Search Terms: Tried and True, Now Even Better

  • June 3, 2020
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    By Mandi Ross and John Patzakis

    A key Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provision that greatly impacts eDiscovery processes is Rule 26(f), which requires the parties’ counsel to “meet and confer” in advance of the pre-trial scheduling conference on key discovery matters, including the preservation, disclosure and exchange of potentially relevant electronically stored information (ESI). With the risks and costs associated with eDiscovery, this early meeting of counsel is a critically important means to manage and control the cost of eDiscovery, and to ensure relevant ESI is preserved.

    A very good authority on the Rule 26(f) eDiscovery conference is the “Suggested Protocol for Discovery of Electronically Stored Information,” provided by then Magistrate Judge Paul W. Grimm and his joint bar-court committee. Under Section 8 of the Model Protocol, the topics to be discussed at the Rule 26(f) conference include: “Search methodologies for retrieving or reviewing ESI such as identification of the systems to be searched;” “the use of key word searches, with an agreement on the words or terms to be searched;” “limitations on the time frame of ESI to be searched;” and “limitations on the fields or document types to be searched.”

    Optimizing the process of developing keyword searches, however, is no easy task, especially without the right technology and expertise. The typical approach of brainstorming a list of terms that may be relevant and running the search on a dataset to be reviewed results in a wide range of inefficiencies. Negotiations over proper usage of search terms may become onerous and contentious. Judges are often tasked with making determinations regarding the aptness of the methodology, and many are reluctant to do so. Thus, the use of outside expertise leveraging indexing in place technology is beneficial in building an effective and comprehensive search term strategy.

    The courts agree. In Victor Stanley v. Creative Pipe, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Grimm explains, “Selection of the appropriate search and information retrieval technique requires careful advance planning by persons qualified to design effective search methodology.”

    Building a sound search strategy is akin to constructing a building. First, lay the foundation with a clear understanding of the claims and defenses of the case and the types of documents that will support a legal strategy. Once a solid foundation is built, the structure of language, logical expressions, and metadata are blended as necessary to create the appropriate set of robust Boolean searches. These searches then target the retrieval of responsive documents, and consistently achieve a staggering 80 percent reduction in data volumes to be reviewed.

    It’s quite simple. If a document does not contain the defined language, then the document is unlikely to be relevant. The best way to find the language specific to the claims and defenses is to create a linguistic narrative of the case. This not only helps construct a roadmap for a comprehensive strategy designed to reduce the volume of data, it also creates a thorough categorization system for organization and prioritization of review. The approach is straightforward, flexible, and adaptive to client objectives, whether during early case assessment, linear or technology-assisted review, or anything in between.

    The narrative search approach includes the following steps:

    1. Issue Analysis: Create an unambiguous definition of each issue that characterizes the claims being made and the defenses being offered.
    2. Logical Expression Definition: Define the specific expressions that encapsulate each issue. There may be multiple expressions required to convey the full meaning of the issue.
    3. Component Identification and Expansion: Distill each logical expression into specific components. These components form the basis for the expansion effort, which is the identification of words that convey the same conceptual meaning (synonyms).
    4. Search Strategies: Determine the appropriate parameters to be used for proximity, as well as developing a strategy for searching non-standard, structured data, such as spreadsheets, non-text, or database files.
    5. Test Precision and Recall: In tandem with the case team, review small sample sets to refine the logical expression statements to improve precision and recall.

    The effectuation of this process requires the right technology that enables its application in real time. The ability to index data in place is a game changer, as it provides legal teams early insight into the data and validates search term sampling and testing instantly, without first requiring data collection. This contrasts with the outdated, costly, and time-consuming process involving manual data collection and subsequent migration into a physical eDiscovery processing platform. The latter process negates counsel’s ability to conduct any meaningful application of search term proportionality, without first incurring significant expense and loss of time.

    X1 Distributed Discovery enables enterprises to quickly and easily search across thousands of distributed endpoints from a central location. This allows organizations to easily perform unified complex searches across content, metadata, or both, and obtain full results in minutes, enabling true pre-collection search analytics with live keyword analysis and distributed processing and collection in parallel at the custodian level. This dramatically shortens the identification/collection process by weeks if not months, curtails processing and review costs by not over-collecting data, and provides confidence to the legal team with a highly transparent, consistent and systemized process.

    Led by an experienced consulting team that leverages cutting-edge technology, this innovative narrative methodology, created by the experts at Prism Litigation Technology, enriches common search terms by adding layers of linguistic and data science expertise to create a fully defensible, transparent, and cogent approach to eDiscovery. For more on this workflow, please see the white paper: Don’t Stop Believin’: The Staying Power of Search Term Optimization.

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    Mandi Ross is the CEO of Prism Litigation Technology (www.prismlit.com)

    John Patzakis is Chief Legal Officer and Executive Chairman at X1 (www.X1.com)

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