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Early Case Assessment (ECA): From Key Word Search to Automating Document Relevance

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Early Case Assessment (ECA): From Key Word Search to Automating Document Relevance

Just before the Christmas holidays in 2007 I was teaching a CLE on the “Changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP)”. There had to have been 150 litigators, litigation service providers and consultants in the room listening to me preach about this unchartered new world called eDiscovery. My initial morning session was an overview of the current status of paper based litigation processing, how the accelerating increase in the volume of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) was steaming down the eDiscovery tracks like an out of control locomotive, how the changes to the FRCP would effect us all and what they all needed to know that day to get ready. One of topics that I touched on was the need to become more familiar with key word search methodology and the new technologies that would enable the legal industry to better manage the process of finding relevant data and assessing cases early on in the eDiscovery lifecycle. The reason that I am recalling this CLE seminar was because I will always remember the comments from an older litigator that packed up his belongings during the first break, walked up to the front and announced that, “all of this fancy new technology was never going to replace good old fashion legal hard work, understanding the relevant facts and key information for case wasn’t as complicated as I was making it sound and therefore he wasn’t going to stick around for the rest of my session.”

Well, the remainder of 149 attendees stayed and I hope that they all walked away with a better understanding of the importance of understanding key word search methodology and the new technologies that would enable the legal industry to better manage the process of finding relevant data and assessing cases early on in the eDiscovery lifecycle. Over the subsequent 18 months, key word became a big issue in the eDiscovery lifecycle and spawned a whole new technology arena called Early Case Assessment (ECA) that focused on reducing the amount of “relevant” data that had to ultimately be reviewed by a lawyer. And, having just completed another CLE this past week on ECA, I think that “most” eDiscovery professionals understand the keyword search methodology and the new technologies that enable them to better manage the process of finding relevant data and assessing cases early on in the eDiscovery lifecycle.

However, just went we thought we had it had it all figured out, a study from the Text Retrieval Conference (TREC) indicated that the keyword method tends to miss most of the relevant documents, while yielding mainly irrelevant documents. As a result, only a fraction of the relevant documents make it to the detailed review stage, while most of the documents that are submitted to review are in fact not relevant.

Moreover, the study also found that the keyword approach is typically binary, meaning that documents are either included or not. There is no graduated scale of relevance. This rigid approach does not allow for relative ranking of documents, making it extremely difficult to manage and prioritize document review.

However, as with any market that is going through a paradigm shift looking for its center and trying to normalize on some standards, the litigation technology vendors have been all over the keyword search issue and are starting to release their new solutions into production. One of the very first players in the industry to address the issue of document relevance is Equivio, a leading provider of near de-duping and email thread management technology. They have just launched Equivio>Relevance™, an expert-guided system that enhances the eDiscovery process through automated document prioritization.

Getting back to the comments of my lawyer friend that walked out of my CLE back in 2007, fancy new technology may never replace good old legal hard work. However, in today’s new world of Terabytes of potential evidence in even some of the small matters, we need all the technical help that we can get. And, it appears that Equivio is stepping up and offering us all at least a fighting chance to find the documents that we need successfully mange our cases.

The Full Text of Equivio’s Press Release is as follows:

Kensington, MD, June 22, 2009 – Equivio, a provider of software for managing data redundancy, announced today that it has launched Equivio> Relevance™, an expert-guided system that enhances the eDiscovery process through automated document prioritization.
Traditionally, attorneys use keywords to pre-filter documents prior to detailed review. According to the TREC (Text Retrieval Conference) studies, the keywords method tends to miss most of the relevant documents, while yielding mainly irrelevant documents. As a result, only a fraction of the relevant documents make it to the detailed review stage, while most of the documents that are submitted to review are in fact not relevant.

Moreover, the keywords approach is typically binary, meaning that documents are either included or not. There is no graduated scale of relevance. This rigid approach does not allow for relative ranking of documents, making it extremely difficult to manage and prioritize document review.

Equivio>Relevance™ is designed to address these limitations, introducing a higher level of flexibility, control and accuracy into the eDiscovery process. Based on initial input from a lead attorney, Equivio>Relevance uses statistical and self-learning techniques to calculate graduated relevance scores for each document in the data collection. Equivio>Relevance also uses a statistical model to calculate the precision and recall achieved by the software. This statistical model is used to provide a new level of measurability and control in the eDiscovery arena, while also helping to ensure the defensibility and transparency of the process.

Equivio>Relevance drives value throughout the eDiscovery flow through:

  • Early case assessment: Equivio>Relevance facilitates rapid assessment of the key issues and concepts in a case.
  • Culling: Equivio>Relevance achieves high levels of recall and precision, helping overcome the challenges of over and under-inclusion that characterize traditional keyword methods.
  • Review prioritization: By organizing the review set according to relevance rankings, Equivio enables prioritization of document review. This allows attorneys to immediately focus on the most relevant documents.
  • Review quality assurance: By identifying discrepancies in the responsiveness designations of Equivio>Relevance vis-à-vis the human review team, the application helps find responsive documents missed in the detail review. Similarly, the discrepancies can be used to locate documents incorrectly marked by the human review team as responsive.
Equivio>Relevance also generates a list of keywords that characterize relevant documents in the collection. These automatically-generated keywords can be used to supplement and enhance the manual list of keywords built by the legal team.

"Equivio is committed to developing and delivering innovative technologies that will help litigators improve the quality and consistency of their eDiscovery processes," said Amir Milo, CEO of Equivio. "Equivio>Relevance™ enables attorneys to review fewer and more relevant documents, lowering review costs and reducing the risk of missing key data."

About Equivio

Equivio enables the management of data redundancy in content-centric business processes. Equivio's technology zooms in on unique data, allowing you to read less, think more, win big™. With products for grouping near-duplicates, capturing email threads and determining document relevance, Equivio powers a broad range of business applications, including eDiscovery, records management, email archiving, data retention and intelligence. To learn more about winning with Equivio, visit http://www.equivio.com/.

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