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What are you looking for? Searching in eDiscovery

| Written by Altlaw

As any Litigation Support Specialist or experienced eDiscovery lawyer will know, date and keyword searching has been so commoditised over the past years that it seems like there is hardly any point in talking about them. However, we believe that they are!

Clearly since the decisions made during this stage essentially remove documents from review and detailed interrogation, it is important to ensure that both you and your vendor or litigation support manager have the same understanding of what date and keyword searching mean, as well as to know of some of the choices you may not be aware of. Let’s take these in turn, starting with date searching.

Date searching in eDiscovery

Perhaps the simple way to approach date and keyword filtering exercise is to say something like ‘I’d like to see all documents dated between Date A and Date B, containing a Keyword C’.

This approach works when searching a population of standalone, electronic documents. It may not be suitable running the same search across a population of emails and here is why.

Consider the following scenario: the covering letter is dated between Date A and Date B, and it contains the phrase ‘see attached’. The attachment, which is dated outside of the Date A and Date B range, does contain the Keyword C. Neither the email, nor the attachment will be returned by the search as expressed earlier. The same would be true should the attachment fall within the date range and the covering letter contained the Keyword C. Now, depending on what it is you are hoping to find, this may be a good or a bad thing, which is the first point I would like you to consider. This leads on to the next point, keywords.


An overwhelming majority of electronic documents contain text. This text is spread across body (what you can see when you open a document) and metadata (such as email subject or filename). Metadata is document type-specific, it means that while documents of a certain type may contain certain metadata (i.e. email subject in emails) others may not (word documents do not contain the email subject property).

Typically, keyword searches are applied to document body, email subject and file name. In some cases, however, you may want to extend this search onto other metadata or even limit it to specific metadata. An example of it would be a search for every email sent or received by John Doe. For best results, this search would only be run across: from, to, cc or bcc metadata (email specific), and would include the specific email addresses John Doe was using for communication.

Another example would be EXIF metadata stored in images, which can be used to pinpoint the exact date of when a picture was taken (as opposed to when it was copied off the digital camera and onto a PC).

In conclusion, the important takeaway from the above is that a list of keywords is often not sufficient and at times, dangerous as a communication method with your eDiscovery partner. All filtering criteria should at least be accompanied by a narrative, explaining the intent behind the search, and ideally, followed up by a conversation.If you need help with your eDiscovery process, contact us today to see how our experienced specialists can help you.