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Does size matter?

| Written by Altlaw

The proverbial locker room of eDiscovery was the last place I expected to find myself when setting out to write this blog post one not-so-fine Monday morning. But alas - here I am! As such, I am taking this opportunity to answer, once and for all, the question - does size matter when it comes to eDiscovery? 

Before continuing down this road it should first be said that yes, of course, size matters when it comes down to the tailoring of our services to meet your needs. The larger and more complex a problem is, the more tools, support and expertise it is likely to need. However, in general, I have found it is rarely a worry about being too big that prompts this question, so perhaps it would be better if we rephrased the issue... Is my project big enough for eDiscovery

This then leads me to ask one very important question, how exactly do we define 'big enough'? 

During my time in eDiscovery, I have learned that a 'small' eDiscovery project can be defined as small for a number of reasons. Firstly, and most commonly, your project doesn't bring your firm a lot of money in terms of your billable hours etc. (small in monetary value), secondly, you have very few custodians from which to collect data, and thirdly, you actually have very little data after collecting.  In at least two of these three examples (and, more often than not, all three!) the determined size of your project actually has nothing to do with the amount of data that requires hosting and reviewing. 

What is a small eDiscovery project? 

While this definition appears to vary between sources, here at Altlaw we define a small project as anything with less than 3 custodians (people from whom you collect data) and 15,000 records/documents. But, does this definition mean these projects are too small for eDiscovery... of course not! 

Another factor to consider when deciding whether or not to use eDiscovery tools and processes is the opposition's data. You may have a small project by both your standards, and the definitions, but the opposing team may have collected and produced far more data than you. What do you do in this instance when it comes time to exchange? 

Cautionary Tale:

This exact situation recently occurred to a client of ours. After a very successful document review, the sum total of documents that had to be disclosed to the opposing team was 3... not 3 bundles, 3 individual documents. Certainly small enough that not using eDiscovery tools would have been a perfectly reasonable choice for the team to make, however upon disclosure, they came to learn that the opposing team was disclosing tens if not hundreds of thousands of documents. Had they chosen not to use an eDiscovery provider and platform, at this point they would be in quite a tricky situation, frantically searching for a last-minute provider to host and review their data.

While last-minute project hosting is actually quite a common occurrence, at least in our experience, I think we can all agree that it is less than ideal, especially part-way through a project. Luckily for our client, they already had access to a review platform and a team of experts determined to support them. The flexibility and responsiveness of your eDiscovery provider can make or break these kinds of cases, but already having access to these tools when the hammer falls is the best way to protect yourself.

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Tailoring eDiscovery to small-scale projects:

So you actually have a small-scale project, in this case, what services and workflows do we recommend? 

The first thing to note is that all tools can still be run on a small-scale project, though according to Relativity's guidelines, they personally don't recommend running Active Learning on projects with fewer than 1000 documents. This isn't to say that the tool doesn't work on these few documents, but rather that you would probably end up reviewing your entire review pile in the training and learning stages, so you wouldn't really save any time. We typically would not advise using Active Learning with less than 10,000 documents.  

Other than this, our methodology is very similar regardless of case size. Early case assessment - consisting of keyword searching, de-duplicating and concept clustering, then moving on to review and finally production. One of the benefits of having a small case, especially at the beginning of a project, is that you don't have to be quite so decisive about keywords etc. as you are likely to have both the time and capacity to review all potentially relevant documents. This means that keywords that would usually be discounted as being too vague or common could be left in your case if you really wanted them. 

For small-scale projects, we will sometimes choose not to run concept clustering as there will only be a few documents in each cluster and not a whole lot that the client can learn from that. This decision is made in cases where the client is aware lots of documents fall into the same categories, if your data is more spread out and you believe clustering would be useful to you, we will of course run the tool. 

To conclude:

As with all cases, big or small, the tools and processes used are tailored to meet the needs of your individual project. Just as much attention and care is given to these small projects as larger ones, and often clients find their smaller reviews to be much more stress-free than their larger ones. The flexibility and responsiveness of eDiscovery service providers allow you the ability to review with confidence and to react quickly when circumstances change which is why, even though your project may be small, eDiscovery methods are always the best course of action. 

So there you have it, we have conclusively proved that size doesn't matter, as long as you know how to work with it!  

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