Court cases are won and lost based on evidence, but the nature of evidence has changed in the electronic age. No longer confined to paper documents, evidence now includes a broad spectrum of electronic materials, such as emails, voicemail, instant message chats, website visits, scanned documents, word-processed documents and spreadsheets, databases, audio, videos, photos, and most recently, even social media posts. The U.S. Supreme Court acknowledged the role of electronic material in court cases in a 2006 ruling that changed the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As soon as an action is filed, attorneys must begin to compile relevant electronic evidence.
Modern Litigation Support Services
Litigation support, which used to mean amassing and preparing copies of physical documents and preparing trial graphics, now encompasses electronic discovery, or eDiscovery, which refers to locating electronically stored information (ESI). The need for harvesting and maintaining ESI has expanded the role of firms who provide eDiscovery services. Detecting electronic evidence, protecting it from illegal deletion or destruction, and analyzing it is a full-time job that attorneys, legal services, and corporations turn over to litigation specialists.
Handling this type of evidence is tricky. Even paperwork can be lost, but ESI poses special risks for spoliation, which means destroying, altering, hiding, or withholding of data needed in the case. Data can be maliciously tampered with or destroyed accidentally in the normal housekeeping processes performed by a company’s IT department. To preserve the integrity of the files, the attorney and a competent eDiscovery firm should quickly formulate and activate a plan for managing materials.
Developing An Electronic Discovery Plan
The plan should encompass six areas:
- Investigation: Using mapping techniques to identify who created the data and for what purpose, the investigative process identifies data that is relevant to the case.
- Preservation: Material considered relevant is placed in a legal hold to prevent destruction.
- Collection: Protected files are transferred to legal counsel to determine the next step.
- Processing: Files in their "native format," or the original program used to create it, is loaded into a data review platform, where it is reviewed and prepared for the extraction of text and metadata — technical information about the file’s creation date, how it was created, authorship, network location, and more.
- Review: Documents are examined to narrow down what is relevant, based on criteria such as data range, authorship, creation date, etc.
- Production: Once reviewed, documents that meet agreed-upon criteria are given to opposing counsel with the metadata in either their native format or a "petrified format" such as a PDF or TIFF.
Finding The Right eDiscovery Support
A good litigation support company such as The Document Group of Houston has the software, the experienced technical experts, and the experience to progress through the necessary steps of data management. By using the services of a savvy eDiscovery company, a law firm can obtain the high-quality materials necessary to investigate evidence, withstand challenges, and win cases at a reasonable price.
In addition to data recovery and processing, The Document Group can also provide litigation copying, scanning, and graphics needed to round out a presentation. For more information about how we can help with electronic discovery and other litigation support services, contact us today for a consultation or a quote.