The timeline of legal evidence review is dotted with milestones and watersheds. It used to be that when you filed a lawsuit or were sued, there were a few predictable ways to get evidence. You interviewed witnesses, you took depositions and you requested documents. The documents came in boxes – sometimes lots of boxes – and you either reviewed them in your office or sent some unlucky associate to a dusty warehouse in the middle of nowhere for a few days. Or maybe a case was high tech and you got to look at microfiche! Then came the electronic age with email (probably history’s most rich treasure trove of smoking gun evidence) and e-documents, and for a long time you still printed these and put them in boxes for manual review. Finally you got with it and acquired some litigation support software that let you look at PSTs and edocs on your desktop computer (even though you probably still had your secretary print them out when you were working on a really tough motion). Now it’s 2012 and you’re probably still using that litigation support software, but evidence is not limited to just email and edocs and it has begun residing in some tricky places – like “The Cloud” and cell phones and social media. As a recent Financial Times article notes, “E-discovery requests are no longer limited to static electronic documents or emails, but can cover information from transactional systems, from trading to financial management, social media, or even recordings of phone calls,” and that, “using electronic means to transmit business information means it is unavoidable…[that e-discovery sources grow more exotic].”
Now, it might seem like all of this is much too advanced to affect you today and that ‘The Cloud’ is just a buzz-term kicked around at e-Discovery conventions. However, online is actually the next place you are going to have to look for evidence. You are used to Outlook and document repositories, but your clients are starting to use webmail and online storage. We at AccessData use a variety of online systems for project specific and day to day operations. Granted, we are a technology company, but I think we are fairly representative of where cost concerns are sending corporations with regard to communication and data (evidence) storage. So what do you do when your client uses Exchange Online and Office 365 instead of a traditional Exchange infrastructure or your case hinges on the content of a party’s corporate website? If the latest milestone of legal evidence review is online data, how do you get to a place where you can review it efficiently and quickly?
Your litigation support software platform should be the one to get you there. Collection from the web and webmail as well as review and analysis of what you find there is possible with today’s tools. Take our AD eDiscovery 4.0 product, for example. One of the (many) amazing things this product allows you to do is collect data directly from a website, suck the data in and then put it into a format you can review as if the website was a collection of electronic documents. For example, say you have a copyright case that hinges on an infringement made several layers deep on a competitor’s website. Or perhaps you are looking on a public forum for prior art or previous publication in defending a client against a patent infringement suit. You can use AD eDiscovery to essentially collect the target website as a snapshot in time or even an iterative set of snapshots. You point the program to the URL and it will collect html files along with associated images including gifs, png files and jpeg/jpgs. It will also collect PDFs, ISOs, ZIP and even css files. You can configure how many files you collect based on maximum file size or how many layers deep you want the program to ‘crawl’. For example, that prior art evidence may be well hidden and viewable only after clicking six different links starting from the home page, so you can make sure you collect those files buried six layers deep. Then, once the data is collected, you can process it and view it in a linear document type format (see Fig. 1 below). This allows you to integrate a website into a case’s evidence corpus just like any other piece of more traditional data. You can search and annotate the website files and even append them to motions or declarations. AD eDiscovery also collects directly from webmail platforms including Gmail. The web email goes directly into a PST file for easy review and analysis. Google docs (tomorrow’s rich treasure trove of smoking gun evidence) are also collectible and viewable in a comprehensive litigation review solution (aka Summation) as a fully integrated part of the AD eDiscovery platform.
So even if the idea of collecting from the web seems daunting or unintuitive, it certainly doesn’t have to be. We’ve already made the leap from paper to electronic files – it’s just another small step up to become familiar with, and master, online evidence. With the right tools you are already ahead of the next plot on the legal evidence review timeline…
Figure 1: AccessData’s corporate website events page being viewed in AD eDiscovery