Now I See Them!
Getting a handle on the various electronic files that can appear in even a relatively small collection of electronic data can be a challenge. There is a huge pot of alphabet soup for the many drawing/image/photo file types, sound and video files, various text files, different flavors of Microsoft Office files, system files, etc. Even if “all” you have are PST files, once you start delving into the attachments, and attachments to attachments, and attachments to the attachments to the attachments, not to mention PDF Portfolios and ZIP files, the number and variety of file types can explode exponentially.
So, what to do? As we discussed in Part I – What Do I Have?, mapping the folders and files you have and putting that information into a database or spreadsheet at least corrals the data beast into a more organized and accessible format. This is especially true if you hyperlink the native files to the appropriate record for ease of retrieval and review.
Unfortunately, looking at file extensions as the next step to eliminating non-relevant file types is an iffy proposition. People change file extensions for a variety of reasons. Some want to assign their own extensions; others try to hide files by changing the extension; still others create an extension to protect data that can only be opened with proprietary software. A quick check of the files to be sure that they are really what the extensions indicate they are may be time and money well spent.
Or maybe not. How likely is it that your client, the opposing party or a third party will try to manipulate data to hide it? It certainly happens, but how likely is it in THIS case? Making sure that you have extracted (or at least indexed) all of the nested attachments and contents of various container files will usually be a better use of limited resources. At least until you have reason to believe there may be deception. Do not delete these files, just place them in a folder where they can be reviewed if a question of utility or deception emerges.
What is very likely is that most of the electronic data collected, whether email or electronically stored information (ESI), will not be particularly relevant or useful to your case. The good news is that there are tools that can provide you with some of the ease of access that high-end document review platforms offer, but at a significantly lower cost.
We know law firms who still take files provided by their clients or opposing counsel and copy those files to their server and assign people to try to open each file and then record in an Excel spreadsheet or a Word table the name of the file and whether it can be viewed and is responsive, privileged, and/or hot. These firms become clients after realizing that this process is slow, painful and prone to error. If native files are involved, the process can be frustratingly fraught with files that will not open because the reviewer does not have access to the necessary software.
Even minimal processing of these files can make them available in a database or spreadsheet format with appropriate images and/or files linked to the appropriate record. Folder and file information is preserved and organized. Document parent-child relationships and duplicate document data can be identified. Useful metadata (if available) can be included as fielded information.
And the review process is both faster and more accurate with the reviewers being confident that the record they are recording data for is actually the electronic file they are reviewing. Perhaps most importantly, the process can be scaled to meet the needs and value of the case.
Now your data beast is not only corralled, but is being tamed as well.
Susan Mayer is President and CEO of Litigation Abstract headquartered in Missoula, Montana. Since 1989, Litigation Abstract has provided litigation support services to a variety of public and private clients in both civil and criminal litigation in federal and state courts across the United States. Visit: www.litigationabstract.com. Susan can be contacted at: email@example.com.