This article was originally published by CDS, an Orange-level Relativity Best in Service partner, on their Insights blog. It's an in-depth look at common barriers to adopting email threading and why they need not prevent a more effecient review.
Imagine if Gmail, Outlook, or Yahoo were incapable of grouping email conversations together. Without conversation grouping, or email threading, you might be able to sort by subject, but the software would not understand that “RE:” and “FW:” should be disregarded. The forwards would be in one group, the replies would all follow, and the original message could be anywhere. If two conversations had identical subjects, even if they were between entirely different people, you would need to manually read the email contents to discover which message belongs to which conversation.
If you had an alternative, would you ever consider using the email software described above? For any person that uses email in their personal or professional life with any frequency, the answer is likely “no.” Email threading is a tool we take for granted in our everyday lives. You might not realize the full benefits because you use it automatically, but email threading is likely one of the primary tools you use to organize your inbox. It is the core sorting functionality for every email software and webmail option on the market. It is also an easy and reliable data reduction tool. You know you don’t need to read through every email in a conversation when the email at the top of the thread already presents the entire communication. It is essential for efficient inbox management.
Let’s assume you are working with the same horrible email system that does not include the ability to sort conversations. The difference is that now, instead of dealing with one inbox, you have to manage several inboxes. In addition, you do not have the benefit of familiarity with the conversations. The emails were collected from people you have not met at a company you do not work for. Finally, unlike a simple task like sorting through your own inbox looking for a single email to respond to, you need to find all communications related to a particular topic.
It is likely that most people would have a similar reaction: any system that does not have the ability to group conversations together and sort them logically would be entirely unacceptable. Surprisingly, in spite of widespread availability of email threading software, the above scenario describes the large majority of document review databases that are created for e-discovery.
At CDS, we frequently encounter teams that use email threading only sparingly or not at all. We are curious as to why the tool is not utilized as commonly as it could be, so we always ask what drove this choice.
Below are a few of the more common reasons we have heard for neglecting the tool along with our responses that demonstrate how email threading will help the review process.
1. “The review data was only a few thousand documents.”
Email threading is useful for any volume of email requiring review. Even for a review of a few thousand documents, we have seen review speeds increase by more than 20 percent purely because the reviewers can see conversations in order, allowing the reviewers to code documents as they arrive in the batch.
2. “The attorneys preferred a traditional review and did not need analytics.”
Email threading may be part of the analytics package, but it is perhaps the most intuitive feature since it is merely taking one of the simplest and most useful features of your inbox and enabling the same experience in your document review. If there is any concern about how to make the best use of email threading, request a training session. Most vendors will be happy to help their clients get comfortable using these features.
3. “It didn’t occur to us to ask.”
Possibly the most common reason we heard is that, unlike de-duplication or date filtering, email threading is just not considered to be essential to a document review. Email threading is regarded as more of a “nice to have” until later in the workflow when a reviewer notices that they have seen the same email five times already. CDS recommends that clients incorporate email threading into their standard data processing and review protocol. We have now seen several clients make this part of their processing specification, and none has gone back.
Daniel Diette, Esq., is an e-discovery consultant and data scientist at CDS. He has ten years of legal experience and holds a J.D. from Brooklyn Law School as well as a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.