Is Advanced eDiscovery becoming a viable in-house option?

Last week, members of the Salient team met with Rachi Messing, Senior Program Manager at Microsoft and former Vice President of Customer Solutions at Equivio. Rachi gave us a personally-guided deep dive into Office 365’s Advanced eDiscovery – a particularly interesting area for us – especially after seeing the demand for compliance, information governance and eDiscovery solutions at the latest Microsoft Tech Summits.

Microsoft acquired Equivio 3 years ago, with the intention of bolstering its enterprise eDiscovery capability with the Equivio Zoom solution. It’s now set to revolutionise the eDiscovery process for businesses that find themselves spending huge amounts of money on professional assistance in preparing the results of eDiscovery for review.

Advanced eDiscovery vs eDiscovery: what’s the difference?

Microsoft’s approach to eDiscovery uses tools like the search feature in the Office 365 Security & Compliance Centre to enable you to identify and collect ‘relevant’ data using searches on keywords, categories, custodians, date ranges, etc.

The problem is, for many organisations, this is only part of the picture.

The resulting data sets can be huge (e.g. several million ‘hits’), littered with redundancies (e.g. duplicates), and potentially include items that are only tangentially related to the case or matter at hand. The process of sifting through this data to produce relevant evidence can be hugely expensive and time consuming – not an ideal situation when you need to respond to a court case.

Enter Advanced eDiscovery…

Office 365’s Advanced eDiscovery addresses the areas in which ‘normal’ eDiscovery falls short by adding a whole new level of data analysis to the tool suite. It leverages Equivio’s Zoom text analysis and machine learning technology to:

  • Identify redundant information using near-duplicate detection and email thread analysis
  • Automatically cluster documents according topics present in the data
  • Apply advanced predictive coding (using an operator’s tagging decisions) to assess the relevance of all documents within the corpus of data

The result is a reduced, focused body of data that makes early case assessment a relative breeze, and dramatically reduces the size of the export should you need to pass it on to a third party for further analysis and review.

That’s not the last of it, either: Microsoft’s Advanced eDiscovery gets more sophisticated every day. We’re particularly excited about these upcoming features:

  • Legal hold notifications and the ability to automatically identify sites, teams and any data belonging to a custodian
  • Processing of multimedia files with voice transcripts and associated themes
  • Ingestion of .pst files for processing
  • Data visualisation to make the process even more efficient

So, does that mean we can bring Advanced eDiscovery fully in-house?

Not quite. Or at least, not yet. It’s important to realise that Microsoft’s Advanced eDiscovery doesn’t replace third-party discovery specialists at this point. There are complexities (like foreign language recognition) that it can’t yet handle (although that may change in the future).

That said, being able to perform the preliminary stages of Advanced eDiscovery (in a repeatable and defensible manner) before exporting data to a hosted specialist platform offers organisations a number of very important benefits, including:

  • The ability to perform early case assessment in-house to make quick, informed decisions on case strategy (and avoid unnecessary discovery costs on cases without merit)
  • The ability to cull data before exporting to third-party platforms to dramatically reduce discovery fees (typically billed per gigabyte).
  • The chance to leverage your existing Office 365 investment to get even more visibility into your corporate unstructured data (Advanced eDiscovery is available free of charge on all Office 365 E5 subscriptions)

What are the risks of in-house Advanced eDiscovery?

The main risk of performing preliminary Advanced eDiscovery in-house is a lack of training. Your average IT guy isn’t exactly qualified to do forensic data collection. The last thing you want is to have questions raised over compromised or missing data on an important case, and you need to know what you’re doing to avoid these kinds of mistakes.

That doesn’t mean in-house eDiscovery is a pipe dream, however.

Straightforward data extractions and email threading are fairly simple to do in-house with little additional training. The complexities only really arise when you get into predictive coding territory. That gives you a few options:

  • Train your in-house counsel to use the tools available (ask us about training options)
  • Hire an in-house analyst
  • Bring in a partner like Salient to do it for you

Whatever you choose, you still have the benefit of being able to keep your data more secure and reduce your chain of custody risks by preserving and processing it in place, reduce the costs of further analysis by cutting out the dead wood, and get invaluable insights into your data earlier on in the eDiscovery process.

Six questions to ask to determine if Office 365 Advanced eDiscovery could benefit you

  1. What currently happens to the preliminary results of an eDiscovery search? Do we sift through this evidence in-house, or is it done by a third-party?
  2. How much does this process cost us in time and/or money?
  3. What savings could we achieve by reducing the amount of data produced at source?
  4. Do we have in-house legal staff who understand the process of reviewing evidence?
  5. Could we benefit from taking the responsibility of eDiscovery off the IT department’s plate?
  6. Do we have an Office 365 E5 subscription that we’re not leveraging to its fullest?
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