The suggestion that emails are in decline has been commonly touted for quite some years now. As litigators spend a significant proportion of their time collating, searching, organising and interpreting emails by the thousands and millions this topic is surely one of interest.
Do we still need to collect email?
Having read a multitude of “Email Is Dead” articles in the past, we thought that we would have a look at the subject and see how it relates to eDiscovery, and the people that rely on those services.
The power of email
A simple web search lets me know that 124.5 billion ‘business’ emails are sent every day. For a dying entity that is quite lively. Over the last five years email use has grown 5% year on year so this vast usage is clearly going to remain a key plank in most people’s communication activity.
So why do people insist on greatly exaggerating emails death?
As a case in point, over the last year at Altlaw we have undertaken some major structural changes. These changes were accomplished on a project-by-project basis and we found that our communication habits changed quite drastically and very quickly.
Our IT team have been users of the project based communication tool “Slack” for quite some time. The ability to group messages on a project basis lends itself very well to typical IT tasks and projects. As Altlaw were undertaking a series of discrete tasks we found that we could use Slack right across our business. The ability to jump straight back into a project was very useful. We also started using other collaboration tools, both internally and externally, such as Basecamp and even Whatsapp.
The one thing that these new tools had in common with each other, and which differentiates them from email? Convenience.
And this is the crux of the matter. These new tools are all flexible and convenient. Email is none of those things.
Altlaw did not stop using email. The majority of my communication still occurs in email. It is just my colleagues at Altlaw found using alternative communication tools was very effective for use in some cases.
Email is broken and inefficient but it is still an integral part of most people’s daily lives. We use Slack and Whatsapp, but I use these as a compliment to email, not as a replacement. Email is the accepted form of business communication. Everybody has an email address. There are very few barriers to adoption and the skills needed to use email are taught very early in life.
So email is not going anywhere….
However it is no longer the sole ruler of communication.
This has serious consequences for litigation and eDiscovery services. If your client is consistently utilising different communication tools then this data must be considered when undertaking a data collection. Lawyers should be asking questions on the following issues:
· Can this data be de-duplicated with traditional email?
· What impact will this have on searches and advanced analytics – I can’t speak emoji – can AI?
An example of this last point is how messages are processed and displayed in eDiscovery tools. If I write to my colleagues saying “Who’s up for some fraud?” and my colleague responds with “\xF0\x9F\x91\x8E” what will a lawyer make of that? Will they go and investigate what that string of text represents?
The string of text above is the textual representation of the thumbs down emoji and is how it will be displayed in some eDiscovery review tools.
This is how it should be displayed:
In conclusion, it is clear that email is not dead. Far from it, it is alive and is still growing year on year. However, for a lot of people and organisations, there is now complimentary technology that is also being used. This means today’s litigators must not only consider email communications but also be aware of and allow for multiple other sources of important communications.