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Know Before You Go. Know Your Data, That Is.

By Karen Williams, Principal Analytics Consultant at Conduent

You’re a seasoned litigator. You’re familiar with your current matter, and you’re prepared for the first meet-and-confer. You have a list of keywords you feel covers all of the important aspects of the case. Your meet-and-confer is a struggle, but you fight hard to keep your keywords. You return to your firm and send the final keyword list off to your client services group, with their team of search consultants, content in your day’s work.

The next morning’s email brings bad news. Your client services group examined your carefully crafted search term list and found problems. You now face another contentious meet-and-confer to change your keyword list, or an expensive review with far too many non-responsive documents. What went wrong?

You didn’t involve your client services team early enough. Their search consultants can guide you in two important areas: knowing your data, and, closely related to that, knowing your tools. If you bring your proposed keywords, even if no documents have been collected, the search consultants can identify terms that are too long, too short, or, even worse, too complex to run in a reasonable time frame. Most professionals involved in eDiscovery understand basic wildcard and AND/OR/NOT searches, and the importance of other types of searches, such as proximity and stemming. The search consultant understands the best way to use all of the available types of searches together. Like a mechanic who tunes a race car to perform at peak proficiency, your search consultant can tune your search terms.

More important than knowing your search tools is knowing your data. No matter how well you know your case, no matter how well you know the issues, the time frame, the custodians, none of that matters if the data – the contents and metadata of the documents themselves – contains unexpected pitfalls. Examining any processed custodian data, even if not all has been collected, may give you insights that will sharpen your keyword list. The index can tell you how frequent your terms are. Is a product name used in a signature on every email? You may end up reviewing unnecessary documents because of it. Is there a particular acronym used that you didn’t know about? You may miss key relevant documents because of not knowing. How many different domains was email sent from? That may reveal totally new information.

Knowing early on what kinds of data your documents hold, with expert advice on how to find it, can improve the quality of relevant documents you find while minimizing the number of non-responsive documents your reviewers must spend time on. Your managed services team is there to help you at all stages of your workflow.

Karen Williams is principal analytics consultant at Conduent. She can be reached at