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How Early Case Assessment (ECA) is Helping Legal Services Evolve

Every new technology concept introduced these days has a trendy marketing-bred name attached to it. And with this name it rides the standard wave of hype – from trade shows to aggressive sales to every technology developer racing to jump in on the fun. Think Social Media, Knowledge Management, etc.… Early Case Assessment (or ECA) is certainly no exception. This is a term you’ve undoubtedly seen or heard thrown around in the legal and electronic discovery industry for some time now. Despite that time in the spotlight, the process still mystifies a lot of clients. Let’s break it down…

Think about websites. You go to looking for a TV, and you can filter by type, size, brand, and price. And even if you don’t know exactly what you want, you can easily test and search the available items to find what’s best for you. This is now possible with your electronic discovery.

Early case assessment? Early data assessment? Early analysis? Huh?

Electronic discovery can be very expensive, and as you go through the stages outlined in the eDiscovery Reference Model, you can understand why it would be beneficial of you to reduce the volume of data you are working with as best you can at each point.

Photo of disorganized stacks of paper and folders
Photo by Wesley Tingey, Unsplash

As we reduce volume, we hope to increase relevance and do so as efficiently as possible, especially as overall volumes of electronically-stored information (ESI) increase rapidly. During the Dinosaur Ages of this industry, data was broadly collected, processed, converted to TIFF, and thrown into one giant bucket for attorneys to review document by document. Time would be wasted going through endless amounts of irrelevant documents and pure junk. We don’t need to tell you what this does to your costs and ability to budget properly.

We all get e-mail. Lots of it. Chances are most of it is not relevant to your case. Junk mail, newsletters, personal emails, office jokes – now imagine a case with 10 to 15 custodians. With two clicks you can eliminate any emails with the domain from your review population. With two clicks you can prioritize any emails from your client and to the opposing party for immediate review and analysis. The technology empowers you to perform extensive keyword searches and analyses so that you can truly refine your terms and QC the results instantly. Don’t need PDF documents from custodian John Doe that he created in March 2006? Easy enough to filter out even prior to processing and indexing through custodian, date, and document-type filters. You can even browse through your document population based on common topics, popular email threads, and specific authors and senders.

Fortunately for everyone involved, the technology and the people who help you utilize technology have advanced enough to break down some of the barriers of the processing “Black Box.” Keyword searching, technology, and strategies have helped group and cull documents prior to review. Metadata has been welcomed as a close ally. Native review capabilities have pushed aside TIFF conversion. ECA is a cumulative evolution of these concepts and the technology that arms you. It is all about taking steps and doing analysis early on during the discovery stages in order to aid in culling and sifting through your mountains of data, all while helping you to formulate your case.

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