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Technology: Predictive coding and total time & cost to ECA

Using predictive coding for ECA gives you more time to create case strategy using the most relevant information

Many global organizations respond to e-discovery and e-disclosure requests for electronically stored information "ESI" on an all too regular basis. A key phase in the e-discovery process is early case assessment (ECA), the process of reviewing case data to estimate risk, cost and time requirements, and to create the appropriate go-forward strategy to prosecute or defend a legal case. Early case assessment consumes a sizable amount of time and expense in determining what your case strategy should be going forward — should you fight the case or settle as soon as possible. Because of this time and expense, organizations are continuously looking for ways to move into the early case assessment process as quickly as possible, with the right data, while spending the least amount of money to get there.

The early case assessment process usually involves the following steps:

  1. Determine what the case is about, who in your organization could be involved, and the timeframe in question.
  2. Determine where potentially relevant information could be residing — storage locations.
  3. Place a broad litigation hold on all potentially responsive information.
  4. Collect and protect all potentially relevant information.
  5. Review all potentially relevant information.
  6. Perform a risk-benefit analysis on reviewed information.
  7. Develop a go-forward strategy.

Every year organizations continue to amass huge amounts of electronic information, primarily because few have systematic processes to actually dispose of electronic information. It is just too easy for custodians to hit the “save” button and forget about it. This ever-growing mass of electronic information means early case assessment cannot be a strictly manual process anymore. Software applications that can quickly find, cull down and prioritize responsive electronic documents quickly must be utilized to give the defense time to actually devise case strategy.

Total time & cost to ECA (TT&C to ECA)

The real measure of effective ECA is the total time and cost consumed to get to the point of being able to create a go-forward strategy; total time & cost to ECA.

The most time consuming and costly steps in the ECA process is in the collection and review of all potentially relevant information (steps 4 and 5 above) to determine case strategy. This is due mainly to the fact that to really make the most informed decision on strategy, all responsive information should be reviewed to determine if it relates to the case, and if so, how?

For example, even after search and cull-down, a document set could contain over 400,000 potentially responsive documents; a relatively small results set. For ECA purposes, those 400,000 documents should be reviewed to find those documents that are truly relevant to the case. Now, assuming a traditional review process which includes human reviewers and a review rate of 55 documents per hour and 10 hour days, it would take a single reviewer 727.27 days (400,000 documents/55 docs/hr) to review the entire document set to find those 20,000 (5 percent) documents that relate to the case. So in this case the time to early case assessment completion is 727.27 days or with a team of 6 reviewers, 121.21 days. Obviously, the cost of review for ECA remains the same. One reviewer would take 727.27 days and at $70 per hour, the total cost would be $509,090.40. Assigning 6 reviewers to the task at $70 per hour each would take 121.21 days times 6 reviewers at $70 per hour each so: (1,212.12 hrs*6)*$70=$509,090.40.

So for the above example, the total time and cost to ECA using traditional methods is:



Days to ECA

Review Cost to ECA








There is a way to reduce both time and cost to ECA using predictive coding technology.

Predictive coding for lower TT&C to ECA

Predictive coding is a process that combines people, technology and workflow to find, prioritize and tag key relevant documents quickly, utilizing sophisticated search and analysis software to speed the review process while reducing costs. Due to its documented accuracy and efficiency gains, predictive coding is transforming how early case assessment (ECA), analysis and document review are done. 

The same predictive coding process used in the review process can be effectively used for finding those responsive documents for early case assessment, quickly and at a much lower cost than traditional methods.

Using the same example above (a post-culled data set of 400,000 documents) and predictive coding, the predictive coding process would prioritize and tag all responsive documents (as determined by the system after the iterative training & QC processes) so that attorneys can get their hands on the most relevant documents quickly for a 100 percent content review. This means that instead of reviewing the entire data set of 400,000 documents with human reviewers, the predictive coding processes analyzes, tags and produces just the 5 percent of the document set that is responsive.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Predictive coding for early case assessment

Let’s look at the same example above for total time & cost to ECA but this time using Predictive Coding. Remember, the Predictive Coding process analyzes and tags the most relevant documents so a much smaller percentage (5 percent versus 100 percent) of the 400,000 document set needs to be reviewed for ECA. Using the same review rate of 55 documents per hour with 10 hour days, it would take a single reviewer 36.36 days (20,000 documents/55 docs/hr) to review the entire document set. In this case the time to early case assessment completion is 36.36 days or with a team of 6 reviewers, 6.06 days.



Days to ECA

Review Cost to ECA








One reviewer utilizing predictive coding to prioritize the most relevant documents would take just 36.36 days (at 55 docs per hour) and at $70 per hour, the total cost would be $25,455. Assigning 6 reviewers to the review task would speed up the review time to just 6.06 days and still cost only $25,455: (60.61 hrs*6)*$70=$25,455.

Figure 2

Figure 2: The time & cost to ECA timeline graphically shows what additional time can mean in the e-discovery process.

Besides the sizable reduction in cost, using predictive coding for ECA gives you much more time to actually create case strategy using the most relevant information. Many organizations find themselves with little or no time to actually create case strategy before trail because of the time consumed just reviewing documents. Obviously as linear review proceeds, responsive documents are available as they are identified which can help with an understanding of the case, but Murphy’s Law will ensure the “smoking gun” won’t be found until the end of the ECA review. Having the complete set of relevant documents sooner in the process will give you the best data and the greatest amount of time to actually use it effectively.

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Bill Tolson

Bill Tolson has more than 20 years’ experience in the e-discovery solutions and consulting markets. Prior to his current position as an e-discovery and information...

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