Migrated from eDJGroupInc.com. Author: Barry Murphy. Published: 2010-01-26 23:07:42  If the term Early Case Assessment (ECA) causes you to roll your eyes and reach for a copy of your JD/MBA buzzword bingo sheet, you’re not alone. ECA is a term thrown around by technology providers ranging from email archiving vendors to actual document review vendors.  But, just this once, let the marketing hypesters off the hook – ECA can have some very profoundly positive business impact.  The confusion around the term is really around how much ECA a given organization needs.eDiscovery is both hard and expensive – there is so much digital information and so many complicated tools that most organizations both over-collect and over-preserve.  The norm is to simply hand over all collected data to a service bureau for processing.  But, to process and review just 1 terabyte (TB) of data can cost in excess of $1.5 million.  Putting that into context, 1 TB of data is the email and desktop content of approximately 10 custodians – most collections will be in the multi TB range.  As a result, ECA is a hot topic.What is Early Case Assessment?There is not a generally accepted, common definition of ECA – that’s part of the challenge that organizations have in determining what kind of ECA initiatives are right for them.  The better way to think of ECA is as part of a spectrum of legal decision support.  The goal is quite simply to use information to make fast decisions about matters in an attempt to save money.  Confusion arises when vendors offer various levels of legal decision support and all of these vendors call their products ECA.  While the vendor claims are theoretically true – many features can offer the ability to make early assessments about matters – the level of true assessment capabilities varies widely.At the low end of the legal decision support spectrum is simple search and filtering.  The term simple may have negative connotations, but in fact, the ability to search and filter through information can provide huge savings in eDiscovery.  Too often, organizations with tight deadlines turn over all collected data for EDD processing.   These processing costs can be drastically reduced by culling the data (searching and filtering and deduplicating) at the point of collection.  Let’s assume a small case with only 20 custodians, each of whom contribute 10 GBs of data.  If an organization turns that data over for processing at the average cost of $1,000 per GB, the processing alone will cost $200,000.  And remember, that’s just the cost of processing.  Having a law firm review that data just for responsiveness and privilege will cost more:

  • There are typically 7,000 documents per GB
  • Average review rate is 60 documents per hour
  • Average blended hourly review rate is $150 per hour

Therefore, the cost of privilege review for 200 GBs of data will be about $3.5 million.  Processing and review will total close to $4 million.  That’s a significant cost.ECA vendors claim the ability to reduce data collections by up to 80% – 90%.  Factoring that down to just 50% to account for vendor hype, that is still a potential savings of almost $2 million.   The reason this type of functionality can be called ECA is because it allows organizations to make case assessments based on the economics of eDiscovery.  If eDiscovery for a case is going to cost $2 million, but the case can be settled for $25,000, the organization can quickly make the decision to settle the case.  These types of savings are why ECA is something organizations can’t ignore.At the high-end of the legal decision support spectrum is functionality that helps reviewers actually determine case strategy and merits faster by grouping content into conceptual clusters, or by automatically determining the most potentially important documents, or by auto-tagging documents to make review faster.  This type of functionality helps organizations make faster decisions based on the merits of case rather than the simple economics (estimates of processing and review costs).The question every organization should ask itself is, “what level of legal decision support do I need?”  While every organization is different, there are some general guidelines:All organizations should have, at a minimum, the ability to search, filter, and deduplicate all collected information.  Multiple applications will offer this natively (for example, email archiving applications have advanced searching capabilities).  Instead of having to run the same search over and over across multiple systems, it would be great to have one place to conduct a federated search.  However, the solutions landscape is in flux and organizations should start by exercising search and filtering capabilities on the most crucial content sources (e.g. email and file systems).Organizations with small in-house legal staff should look to have an ECA interface that allows them to search and then conduct some level of actual analytics-driven review.  Features to look for include not only advanced search capabilities, but also concept searching, clustering, and perhaps visual analytics in addition to decision-support dashboards (e.g. reports on the estimated eDiscovery costs of a case based on the amount of data collected).Both law firms and organizations with large in-house legal departments and/or organizations that are serial litigants should invest in advanced ECA tools that support iterative, transparent searching, visual analytics, concept searching, automated tagging, native document review, and document production.  These types of tools are aimed at streamlining the actual legal review process and making the lawyers more efficient.ECA is becoming a strategic priority for many organizations.  For more information on ECA, including a list of ECA solution providers, click here.  To talk with an eDiscoveryJournal ECA subject-matter expert, click here.

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