Processing: Evaluating What Has Been Received
By the processing stage in the lifecycle of the electronic discovery project, the custodian list and data to be processed for review have usually been determined. However, once the actual review of the documents begins, the legal team begins to really get a sense for what issues and topics are revealed within these documents. Based on what the review team sees, they may deem it appropriate to request additional documents from the existing custodian list or may add custodians to the list.
Data sampling is an excellent way to determine the quality and accuracy of the information collected and how to best process the evidence. Data sampling may be used at both the collection and processing stage to insure a defensible collection and culling strategy.
The key here is to have a set of procedures that you follow without fail when evaluating what you have received to be processed. The procedures need to be in writing and the steps need to be documented. Consistency in the treatment of the data and the process is important to a defensible strategy.
The Processing team having clear communications and collaboration with the Identification, Preservation and Collection teams/nodes is crucial to successfully understand what needs to be evaluated.
The changing parameters of custodian lists and priorities based on evaluations of reviewed material can have a significant downstream effect on the processing phase. The timeframes at this point in the litigation cycle are usually not able to be extended to account for these changes. (For more information, see the Analysis Node.)
What We Evaluate in Electronic Discovery
To evaluate something means to systematically determine the merit, worth and significance. The thing being evaluated is called the evaluand. In the context of electronic data the evaluand could mean e-mail, hard drives and shared network drives. These could all appear on different media such as CD-ROMs, DVDs, etc. The next item to understand is what types of files are on the media.
Why We Need to Evaluate When Processing Electronic Data
The purpose of the evaluation in any electronic discovery projects is to be able to understand the information we are requesting for processing. A major component of any evaluation has to be whether the feedback or information that we received is consistent with what we expected.
Who Should Receive the Evaluation
There are always key stakeholders who would benefit from receiving an evaluation. In an e-discovery project it is no different. The people who should receive the evaluation are those involved in the process and potentially those people externally who are affected by the results of the evaluation. It is also important to understand the qualifications of the individual reviewing the evaluation. In order for the evaluation to receive substantive review and to ultimately receive credibility, the people reviewing the evaluation should be well educated on the topic of electronic discovery.
What the Evaluation Should Contain
The report should clearly describe what and how much media and/or files were evaluated and provide the context and purpose behind the evaluation. The report should clearly detail out the methodology used to perform the evaluation by detailing out the process steps taken to create the evaluation. Of course the most essential part of any evaluation is the actual results.
Any conclusions reached in the evaluation should be justified. Any quantitative or qualitative data should be submitted with the appropriate information in order to be properly analyzed.
We recommend creating very specific standards related to the evaluation itself. This may be related to timeliness and even accuracy of the evaluation. It is important to be able to objectively analyze the evaluation and reach consistent conclusions about the data regardless of the person performing the evaluation.
How One Can Know Whether the Evaluation Was Successful?
The evaluation is successful if the results are consistent with what we expected to find or locate, if the evaluation meets certain standards we have established for it, and we are able to learn and improve our process and evaluation methods.