Finding and understanding the evidence that can help or hurt your case is a critical aspect of presenting or defending a claim in a court of law. The collection and review of evidence is generally referred to as discovery. Many years ago, the discovery process was a simpler one, consisting of the exchange of documents, some written questions, and maybe a deposition or two. Over the past few decades though, the process has grown in importance and complexity. And over the last twenty years or so, document discovery has been greatly impacted by the proliferation of technology that allows for deeper penetration into the bodies of information held by the parties involved.
Twenty years ago, it would be common to walk into a law firm and see the hallways lined with banker’s boxes filled with documents pertaining to a lawsuit, each box filled with notes, letters, contracts, and a plethora of other documents. Because of the volume, a real concern that a firm had then related to space, with “war rooms” and whole sections of offices becoming document warehouses. Walk into a law firm today and you are likely to see clear hallways and empty filing cabinets, even though the firm will actually be in possession of more lawsuit-related information than ever before.
Taking a look at some real numbers related to document storage will make the theoretical discussion of space more tangible. For example, it is common to see a new laptop computer that comes standard with one terabyte of storage. But what will really fit on a terabyte? This article contains 3,300 characters and when saved as a word document is roughly 16 kilobytes. A terabyte contains 1,073,741,824 kilobytes. Consequently, this document could be saved over 67 million times. Further, if you printed this article it would take up two pages of paper. A banker’s box holds roughly 2,000 pages of paper. Therefore, documents that could fit on a consumer laptop could easily take up 67,108 banker’s boxes.
Because documents are easy to create and do not take up a lot of electronic space, people are creating lots of them. Communicating electronically has become so common we generally do not think about it. We send emails and texts, and we create multiple versions of the same document. We forward emails on to additional people adding edits and comments. When those texts, emails and documents become relevant in a lawsuit, there has to be a way to comb through the information in a timely and cost effective manner. Law firms are no longer worried about space; they are worried about having the time to properly go through the process of adequately reviewing the vast amounts of electronically stored information that now appear in lawsuits.
Fortunately, there are tools available to law firms to help them comb through the oceans of e-documents. Database management companies provide invaluable tools for discovery review. By placing their entire electronic discovery in a database, firms are able to effectively search the documents and metadata, which is information about the document that may not appear if you were to simply print the document out. For example, metadata can include information about when the document was created and last edited or where the document was stored. Beyond these features of today’s discovery technology, there are also now artificial intelligence solutions that allow the machine to conduct “smart” reviews of the information it holds in a small fraction of the time that it would take a human.
The new reality that lawyers and litigants are forced to deal with is that there is a lot of information that is being created and stored every day that may one day need to be produced in a lawsuit. If you find yourself in a case that involves a lot of electronically stored information, you need a law firm that has experience dealing with discovery of that scale and the technology available to manage it.
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