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E-discovery: 8 questions to ask when selecting a review tool

Choosing the right tool can save huge amounts of money in the long run

Document review tools generally break down into three categories:

  1. In the first category are the most basic review tools, such as legacy versions of Summation and Concordance. Many law firms invested in licenses of these products and are able to host a document review in one of these tools in-house for little or no charge to the client.
  2. In the second category are more recent versions of Concordance and Summation with enhanced review capabilities, greater functionality and increased speed. Some law firms have acquired licenses to these new versions. However adopting these technologies requires a large investment in servers, infrastructure and personnel. Firms that have not invested in such tools must look to outside vendors, who charge per-gigabyte monthly fees.
  3. In the third category are more robust review platforms with many more features such as Relativity, RingTail, Axcelerate, Viewpoint and Ontrack. Each tool is unique in the features it offers and should be analyzed for the needs of each case. These platforms are hosted by a variety of vendors, but rarely by law firms. Fee structures vary; some vendors charge per-gigabyte hosting fees and additional license fees on a per user basis, others just charge per-gigabyte hosting fees, which are generally about double the cost of the traditional review tools.

There are no definite breakpoints that clearly indicate which tool should be used for any particular review. The needs of the case, the needs of the client and its lawyers, the volume of data and the costs all are factors that must be considered.

When deciding what tool to use for your case, you should ask yourself:

1. How much data is there to be reviewed?

Larger reviews tend to be easier to conduct in a robust, vendor-hosted platform, while smaller reviews can be accommodated in law firm-hosted tools. But size alone is not the determining factor. A review of 20,000 documents that must be done quickly and/or requires extensive searching and culling is more easily done in a robust tool. If a review of several hundred thousand documents will be done at a leisurely pace by a few lawyers, a firm-hosted tool can fit the bill.

2. What does the data look like?

Is it mostly scanned paper? Concordance or Summation can be good options for smaller scanned paper reviews. Is the data set mostly email, word processing documents, and spreadsheets? Are there databases or nonstandard file types, such as audio or video files? Many high-end review platforms have native viewers that work with email, word processing documents and spreadsheets, but do not handle databases or audio and video files well. These files have to be downloaded from the remote server each time they are accessed and may be easier to review outside of any platform.

3. How complex is the searching?

Some data sets require extensive searches and de-duplication to generate a manageable review set. New robust tools contain search engines that allow you to run Boolean and fuzzy searches, include metadata as an element of the searches and generate reports on the results of several hundred search terms. A legacy tool could suffice if you only plan to run a few search terms.

The newer review tools as well as updated versions of legacy tools also can provide automatic highlighting of privileged terms and search terms.

4. How complex is the review?

Some document reviews require several levels of relevance review, privilege review and confidentiality review. The more sophisticated tool will permit you establish work flows, batch documents for several hundred reviewers working in multiple offices, or even multiple countries. Concordance or Summation would require batches to be constructed manually by litigation support professionals, adding time and expense.  

5. How complex is the coding?

Legacy tools, such as Concordance or Summation, allow basic coding for relevance, responsiveness, privilege and issue tagging. A more robust tool allows levels of tagging and rules about whether a reviewer must select a certain field before adding additional tags or moving on to the next document.

6. How long will the data need to be active?

If the data needs to be accessible, but not actively reviewed, for long periods of time, it will be significantly less expensive to use a law firm-hosted tool, even if the review is slower and more cumbersome.

Just because you have started a case in one platform, does not mean it should stay in that platform. The needs of the case change over time and you should not pay for more review tools than you need.

7. Do you need advanced analytic tools?

Increasingly, lawyers and courts are looking to predictive coding and concept-based searching in hopes of lowering review costs. But, bear in mind that ingesting and indexing the data for these services usually will incur additional costs (as much as hundreds of dollars per gigabyte). They can greatly decrease costs associated with attorney review, but only if they are used correctly. Also, consider that some tools are not equipped to make productions, and exporting the data to a separate production tool will take more time and money

8. How competent is the vendor?

Many vendors host the same web-based review tools. You can select the correct tool, but if the vendor does not have sufficient bandwidth and infrastructure, documents can take an agonizingly long time to download. And if the vendor does not have adequate staffing with appropriately trained people, your experience will be disastrous.

Final considerations

Reviews of terabytes of data and millions of documents are not unheard of today. If you are reviewing a million documents and your document review tool slows the reviewers down by one second per document, the tool has added over 277 hours to the length of the review. If a law firm is conducting the review, and associates at that firm bill out at $300 per hour, you have added $83,100 to the cost of the review. And $83,000 buys a lot of monthly hosting charges.

Contributing Author

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Judy Selby

Judy Selby has more than 20 years of experience in large scale first- and third-party complex insurance coverage matters, providing a full range of services...

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Contributing Author

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Brian Esser

Brian Esser, associate at BakerHostetler LLP, focuses his practice on complex and general civil litigation and corporate investigations. He primarily works in the area of...

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