Chat Messages and eDiscovery: How to Ease the Burden and Get the Full Picture

July 7, 2021 Erin Tomine

Email caused the last big shift in communication. It slowly monopolized communication starting in the late 1980s — especially in business, stealing the stage from hardcopy memos, phone calls, and frequent yet necessary desk visits. Today email is still reigning queen of quick business communication, but maybe not for long. Email has a cooler, faster, younger sister who’s already taken over personal communication and is now coming of age in the business world too: instant messaging.

As is often the case, consumers have led the way, increasingly turning to instant message communication channels. These consumers are also employees, so their personal habits heavily influence workplace trends as well. Their growing preference for instant communication tools like text messaging and chat apps, paired with the productivity benefits of instant virtual and mobile communication, has led an increasing number of businesses to adopt chat tools for their workforce. In fact, by 2019 more than 90% of businesses were using at least two messaging applications from Slack to Teams to Google Chat. Add the recent and rapid increase of remote work to the equation, and you get an explosion of instant chat channels in the workplace.

It goes to follow that you cannot get a full picture of communication without including instant messaging. This is especially true for litigators. They must look beyond email communications and include text messaging and chat channels in eDiscovery or they risk missing key details.

Chat messaging is a key channel in the eDiscovery process

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require the “preservation and disclosure of electronically stored evidence.” Legal teams are under increasing pressure to review chat messages in a quick, defensible and cost-effective way. After all, business leaders and other professionals make crucial decisions every day either influenced by or even as a direct result of conversations that happen across various messaging channels. Messaging tools can, therefore, offer a wealth of information relevant to an investigation — but they do present a complex problem: How can eDiscovery practitioners manage to get the full picture? Instant messaging conversations often move between platforms and users. They also include subtle context that’s hard or impossible to understand when reviewed outside their native format.

Potential pitfalls of instant messaging in eDiscovery

  1. It’s possible to miss important context. Keep in mind that instant messages are often short and incomplete. As a result, legal teams are more dependent on the surrounding context to make sense of a conversation. Also, without reviewing them in their native format, litigators may miss non-text replies such as “likes,” offshoot threads and various emojis. This is akin to reading a spoken conversation without seeing body language or hearing the speakers’ tone.
     
  2. The data volume is overwhelming. This problem is born from the staggering amount of data that’s included within instant messaging channels. It’s not just that many short chat messages are sent when compared with smaller amounts of longer emails, but it’s also that employees can use these channels to share various file types and send emojis, GIFs, images and more. These channels also integrate with other tools like calendars and project management software. Exporting and sorting through this data can feel like a nightmare.
     
  3. It’s cumbersome, time-consuming and sometimes incomplete. When legal teams do manage to capture and export data, they’re often left with unwieldy JSON files that the average reviewer would struggle to fully comprehend. Reviewing these types of files is not only a (potentially literal) headache for litigators, but it’s also time consuming — which can become costly for clients. Trying to read through these types of conversations outside of their native format is difficult since reviewers must keep track of time stamps and note which party is saying what. Reviewers are unable to filter by time period or participant in order to zero in on relevant people or dates.

Simplifying chat and text message review for eDiscovery 

As mentioned, the use of chat tools rose exponentially during the pandemic as millions of people shifted to remote work situations. Social events were canceled, and professionals were relegated from in-person office environments to working remotely from home, with messaging apps or chat channels replacing water cooler banter and conversations over coffee. Now, investigative teams are facing even more instant message conversations to sift through which could consume thousands of human hours without a modern eDiscovery tool. Fortunately, eDiscovery tools like Conduent’s Viewpoint™ eDiscovery offer an improved user interface (UI) that enables legal teams to review text, chat, and other collaboration app messages in a format that mimics their native app interface. See the image below as an example of how much easier it is to review messages in this way rather than cumbersome formats like JSON files.

This type of visualization is a cost-effective approach to review by reducing time and minimizing the risk of missing important contextual information. For instance, it can show a visual depiction of emojis that can communicate sentiment, agreement and more. Viewpoint™ eDiscovery also empowers users to filter conversations by participants and date. This capability allows for reviewers to focus on relevant communication between key custodians during a specific timeframe. To learn more, visit the Conduent Viewpoint™ eDiscovery webpage.
 

About Conduent Viewpoint™ eDiscovery
Viewpoint™ eDiscovery delivers a flexible approach to legal and compliance document review. With sophisticated analysis designed to help manage litigation, investigations and compliance matters beginning to end, this powerful platform addresses the complexities of today’s global eDiscovery landscape.

With its latest release, Viewpoint™ eDiscovery’s web review offers an enhanced review experience of chat/messaging application data that includes visual depictions of emojis (plus other non-text communications) while providing the same robust filtering options that users have come to expect with Viewpoint. These capabilities ensure that all key elements of chats are considered as part of a complete and thorough eDiscovery review process.

About the Author

Erin Tomine

Erin Tomine is Director, Legal Product Portfolio for Conduent

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