The Next Generation of Effective Collections

I’ll admit: I tried to come up with a Star Wars reference for the headline of this blog post to mark the release of the new installment of the series today, but the Star Trek reference seemed much more appropriate. I can remember a time when forensic collection was viewed as an add-on feature for the e-discovery process. Now, I’d argue, we’ve entered the next generation.

A collection once simply consisted of retrieving data, with any analysis and sense-making taking place downstream. Nowadays, there’s a real need to go beyond simple data collection and provide time- and headache-saving data management functions. With data volumes on the rise and deadlines as tight as ever, attorneys need help getting their arms around their matters earlier in the discovery process.

Collections as Data Management

Today’s attorneys want to know the size of file stores, the types of files contained in these stores, and the custodians of these files much earlier. The methods of reporting on these statistics have historically been cumbersome, and it wasn’t always easy to provide an understandable snapshot of the data sets in question.

Thankfully, today’s e-discovery experts are bringing much-needed organization up front in the discovery process. By combining proper data collection methods with visuals to aid in decision-making, smart practitioners are giving attorneys distinct advantages they never had before. Here’s what we’re seeing:

  1. Centralized functionality within one platform makes it faster and easier for service providers to work with data
  2. Service providers’ clients search for, report on, and finalize important data with the ability to go back to the “well” if needed
  3. Combining search efforts with visual reporting allows users to quickly understand their data and whittle it down to the essential pieces

This last point is increasingly important. Time is always of the essence in e-discovery, and with data sizes expanding, the increasing ability to visualize, cull, and prioritize data will ease workflows later in the process. Adding visual elements to collection reports gives attorneys an understanding of their data sets, a better handle on the discovery tasks they’ll need to undertake, and better ways to collaborate with their data services provider—all of which can lead to more informed evaluations for early case assessment, processing, and review methodologies.

Providing interactive pie charts that summarize collected data by file type and extension along with comparative metrics of data size—and allowing other team members to review, comment on, and adjust results—is a great example of how to assess data quickly within an environment that’s much more collaborative than traditional spreadsheets and static file lists.

Case in Point

In a recent financial service fraud investigation matter handled by CDS, a Federal Government Agency wished to reduce the amount of data collected from a 500-custodian, 6 TB universe. After decompression, the size of this data store would have ballooned to 42.5 TB. To add to the challenge, there were no custodial values in this planet-sized repository. Processing everything was not an option, and providing a spreadsheet with a file listing to perform some very unintelligent culling wouldn’t have exactly been user-friendly. 

What the client needed was a 10,000-foot view of the data—a sneak peek so they could make some real decisions on the data before moving it forward. We created a repository for the collection and, using Relativity Collection’s scout feature, presented a quick analysis of folders, file names, and system metadata. We were then able to engage in a productive conversation with the client about narrowing the scope of the data to be processed and run a defensible targeted collection. In addition to having much more data-rich interaction at the collection stage, we were able to generate an encrypted file with the client’s chosen data and send it directly into Relativity Processing.

Collaborative Collections

This new way of thinking about collections opens the door for a truly collaborative process. While traditional collection methods are report-heavy and rely on stakeholders to make final decisions on what data to process, the next generation of collection allows users the ability to “touch” the data in a way that goes far beyond report formats, before it is ingested into review.

As we move beyond simply grabbing up large data sets with very little understanding of their contents, methods and workflows that allow attorneys to get an up-front understanding of their data sets will become the standard.

Milton Cervantes is the director of product strategy for Complete Discovery Source (CDS), where his main responsibility is to align CDS's technological capabilities with the current state of the market. Milton is consistently researching, vetting, and utilizing different e-discovery tools to solve everyday client issues.