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Challenges of the Modern Investigation and How AI Can Help Solve Them

Mindy Deneault

No organization wants to find themselves embroiled in an investigation, but the fact of the matter is, most corporations will need to conduct some sort of internal investigation at some point in time—for a variety of potential reasons. You may be trying to identify potential risks facing your organization. Or perhaps you need to gather evidence to prove or disprove a whistleblower’s claims.

The details of each matter may not be pretty, but ultimately you need to support the litigation process by verifying the facts of the case, establishing timelines, and confirming expert witness testimony to minimize negative outcomes. Regardless of the matter at hand, there is one thing all these examples have in common: data needs to be collected and analyzed for relevance.

That piece of the puzzle is as inevitable as it was five years ago. But a common theme in today’s post-pandemic world is the proliferation of data volumes and new sources that are now encumbering organizations across the globe, which is making the investigation process more difficult, regardless of the matter type.

At Relativity Fest 2022, Relativity’s senior product managers Justin Dougherty and Brittany Roush facilitated a discussion with David Griffith, senior director of forensic technology services at Alvarez & Marsal, to discuss the modern challenges facing investigators today, as well as some potential ways to solve them.

Too Much Data...

One of the biggest challenges facing investigators today is the major influx of data being introduced into these cases. The sheer volume, coupled with more diverse data sources, are causing investigations to take longer and become harder to manage.

“It’s like an avalanche [of data],” commented Brittany, “I remember when getting a terabyte of data was big news. If I get that now, it’s nothing. But that’s putting pressure on teams to get a whole lot more done with fewer resources,” she continued.

The use of SMS, chat messages, and electronically stored documents is growing exponentially, which presents its own unique collection and preservation challenges. But on top of that, conversations that start via a video conference call can be taken “offline” and continued via email, Microsoft Teams chats, and maybe even WhatsApp conversations. This makes it incredibly difficult for investigators to get a holistic view of the situation.

Furthermore, once you factor in global privacy laws and multilingual documents, that opens a whole new realm of challenges and intricacies facing investigators. David illustrated this point with a common example: “Say you have an investigation based in the US, but have employees in China and Europe. You can’t just collect all the data from the US and have the same workflow and approach. You end up having to break up your workflow and have separate reviews in each region—ones that adhere to Chinese privacy laws and GRPR. It's an extra challenge to make sure those workflows are consistent across reviewers.”

Not only do teams need a way to collect and review all this data, but they also need to have a pulse on changing policies and regulations by region.

…Too Little Time

It’s clear the amount of data piling on investigators is increasing exponentially, so how are these teams supposed to manage these growing data sets? Surely investigators are getting more time and resources to do their jobs, right?

Our panel said the opposite is true, unfortunately.

“Corporations and government entities typically have small teams—maybe one or two investigators, and large teams tend to be overwhelmed with priorities,” Brittany explained, “which is all being compounded by a worldwide shortage of investigators and an overwhelming post-COVID influx of data and data types.”

While team sizes have remained the same (or shrunk), the pressure to quickly move through an investigation is increasing. Delayed or prolonged investigations can be costly—both from a time and resources perspective—but the time to complete an investigation is also increasing due to the larger data dumps.

But why exactly is time in such short supply? According to our panel of experts, a multitude of factors are causing pain points for investigators:

  • Small teams: team sizes vary but are typically small and nimble.
  • Multiple cases: on average, a corporation will have 50+ cases per year. Firms and service providers will have 100+ matters per year.
  • Large data populations: the average size of a data population is between 10,000-50,000 documents.
  • Competing priorities: investigations often overlap with other matters and other job responsibilities. Even at investigation-specific firms, teams are handling more than one matter at a time.
  • Cases take a long time: 75 percent of cases took over one month to finish.

But as our panel indicated, it’s not all doom and gloom for investigative teams. Here are some ways they can get some time back:

  • Quickly determine which cases can be resolved: reduce overhead and the burden on investigators.
  • Outsource labor: mitigates risk and frees up time for internal teams.
  • Leverage technology: frees up resources and helps investigators manage their time for when an investigation requires litigation.

Technology as an Equalizer

For those teams and organizations who find themselves overwhelmed with investigation caseloads, introducing technology into their standard processes could be an immediate value-add. From Justin’s viewpoint, “technology can be that great equalizer—providing, enabling, and empowering teams of different sizes and budget constraints to do the work, and do it effectively and confidently.”

In fact, by making smart investments in technology, you can implement streamlined workflows and automated processes that will help reduce overhead and man-hours required per investigation, which according to David, “frees up more time for you to get back to what you were doing before the investigation.” 

But technology does more than free up time. One of the biggest benefits, according to Brittany, is quickly determining what people are and are not explicitly saying in conversations.

There can be a lot of nuances in an investigation and reviewing every document manually can be cumbersome—and leaves a lot open to interpretation. By leveraging AI, you can gain critical insights like change of venue (e.g. switching platforms) or language mid-conversation, hate speech identification, off-hours communication, data leaving the organization, identify slang, emojis, and obfuscated text, audio/video analysis, topic analysis, and sentiment analysis—all with the click of a button.

“Without the right tools you can really miss those meaningful insights,” Brittany emphasized.

AI-Powered Investigations

We understand the unique challenges facing investigative teams in today’s modern world, and a host of new capabilities within RelativityOne will help you organize your data, discover the truth, and act on it faster.

Case Dynamics

It can be difficult to keep everything organized as you work through an investigation. But with Case Dynamics, you can easily pinpoint important facts, track key issues, and organize lists of the people and organizations involved. This will give you the analysis you need to identify strengths and weaknesses in your litigation strategy.

Sentiment Analysis

People have emotions! And it’s not always just what is said, but the intent behind it, that matters. To help you get to the bottom of it quicker, we’ve focused on delivering an easy sentiment analysis experience for RelativityOne users. From the List page, you get transparency into everything that’s been found with color-coded highlights, and once you’ve found a document of interest, you can quickly see the full text within the Viewer (with the same highlights intact) so you can quickly jump to the relevant parts of a conversation.

Communication Analysis

Communications analysis is the heart and soul of an investigation. The whole point of digging through all that data is to identify who people are talking to and what they’re doing. This completely redesigned experience pinpoints what’s important, lets you see where data is flowing to and from, and isolates those documents.

The Path to AI Adoption

While this technology can be exceedingly helpful during a modern investigation, there are some challenges associated with the use of AI. David was very upfront about these potential barriers during our Fest session: “With newer technologies such as AI, they present some solutions as well as new problems. Can AI be trusted? Who wants to be the first early adopter of AI?”

Our panel recognized that in order to adopt this new technology the tool needs to be easy to use, implement, and train others to use it. There also needs to be transparency—teams must understand why they’re getting the results they are and how to explain it to clients and attorneys. Finally, users need to be confident they can defend their results in court and that they stand up to scrutiny when giving expert testimony.

At the end of the day, the path to AI adoption all comes down to trust. You need to trust the system, but also trust how the algorithms were developed. During our session, Justin, Brittany, and David shared a couple of ways to help build that institutional trust:

  • Usability. Build tools people intuitively know how to use, right out of the box, and create automated workflows that are easy for people to understand and implement.
  • Transparency. You need to be able to easily interpret the results and understand how they were generated.
  • Continuous improvement. Be sure your process includes benchmarking, periodic bias review, and experimentation.

Despite the associated challenges, our panel agreed that AI is the path forward and the future of e-discovery. As long as there is trust and accountability, AI can be a powerful and dependable tool that will help free up time and resources so your team can focus on initiatives that will help drive your business forward.

David wrapped it up best with some of his closing remarks: when it comes to AI, “seeing is believing. Make it approachable. Make it easy to understand. Make it transparent.”

Investigations Report: Benchmarks & Insights to Inspire Your Team

Mindy Deneault is a member of the product marketing team at Relativity.

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