In our last blog, we spoke about EDRM, or the Electronic Discovery Reference Model, considered the definitive guide to the recovery and discovery of electronically stored information, or ESI. Our last blog was an introduction to the EDRM and its utilization, and for the next few blogs we’ll be taking a closer look at the individual steps of eDiscovery in building and presenting a case.
As EDRM lists best practices when it comes to the access and utilization of Electronically Stored Information (or ESI), it’s best to start off with a quick and simple look at sources of ESI:
- Desktop and laptop computers
- Tablets (think like an iPad or other multi-use tablet)
- Hard drive storage units
- Mobile devices like cell phones, Blackberries, etc
- Emails, professional and personal
Each of these potential sources of ESI may have different types of information, although often information formats overlap, especially with the advent of multiple-use tablets and smartphones. Types of ESI include:
- Text messages
- Word Documents
- Excel files
- Other loose digital files
- Other multimedia and digital information
Now that we have taken a look at sources and types of ESI, we can get started on taking a closer look at the best practices outlined in the EDRM.
STAGE ONE: INFORMATION GOVERNANCE
Information Governance, the first step in the nine-stage EDRM, involves ensuring your organization or client is prepared to pursue best practices when it comes to eDiscovery.
Many organizations are only made aware of the weaknesses in their current processes when they’ve already lost valuable information that can no longer be recovered. Ensure that best practices are in place in advance and you’ll minimize these risks.
Accidental deletion or physical damage to ESI and/or parent devices could lead to loss of evidence and consequences associated with the spoliation of evidence.
How do you ensure that ESI is protected against alteration or destruction?
This list of IG best practices, as provided by author Robert Smallwood, may help you to put together your own strategy for information governance going forward. Another way to minimize risk when it comes to eDiscovery is to partner with a business that specializes in secure data management and computer forensics.
STAGE TWO: IDENTIFICATION
The second stage of the EDRM is known as Identification, and it largely amounts to asking – and answering – a series of essential questions to help locate potential sources of electronically stored information, as well as what part they will play within the investigation or case.
Examples of important questions to ask during the identification stage include:
- Will the case in question involve text messages sent via mobile phone?
- How many of those messages are relevant to the investigation?
- Does the case utilize photos located on a laptop or sent via email?
- Over what length of time were these messages sent?
- How strongly do these messages or images support the case?
- Will utilizing these messages provide enough support to be worth preparing their context and potentially technical details to present before a judge or jury?
Knowing the answers to these questions will help you understand what ESI will be included in your investigation and what information may be better left out of the case, helping you to develop a stronger computer forensics strategy.
STAGE THREE: PRESERVATION
Careful preservation of electronically stored information can truly make or break an investigation, especially in our increasingly digitally-connected world.
One unfortunate truth of modern-day life is that electronic information is all too often subject to purposeful or accidental deletion or even physical damage to the device it is located on, making it difficult or even impossible to recover the important evidence provided by the ESI.
When litigation is reasonably anticipated, an organization has a duty to preserve relevant information. The organization should inform custodians of their duty to preserve and provide custodians with clear instruction for doing so. Many third-party service providers offer litigation hold solutions.
Ensure your eDiscovery strategy involves a plan for careful preservation of electronic evidence. A properly-executed legal hold can be incredibly effective as part of the Preservation process, but simple secure data archiving and partnering with a business that specializes in computer forensics can also help save ESI that might otherwise be lost.
STAGE FOUR: COLLECTION
One of the simplest stages, Collection is exactly what it sounds like – gathering together the electronically stored information for further review and contextual analysis.
Once data has been identified and preserved, how the data is collected can be critical for efficient review and analysis. Data should be collected in such manner that is legally defensible and auditable. In most cases, metadata (the DNA of the data) should be included in the collection and is necessary for review/analysis.
Keys to successful ESI collection:
- Establish a steering committee to lead the project.
- Develop a strategy.
- Determine a collection method and execute the plan.
- Document the process and results.
- QC & validate.
We’ve seen too many organizations that keep valuable ESI, information essential to building their case, in unlabeled or completely disorganized files and folders on someone’s computer.
This is not only inefficient, it could lead to the most important information being overlooked due to the disorganized file or even accidental data loss due to deletion.
Ensure that your entire organization is made aware of the importance of proper data collection for each and every case, with no exceptions.
SEARCHING FOR AN EDISCOVERY EXPERT IN GREENVILLE, SC?
Whether you’re looking for computer forensics in Greenville, eDiscovery services in Spartanburg, or court reporting services in Columbia and throughout South Carolina, Legal Eagle is here to help. We provide litigation support services including computer forensics, trial presentation services, court reporting, and more.
Reach us by phone at (864) 467-1373 or contact us online at any time to learn more.