What’s E-discovery? The Way forward for Federal Litigation Tech

As the amount of digital data continues to grow, e-discovery is reshaping how organizations manage information for legal requirements and compliance.

Electronic discovery, or e-discovery, refers to a legal process of uncovering electronically stored information (ESI) for potential litigation purposes. As the amount of digital data continues to rise, e-discovery has the potential to transform the ways organizations collect, store and analyze information.

In legal proceedings in general, “discovery” refers to the pre-trial process of collecting and producing evidence. In today’s digital era, more information kept on computers, mobile devices and servers has led to an increasing need for modernized electronic discovery tools that store and manage this data. In the case of a dispute, legal teams have to gather relevant information, which is located across different platforms, including email, text messages, audio and video and more — making modernized discovery tools even more essential. 

It’s no different for government agencies, who especially over the past year alone grew their digital footprints with the use of remote collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, email and other digital services. 

Discovery tools, and likewise e-discovery tools, are also essential for agencies to manage requests they receive from the public for certain information as mandated under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These requests have only increased over the past 10 years alone.

In fiscal year 2020, for example, federal agencies received nearly 800,000 FOIA requests, compared to nearly 600,000 in fiscal year 2010, according to data provided from the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy.

Tools for e-discovery enable organizations to gather data from large volumes of content from across the enterprise to reduce the time and cost of human review — especially as these demands increased amid mass telework.

“[COVID-19] has enacted a cultural change, especially at law firms and corporations, and that’s getting comfortable with cloud storage. There’s been a transition for a number of years, but COVID accelerated that and made it even more acceptable,” William Hamilton, senior legal skills professor and an expert in e-discovery at the University of Florida, told GovernmentCIO Media & Research. 

There are many e-discovery tools out there, but the challenges agencies face are all the same: managing the sheer volume of data creates additional complexities in a digital environment, such as identifying languages or people in audio files.

The massive complexity presents additional challenges around scalability and word-for-word accuracy, said Pete Feinberg, senior vice president of product strategy with Consilio at a webinar with the Association of E-Discovery Specialists. 

“The accuracy of these software-generated transcripts is not good. In a legal capacity, these are not quality transcripts for the majority of litigation or investigative matters,” Feinberg said regarding transcripts generated from digital products like videos.

As organizations look to improve their e-discovery tools to accommodate new demands, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence will be key for enabling agencies to quickly sort and analyze information under the time constraints of litigation. 

“We live in an information ecosphere. We have to make sure that we can analyze all of the data, find the important information and cut out the noise. That’s where AI comes into play. That’s the future of litigation,” Hamilton said. 

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