacy and confidentiality of information.

Thought of another way, consider that the records or any electronically stored information may potentially be evidence in a lawsuit or investigation. Information governance, then, becomes critically important because the records of an organization provide insight into the past and sometimes future activities of that organization. The information may be needed to tell a story.

Long before we had e-discovery, we had records management. ARMA International, the largest records and information management organization in the world, has been around for 60+ years. Now we have this more holistic view of the value and the efficient, collaborative use of records and information, particularly as it relates to legal matters. Information governance is not a technology or a tool; it is not just policies and practices; or managing risks or costs; it is an enterprise-wide undertaking designed to organize information for the benefit of the organization. It’s the new records management – on steroids.

What’s a project manager to do?

Many people ask “what are the information governance responsibilities of a project manager in e-discovery?” For starters, it is essential for the PM to understand information governance, records and information management generally. A PM needs to have basic knowledge of information technology infrastructure and data management systems. And although it is ultimately the client’s responsibility to implement effective IG policies, there may be situations in which an organization does not have IG policies. A PM may need to guide the client or at least refer the client to resources that may help to structure sound IG policies.

One objective of information governance is for organizations to prepare for litigation. Being “litigation ready” means that an organization knows (or can easily determine) what information it has, where that information resides, and what needs to be done to preserve it for discovery when necessary. So, at the outset of a discovery project, the PM and attorneys should consider the client’s information governance maturity. If formal policies exist, what is the nature and substance of the policies? What is the extent of compliance with the policies? If no policies exist, how does that impact the preservation of information in discovery? Project managers need to help attorneys and their clients understand information governance and its importance to the discovery process.

Regardless of whether the client has policies in place, as a PM, it is important to understand how the client creates, stores, and disposes of ESI. It is necessary to learn the types of hardware, software, data processing and storage devices the client uses. This includes the client’s network configuration, operating systems, workstations, laptops, file and email servers, and backup systems. A data map or even a simple network diagram is helpful in learning about an organization’s systems and helps to visualize and identify the locations of the different types of electronic records maintained.

Figure 1:  Simple Network Diagram

Information Governance Server Diagram

Ask Questions (lots of them)!

Ideally, attorneys and the PM should confer with the client’s in-house counsel and IT and records personnel. A good practice is to use a questionnaire or checklist to ask about the client’s systems and identify assets that may contain potentially relevant information. Doing so not only provides a record of the conversation, but also enables attorneys to make informed decisions regarding the best course of action for preserving and later collecting the documents. A good questionnaire or checklist might make inquiry about the following:

  • Network configuration, storage, and operating systems in use
  • Types and number of file servers in use and the contents of each
  • Email applications, number of servers, mail store size and retention
  • Software applications, databases, or proprietary applications in use
  • Types of workstations and/or laptops in use
  • Remote access, home use, and personal and smartphone device polices
  • Backup systems in use; backup policies, frequency, and retention
  • Legacy or retired systems no longer in use
  • Policies on former employees, retention and disposition
  • External media, hard drives, CDs or DVDs, and flash drives
  • Internal or external websites, intranets, shared drives, and social media pages
  • Text messaging programs and unified voicemail systems

A client’s adoption of and consistent adherence to sound IG policies can demonstrate reasonable and good faith compliance with discovery obligations. If, for instance, documents or ESI are no longer available because they were disposed of pursuant to a formal policy before any obligation arose to retain them, then an organization should in theory be freed of the obligation to preserve and collect or produce that information. Defensible deletion like this will ultimately reduce the volume of ESI collected and can result in huge savings on e-discovery projects. It is not improper to dispose of ESI if there is no legal or other obligation to retain it.

Good IG policies can result in more efficient and cost-effective discovery projects. When an organization knows the information it has, where it is, and how best to preserve or collect it, the early stages of the e-discovery process will be more efficient. Likewise, an organization with sound IG practices is less likely to over-collect ESI in discovery, which further reduces cost.

Conclusion

The information governance stage of a discovery project—learning how a client creates, stores and manages its documents and ESI—provides the foundational underpinnings for many decisions that will be made later in the case. While the responsibilities associated with information governance rest for the most part with the client organization, it is important that the project manager and attorneys who advocate for the client know and understand the client’s IG policies and practices.


Links to additional resources on Information Governance:

Project Management: Holiday Edition

A project management christmas treeThis may come as a surprise to some, but if you think about it we apply project management to many of the things we do during the holiday season. Shopping for gifts involves initiating, planning, execution and closing. First, we consider how much money we’ve got to spend on gifts. Then we make a list (even if it’s just a mental list). During execution we run from store to store to find and buy the gifts. And finally, we close the project by wrapping them up nice and neat. Heck, we even get a little post-project review and feedback when folks open the gifts.

Decorating? Same deal. We plan where the tree will go and then systematically apply lights, garland, ornaments, etc. Dependencies are important here. You cannot, for instance, put the ornaments on and then the lights. And anyone lighting a menorah knows that there’s an order and timing to the lighting of the candles and certain rituals that take place each day.

And of course anyone who grew up in an Italian-American home like mine knows that the holidays mean massive amounts of food at various family gatherings. Well, guess what? Mothers and grandmothers all over the world are using project management to put these culinary festivities together. Consider that all sorts of planning goes into a holiday meal. Where will it be? Who’s coming? How many people? Which china to use? What will the courses be? There might even be a budget. In homes that were fortunate enough, there’s pasta, fish, meat, side dishes, salads, dessert. Fuhgetaboutit. You leave one of these meals wondering if you should visit a cardiologist or just swear off food for six months.

An Italian Christmas Dinner Table - Montreal Times

Whoever plans and then prepares the food most certainly puts a lot of thought into it. In most –I would think nearly all– families there may even be a whole team of people involved.

And then there’s execution. There’s most surely a shopping list. But think about the preparation. It might start a day or two before when vegetables are cut, things are pre-cooked or baked. And talk about dependencies. I mean, it’s necessary to prepare and cook all these things and bring the food to the table in the right order, at the right time, and at the right temperature. Meal planning and execution can be quite an undertaking if you think about it.

Uh, hello? What about quality control. Well, you can bet that all along the way that food is being tasted and snatched from serving dishes perched on the stove top while “Get out of the kitchen” is murmured with a variety of undertones by the cook.

Finally, you herd the cats into the dining room. The deliverables are on the table. Everyone eats, drinks, and is merry. You get instant feedback on this – no need for a post-project review. If yours is anything like mine, the entire family begins expressing right away how they feel about the food.

What about closing? That’s dessert.

So, as we sit down with family and friends this year, or we run from store to store, or you’re just trimming the tree, consider that it is project management –consciously or not—that on some level enables us to enjoy the holidays.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Mike Drop!eDiscoveryPM.com logo with tagline

 

Who Put the “Artificial” in Artificial Intelligence

ai_1Okay, so there’s no way this does not come off as a complete rant. But bear with me; it’s just a question.

Why do we use the term artificial intelligence when referring to tools built on IBM’s Watson or other “cognitive” or machine learning technology? As far as I know, there’s nothing artificial about these tools. I mean, sure, they are artificial in that they are man-made, as opposed to a natural occurrence, but make no mistake, there’s nothing artificial about the math and science. Computing technology at its core involves ones and zeros, right? Well, maybe it’s not quite that simple, but the point is made.

Do you make artificial business decisions?

I’m no rocket scientist, but even to a person of limited legal, business, and/or technical ability it should seem odd to rely on something “artificial” to deliver sound, defensible results and outcomes that need to be, well, something more than artificial. I won’t speak for anyone else, but if I were making important legal or business decisions and the person or persons providing the technology that solves my problem told me the tool to be used was “artificial,” this quite frankly raises red flags for me.

To TAR or not to TAR

Recently, I’ve had several conversations about why the so-called TAR or predictive coding tools have not taken off in ways that many envisioned. TAR came in with a bang. Everyone rushed to check it out, and then . . . well, not much. I’d say the bottom fell out, but the truth is it never really filled the void, did it? Surveys reveal TAR-type products are employed in a very low percentage of cases. It simply has not seen broad adoption.

Well, I have a theory. And a prediction. First, TAR and predictive coding-type products did not take off because to some degree their usefulness in the legal business has been over-stated.  This does not mean they do not work. Others can debate the science of the technology. No, what is meant by usefulness is merely the frequency of application. TAR is not for every case. I guess theoretically it could be; but the point is that that is not the way it has been sold. Rather, it has been marketed as the next shiny thing to take the legal world by storm, promising to up-end the way lawyers work, and save millions of dollars and time in document review. And you know what? All of that is true –but only on a handful of cases.

Shiny objects are not sound processes

And this leads to my theory. I’m no marketing genius, but I am a pretty savvy consumer and I know that I consistently look for certain qualities when making purchasing decisions. I’m usually pretty good at looking past the marketing fluff and seeing a product for what it is. But I see a pattern in the legal technology industry. We keep coming up with the next shiny object and everyone, in what stock pickers call a “herd mentality,” migrates towards these objects, only to find out that the excitement is short-lived, that the product was not all that, or worse.

And now for the dangerous part –the prediction. It’s always dangerous to attempt to predict the future. But at this point I feel like the pattern may make it easier. Quite apart from the shiny object theory above, I predict that artificial intelligence in the legal business will underwhelm at best. I make this prediction because I’ve seen in the past –recall ECA, TAR and predictive coding—that smart, strong marketing pushed these tools to the forefront of everyone’s consciousness, but then they fade away. It’s like a new stock IPO –everyone is on-board day one, but when the novelty wears off someone is left holding the bag. Maybe this is why law firms are loathe to be first at things. But once a single high-profile firm weighs in, boy do the rest fall in line.

ai_0

This is all very cynical, I know, but to paraphrase something Pete Townsend once said: “It’s not that I am more cynical; it’s just that as I get older I have more evidence to support my cynicism.” As a long-time advocate for technology in the legal industry, I really hope that I am wrong about this.

 Back to the future (reality)

Putting aside all the shiny new objects and marketing campaigns, what is clear to me overall is the legal business needs change and in lieu of change it needs sound process. Yes, disruption is sometimes good and forges change. But it’s like the definition of insanity – if you keep doing the same things, how can you expect to achieve different results? What is needed in legal technology is a fresh, new attitude. Not one driven by profits, or that is designed to meet investor targets. No, I think it has to be an attitude of complete transparency, guided by principles of solving problems first. Every bit of business sense in my soul tells me that if you do good things, good things will come to you.

And in lieu of that, I always fall back on the notion that you need good processes. No amount of software in the world –no matter how “smart” it may be– is going to help fix a flawed process.  Before buying software in an attempt to make things more efficient, make sure you first identify the process that is in need of improvement.

Communication: The Root of All E-Discovery Problems?

Throughout all of recorded human history –indeed, even before we recorded it—communication has been an issue. Early humans made carvings in cave walls to allow others to know things. I’m sure that some among them thought that such carvings were quite radical at the time. And today, many people find the current scriveners—those who incessantly post their thoughts, meals, pets, children, and activities all over the Internet—are just as radical, if not outright crazy. No judgment. In the end, it’s all communication, right? Facebook is the modern day equivalent of the cave wall. Literally.

Communication BreakdownCommunication breakdown

Communication is something we attempt, but frequently fail to achieve. It seems to me that communication is the root of many of the world’s problems. From the relationship squabble to cultural and religious disputes around the globe. If people were more open minded, less judgmental and more tolerant of change and differences, boy, would many of the world’s problems evaporate quickly. Is this going to happen any time soon? Probably not in my lifetime. But it does –and you’ll forgive the massive segue– beg the question: Is communication the root of all e-discovery problems?

A few examples come to mind.

When parties don’t cooperate in discovery, it is essentially a communication problem. If case team or stakeholder expectations are not met, that’s a communication problem. When seemingly ad-hoc decisions are made in a vacuum and projects go sideways, that’s a communication problem. If faulty instructions for completing a task are given, that too is a communication problem. There are any number of examples that may be cited and readers will know them well.

So, what should we do when we perceive that communication is the root of the problem?

A Pillar of Successful Project Management

Well, there’s a reason that Communication Management is a pillar of project management. The goal, of course, is to be proactive and consider the communication needs of a project during the planning stage. Ideally, all stakeholders –anyone who has any interest in the project—will participate in a kick-off meeting to get everyone on the same page and then schedule regular meetings or calls to report on the status of the project and any changes or anticipated issues.

But all too often, we take communication for granted, put on the back burner, or sacrifice it in the name of expediency. We assume, for instance, that stakeholders understand when we inform them that a problem was encountered while processing ESI. If the problem impacts the scope, timing or cost of a project, there’s a good chance they won’t fully understand. This can lead to a lack of confidence in a project manager and sometimes results in a complete meltdown. It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Intersection of Communication, Quality and Risk Management

Part of managing communication on a project involves consideration during the planning stage of the risks to project outcomes – what could go wrong on this project? Evaluating those risks at the outset of the project and preparing a contingency plan at that time will lessen the impact of the problem. Likewise, itemizing the points at which quality checks are performed suggests that proactive thought has been given to potential problem areas and preparations have been made in the event issues arise.

Project Mansgement in Electronic DiscoveryNone of this will immediately resolve an unexpected issue that arises mid-project. Such circumstances can test a project manager’s communication skills. Successful project managers will possess –and those who don’t will need to learn to adopt—better than average communication skills.

“One of the strengths of a successful project manager is the ability to communicate clearly, succinctly, and without interference. Knowing what to say, to whom, when, and how is essential to successful communication on a project. Understanding the personalities and agendas of stakeholders and keeping in mind the culture, hierarchy, and politics of the project organization are all integral to effective communication. The communication process provides the critical links among people and information necessary for successful projects. Project managers spend a lot of time communicating with the project team, stakeholders, vendors, customers, and sponsors. Everyone involved in a project should understand how communications affect the project as a whole.” (Project Management in Electronic Discovery, p. 57)

Successful project managers in a legal setting also have people skills. They are articulate as much as they are able to listen and they persuade and make suggestions when implementing solutions. PMs display empathy, have coping skills, and great patience. They are also tactful and possess the temperament to deal with a wide array of people and personalities. The best thing a project manager can do is be honest and transparent in their communication. Nothing much more; nothing less.

Conclusion

One of the things that sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to communicate. The irony, I suppose, is that given this unique human ability one would think we would have it down by now. It’s a wonder why humans still mess it up so frequently. I don’t know if better communication is going to solve the world’s problems entirely. I’m an optimist and so I’d like to think it will, particularly as the world becomes more interconnected. I am, however, pretty certain that better communication can solve many of the issues that arise in e-discovery projects. Keep this in mind as you start your next project.

Project Objectives When Collecting ESI

Great project managers will tell you it’s always smart to start at the end. What does done look like? That’s the first question. Always. When faced with collecting ESI in connection with litigation, there are several project objectives to consider.

Collecting ESI is a critical task

Collecting ESI

First, though, it is important to remember that collecting ESI is a critical stage of a discovery project. Activities undertaken during collection impact every subsequent stage of the process. It is essential to perform a collection in a defensible manner. Using appropriate tools and personnel, planning the collection, and documenting the collection are some of the critical elements of a defensible collection process.

As I write in Project Management in Electronic Discovery, “during a collection project, the objectives are to perform a comprehensive—but not over-inclusive—collection of relevant materials, maintain the integrity of the ESI . . . and provide for proper documentation to maintain the chain of custody and to establish the authenticity of the documents. At the same time, the collection must not disrupt the organization’s business operations.”

Plan the collection project

The first objective is simple: Collect only the ESI that is needed. Make reasonable efforts to identify the potentially relevant ESI and keep the collection effort proportional to the needs of the case.

Planning is crucial when collecting ESI. At the outset, define the scope of the collection. Identify the custodians and data stores and narrow the collection by date range, file type, or other criteria.

I also write in the book that a “project manager is responsible for communicating with the client’s IT personnel and the individual performing the collection, and should coordinate, schedule, and monitor the actual collection process.” Obviously, project managers are well-suited to plan and coordinate collection activities, so be sure to involve them in the process.

Maintain the integrity of the collection

Next, it is important to maintain the integrity of the ESI. Collecting ESI improperly increases the likelihood for problems later in the project and there is a risk of spoliating metadata. If, for example, a case turns on whether or not a party took action or knew something on a specific date, and an electronic document that resolves the issue was collected in a way that altered or did not preserve the file or system dates, then the party advancing the argument is going to have difficulty making their point.

Additionally, in most cases it is necessary to produce metadata. Collecting ESI improperly could make it impossible to produce some metadata and it is often difficult to go back and do it again. Moreover, rework or performing a second or supplemental collection can only increase cost and expand the time to complete a project.Collecting ESI

Quality assurance and validating measures are necessary, too. Like performing a file hash analysis prior to and after collection. This ensures the integrity of the ESI by confirming that no files were altered during collection.

Document the process when collecting ESI

Third, document the entire process when collecting ESI. The documents may be important evidence in a legal proceeding and there are rules for the proper admission of evidence in court. Preparing a collection log and chain of custody documentation shows that the collection is defensible. They provide a record of the process that goes not only to the integrity of the collection itself, but also will assist in authentication and admissibility of the evidence in later proceedings.

Meeting the collection objectives

Many organizations face the initial question of whether to outsource collection processes or perform them internally. There are benefits and risks in both methods. One benefit of outsourcing is to transfer the risk associated with a technical process to trained professionals accustomed to performing such work. Few organizations are staffed with forensics experts, and few have the tools necessary to perform a proper collection. Engaging a service provider for this purpose mitigates and transfers the risk to that service provider.

In addition, it is rarely a good idea to subject individuals within a client organization to scrutiny regarding the handling of their own ESI. Individual custodians or IT professionals may not recognize the relevance of certain electronic documents. And the process of self-selecting ESI may lead to errors and/or inadvertent spoliation of data. Trained technicians, on the other hand, are accustomed to collecting ESI and can provide expert testimony if necessary. Also, they routinely prepare documentation and reports associated with collecting ESI.

That said, it does not mean that, in appropriate circumstances, a client organization may never collect their own ESI. There are relatively simple to use and affordable software tools on the market that make collecting ESI defensible. The question for the organization and perhaps their counsel is how much risk they are willing to assume in connection with the collection.

Conclusion: What does “done” look like?

Each case and collection project turns on its own unique circumstances. The collection method used should be based on the needs of the case and the client. Regardless of which collection tool is used, the objectives here provide the framework for development of a defensible collection process. That process should include planning and scoping the collection and trained personnel who use write-protecting tools and quality assurance measures. And, of course, the completion of documentation to memorialize the collection.

It is worthwhile to also consult other resources related to collecting ESI, such as the EDRM. Many white papers prepared by reputable service providers in the industry are good resources as well.