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Being Prepared For E-Discovery

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Wednesday, May 26, 2010

During a recent conversation with one of my peers that hails from across the Atlantic Ocean, the topic turned to geopolitics.  My esteemed colleague casually bemoaned that “Western European countries were ruled by labor unions.”  But saving the best part for last, he sheepishly smiled and sardonically confided: “However, here in the USA, everything is ruled by the lawyers!”  I lauded him for his accurate insight, which as it turns out, was based on a recent turn of events at his company, where existing corporate litigation woes were being exacerbated by flawed document-retention policies and poor email archiving practices.

Business life is becoming increasingly more litigious for all companies.  For larger Fortune 1000 business organizations, ongoing legal and compliance costs have gone from excessive to obscene.  A never-ending pipeline of lawsuits and day-by-day legal wrangling is eating away at corporate profits like never before, putting the very existence of even the most solid of enterprises in peril.  Companies that are proactive in managing their business documents and internal/external electronic correspondence will better weather the inevitable deluge of future legal actions, whether they are a plaintiff, defendant or the recipient of a subpoena.

The legal discovery phase of litigation, where companies are required to produce a variety of historical documents and other knowledge that is relevant to a particular legal action, can often be the most important component of said litigation.  Failure to reign in the costs associated with legal discovery (and failures to comply with judicial mandates that require an organization to produce specific documents or correspondence) can result in dire consequences financially.  With the computing revolution of the last 20 years, the focus of legal discovery has alighted on electronically enabled and stored information - more specifically, the electronic discovery (E-discovery for short) of text, voice and video assets of interest.  Electronic information such as emails, instant messages, scanned documents and shared/networked spreadsheet and word processor files now make up the bulwark of legal discovery requests.

Vendors of business intelligence (BI) software have been rushing to market a number of E-discovery solutions that help companies save considerable sums of money when it comes to legal discovery and retention, as they greatly reduce the time spent on satisfying legal demands for documentation on corporate actions and processes.  One vendor of renown that has made great strides in the legal discovery support space is Riverglass Inc., a bleeding-edge vendor of business intelligence software which I have mentioned previously in Dashboard Insight.  Riverglass has identified four critical elements that are vital to the success of E-discovery.  They strategically embedded these elements in their software products; they are reach, relevance, repeatability and reliability.

  • Reach is all about knowing exactly where information resides and having the ability to retrieve that information, many times penetrating hidden pockets of data or deep-searching non-traditional data sources or silos of unstructured information.
  • Relevance means applying some sort of semantic or contextual meaning to information discovery and text searching in order to best support and streamline subsequent analytic tasks.  Deduplication and custom categorization and classification of data will be key drivers of ensuring relevance.
  • In order to achieve a suitable and sustainable return on investment, it is essential that E-discovery actions are highly repeatable—that automated discovery processes can run again and again over time and always produce the desired results with a modicum of variance.
  • Reliable.  E-discovery decrees a high echelon of transparency (of how data is indexed, searched and returned) and an extreme level of knowledge integrity for all search/discovery results.

Lawyers working on litigation cases always try their best to empathize with their clients and understand their core business values and processes.  But they will rarely have the know-how to best manage an E-discovery project from a technological perspective, especially when a legal request for information is not specific enough or there is a huge tome of information (much of it most likely redundant) that must be waded through in order to glean the small nuggets of data that are required to satisfy a discovery request.  Lawyers have never been cheap; they certainly will not become any less expensive in the future.  So it goes without saying that attorneys are probably not the best resources to be scouring corporate messaging applications, voice mails, personal digital assistants, employee laptops and network share areas looking for “needle in a haystack” information.

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