eDiscovery and Big Data: Time to Call In the Experts?

January 28, 2013 No Comments »
eDiscovery and Big Data: Time to Call In the Experts?

It’s tough to open a business journal these days without reading something about big data. But despite all the noise, there’s not much discussion of the legal and risk-management implications of Big Data, which are significant. This lack of attention is a major concern, because although big data does have the potential to yield valuable strategic business insights, it also poses a huge challenge to companies when legal data compliance needs (i.e., eDiscovery) intersect with these large datasets.

Even with a generally effective eDiscovery strategy and in-house or outsourced expertise, companies can run into major legal and risk-management challenges when handling discovery or other legal data requests that involve processing big data, as the people charged with handling big data for legal matters may not fully realize the scope of the task they face.

Big Data: The Legend and the Reality

To understand the implications of big data in the eDiscovery realm, it’s necessary to have a clear sense of what big data is. Simply, big data usually involves “three v’s”—large volume, great variety and quick velocity of change in the information. These qualities result in data that can be complex to analyze but that may contain highly useful information. Most every medium- and large-size organization has some form of large data sets.

Unfortunately, these same qualities that provide potential value for the organization also can create huge risk from a legal and compliance perspective. For example, eDiscovery on large data sets is complex and involves a nuanced approach. Ultimately it can be managed effectively with specialized legal data tools and processes, as well as the right knowledge base or expert resources.

Special Challenges of Big Data and the eDiscovery Process

In as much as companies require specialized knowledge and tools for working with big data, working with big data in the context of eDiscovery requires a heightened level of knowledge because it entails handling data according to exacting legal standards that exceed commonplace data-migration and IT processing practices. Information extracted from mining big data may be used as evidence in a legal (eDiscovery) context, thus requiring evidence custody and handling procedures that go far beyond the practices used to parse large data sets, extract business intelligence, transfer data and validate results.

Since the big data associated with an eDiscovery action may contain potential and actual evidence, handlers need to develop and maintain records of how it was created, transferred, used and stored, much as law enforcement officials use a chain-of-custody record for physical evidence in a legal matter. It’s also absolutely crucial to maintain data integrity to ensure its validation and thus utility for legal purposes, such as presentation in court or as part of another type of legal action, including regulatory examinations, administrative hearings and private arbitration.

If that weren’t daunting enough, big data that is involved in legal actions typically is composed of documents created in a variety of formats and stored across multiple repositories, including employee email folders, mobile devices and centralized servers. This makes it much more challenging to identify, aggregate and use the relevant data for analysis while still maintaining information required for eDiscovery. Consequently, even though companies can face substantial penalties if an eDiscovery request is handled improperly, too many don’t have the proper tools to address this need, and the latest big data mining and analysis tools on the market aren’t yet suitable for handling eDiscovery issues.

Professional Help Can Make a Huge Difference

Fortunately for enterprises that need professional assistance to parse big data for eDiscovery purposes, there are easy-to-access, affordable solutions available. With skill and ingenuity, eDiscovery professionals have developed big data processing techniques and solutions that comply with stringent legal evidence-handling requirements. These professionals are accustomed to managing complex data-recovery requests and are well versed in ways to produce documents expeditiously so that legal teams can move forward with discovery actions without delay.

For example, eDiscovery professionals have the tools and expertise to quickly and accurately identify data and documents that are vital to the discovery action by separating out key emails, records, presentations and so on from among an enormous quantity of irrelevant documents, and they can conduct a search that will stand up to computer-forensics standards, since they have created tools specifically to mine the data for evidentiary purposes.

Executives, IT professionals and employees who are tasked with managing enterprise data, records, security, information privacy and IT strategy should ensure that they are aware of the implications of eDiscovery requests that arise from litigation and regulatory matters. Before a legal matter crops up, it’s a good idea to create a contingency plan to appropriately assemble, protect and manage data and comply with collection requests.

The expertise, tools and practices required to comply with eDiscovery requests in the new world of big data bear some resemblance to the knowledge, solutions and processes used to parse huge datasets for enterprise insights. But there is an additional layer of complexity because of special legal requirements and the likelihood that the data subject to the search will be dispersed across multiple servers and devices. The risks of noncompliance are too great to be ignored. That’s why companies with big data–related eDiscovery needs should consider pursuing a diligent approach, using the right tools and possibly calling a professional.

Leading article image courtesy of luckey_sun

About the Author

Alon Israely discusses the relationship of big data and eDiscoveryAlon Israely, an attorney and Certified Information Systems Security Professional, is Manager of Strategic Partnerships at TotalDiscovery.com. Introduced in 2011 and built on technology used since 2002, TotalDiscovery.com is the first on-demand, cloud-based integrated legal hold, data collection and ECA solution available. With no software to install or hardware to provision, TotalDiscovery.com can be used immediately, with no extensive training or configuration required. TotalDiscovery.com was designed for cases of all sizes, from a few custodians to thousands. With its unique, flexible and predictable pricing model, no up-front costs and instant availability, it was designed with small and medium-size cases in mind, while its advanced features, like Enterprise Connectivity, cater to the needs of larger enterprises. Find out more at www.totaldiscovery.com.

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