This blog post is the first of two on the topic of advanced eDiscovery analytics models. My goal is to make the point that lawyers don’t trust or use analytics to the degree that they should, according to scientifically sound conventions commonly employed by other professions, and to speculate about how this is going to change.
In this first post I’ll explain why we arrived where we are today by describing the progression of analytics across three generations of Discovery technology.
- The first generation, which I call “The Photocopier Era,” relies on labor intensive, pre-analytics processes. Some lawyers are still stuck in this era, which is extremely labor intensive.
- The second generation is the current reigning model of analytics and review. I call it “software queued review.” Software queued review intelligently sorts and displays documents to enable attorneys to perform document review more efficiently. At the same time, software queued review allows – or should I say, requires? – attorneys to do more manual labor than is required to ensure review quality or to ensure that attorneys take personal responsibility for the discovery process.
- The third, upcoming generation of analytics is only beginning to provoke widespread discussion in the legal community. I’ll call it “statistically validated automated review.” In it software is used to perform the majority of document review work, leaving attorneys to do the minimum amount of review work. In fact, certain advanced analytics and workflow software solutions can already be calibrated, by attorney reviewers, to be more accurate than human reviewers typically are capable of when reviewing vast quantities of documents.
Because it will radically reduce the amount of hands-on review, the third generation model is currently perceived by many lawyers as a risky break from legal tradition. But when this model is deployed outside of the legal profession it is not considered a giant step, technologically or conceptually. It is merely an application of scientifically grounded business processes.
In subsequent blog posts, including the second post in this series, I will look at what is being done to overcome the legal profession’s reluctance to adopt this more accurate, less expensive eDiscovery model.
The second post in this series will convey a conversation I recently had with Nicholas Croce, President of Inference Data, an innovative eDiscovery analytics and workflow solution provider which delivers both second and third generation analytics. We discussed his perspectives on the evolving role of analytics in eDiscovery.
The Pre-analytics Generation: Back to the Photocopier Era
Please return with me now to olden times of not-so-long-ago, the days before eDiscovery software. (Although even today, for smaller cases and cases that somehow don’t involve electronically stored information, the Photocopier Era is alive and well.)
In the beginning there were paper documents, usually stored within folders, file boxes, and file cabinets. Besides paper, staples, clips, folders, and boxes, photocopiers were the key document handling technology, with ever improving speed, sheet feeding, and collation options.
Gathering documents: When a lawsuit reached the discovery stage, clients following the instructions of their attorneys physically gathered their papers together. Photocopies were made. Some degree of effort was (usually) made to preserve “metadata” which in this era meant identifying where the pieces of paper had been stored, and how they had been labeled while stored.
Assessing documents: In this era every “document” was a physical sheet of paper, or multiple sheets clipped together in some manner. Each page was individually read by legal personnel (attorneys or paralegals supervised by attorneys) and sorted for responsiveness and privilege. Responsive, non-privileged documents were compiled into a complete set and then, individual page after individual page, each was numbered (more like impaled) with a hand-held, mechanical, auto-incrementing ink stamp (I can hear the “ka-chunk” of the Bates Stamp now… ah, those were the days).
Privileged documents were set to one side, and summarized in a typed list called a privilege log. Some documents containing privileged information were “redacted” using black markers (there was an art to doing this in a way so that the words couldn’t be read anyway – an art which even the FBI on one occasion in my experience failed to master).
Finally, the completed document set was photocopied, boxed, and delivered to opposing counsel, who in turn reviewed each sheet of paper, page by page.
The Present Generation of Analytics: Software Queued Review
Fast forward to today, the era of eDiscovery and software-queued review. In the present generation software is used to streamline, and thus reduce, the cost of reviewing documents for responsiveness and privilege.
Gathering documents: Nowadays, still relying on instructions from their attorneys, clients designate likely sources of responsive documents from a variety of electronic sources, including email, databases, document repositories, etc. Other media such as printed documents and audio recordings may also be designated when indicated.
After appropriate conversions are made (for example, laptop hard drives may need to be transferred, printed documents may need to be OCR scanned, audio recordings may need to be transcribed, adapters for certain types of data sources may need to be bought or built) all designated sources are ingested into a system which indexes the data, including all metadata, for review.
Some organizations already possess aggressive records management / email management solutions which provide the equivalent of real time ingestion and indexing of significant portions of their documents. Such systems are particularly valuable in a legal context because they enable more meaningful early case assessment (sometimes called “early data assessment”).
Assessing documents: In the current era attorneys can use tools such as Inference which use a variety of analytical methods and workflow schemas to streamline and thus speed up review. (Another such tool is Clustify, which I described in some detail in a previous blog entry.) Such advanced tools typically combine document analytics and summarization with document clustering, tagging, and support for human reviewer workflows. In other words, tools like Inference start with a jumble of all of the documents gathered from a client, documents which most likely contain a broad spectrum of pertinent and random, off-topic information, and sort them into neat, easy to handle, virtual piles of documents arranged by topic. The beauty of such systems is that all of the virtual piles can be displayed — and the documents within them browsed and marked — from one screen, and any number of people in any number of geographic locations can share the same documents organized the same way. Software can also help the people managing the discovery process to assign groups of documents to particular review attorneys, and help them track reviewer progress and accuracy in marking documents as responsive or not, and privileged or not.
The key benefit of this generation of analytics is speed and cost savings. Similar documents, including documents that contain similar ideas as well as exact duplicates and partial duplicates of documents, can be quickly identified and grouped together. When a group of documents contains similar documents, and all of the documents in that group are assigned to the same person or persons, they can work more quickly because they know more of what to expect as they see each new document. Studies have shown that review can be performed perhaps 70-80% faster, and thus at a fraction of the cost, using these mechanisms.
Once review is complete, documents can be automatically prepared for transfer to opposing counsel, and privilege logs can be automatically generated. Opposing counsel can be sent electronic copies of responsive, non-privileged documents, which they in turn can review using analytical tools. (Inference is among the tools that are sometimes used by attorneys receiving such document sets, Nick tells me.)
The Coming Generation of Analytics: Statistically Validated Automated Review
The next software analytics model will be a giant leap forward when it is adopted. In this model software analytics intelligence is calibrated by human intelligence to automatically and definitively categorize the majority of documents collected as responsive or not, and as privileged or not, without document-by-document review by humans. In actuality, some of the analytical engines already in existence – such as Inference — can be “trained” through a relatively brief iterative process to be more accurate in making content-based distinctions than human reviewers can.
To adopt this mechanism as standard, and preferred, in eDiscovery would be merely to apply the same best practices statistical sampling standards currently relied upon to safeguard quality in life-or-death situations such as product manufacturing (think cars and airplanes) and medicine (think pharmaceuticals). The higher level of efficiency and accuracy that this represents is well within the scope of existing software. But while statistically validated automated review has been widely alluded to in legal technology circles, so far as I know it has not been used as a default by anyone when responding to document requests. Not yet. Reasons for this will be discussed in subsequent posts, including the next one.
Gathering documents: The Statistically Validated Automated Review model relies on document designation, ingestion, and indexing in much the same manner as described above with respect to Software Queued Review.
Assessing documents: In this model, a statistically representative sample of documents is first extracted from the collected set. Human reviewers study the documents in this sample then agree upon how to code them as responsive / non-responsive, privileged / non-privileged. This coded sample becomes the “seed” for the analytics engine. Using pattern matching algorithms the analytics engine makes a first attempt to code more documents from the collected set in the same way the human coders did, to match the coding from the seed sample. But because the analytics engine won’t have learned enough from a single sample to become highly accurate, another sample is taken. The human coders correct miscoding by the analytics engine, and their corrections are re-seeded to the engine. The process repeats until the level of error generated by the analytics engine is extremely low from the standpoint of scientific and industrial standards, and more accurate than human reviewers are typically capable of sustaining when coding large volumes of documents.
By way of comparison this assessment process resembles the functioning of the current generation of email spam filters, which employ Bayesian mathematics and corrections by human readers (“spam” / “not spam”) that teach the filters to make better and better choices.
After the Next Generation: Real Time Automated Review
It’s not another generation of analytics, but another significant shift is gradually occurring that will have a significant impact on eDiscovery. The day is approaching when virtually all information that people touch while working will be available and indexed in real time. From the perspective of analytics engines it is “pre-ingested” information. This will largely negate the gathering phase still common in previous generations. Vendors such as Kazeon, Autonomy, CA, Symantec, and others are already on the verge – and in some cases, perhaps, past the verge – of making this a possibility for their customers.
(Full disclosure of possible personal bias: I’m working with a startup with a replication engine that can in real time securely duplicate documents’ full content, plus metadata information about documents, as they are created on out-of-network devices, like laptops, to document management engines….)
The era of Real Time Automated Review will be both exciting and alarming. It will be exciting because instant access to all relevant documents should mean that more lawsuits settle on the facts, in perhaps weeks, after a conflict erupts (see early case assessment, above), rather than waiting for the conclusion of a long, and sometimes murky, discovery process. It’s alarming because of the Orwellian “Big Brother” implications of systems that enable others to know every detail of the information you touch the moment you touch it, and at any time thereafter.
In my next post you’ll hear about my conversation with Nick Croce, including how Inference has prepared for the coming generation of automated discovery and where Nick thinks things are going next.
UPDATE. Part II has now posted: The Evolution of eDiscovery Analytics Models, Part II: A Conversation with Nicholas Croce.