The old expression “Every case comes down to 20 documents” is just as true now as when it was first coined. Although information is expanding at an exponential rate, the ability for humans to read and comprehend information hasn’t changed. The average person can read 200 words per minute. Trial lawyers know that a judge or jury isn’t going to be able to review and truly understand thousands of records. So why collect millions?

20 years ago, finding the key documents involved searching through bankers’ boxes or filing cabinets. Given the 200 words per minute rate, strategies were developed to help the lawyers zero in on the boxes and cabinets where those 20 documents were most likely to be.

In the age of digital information, where millions of records can be stored on a USB thumbdrive, new strategies have developed.  A standard substitute has been to type words into a search engine.  This has led to multi-million record document collections. Although a trial lawyer still only wants the key documents, finding the needles within the modern document haystack is harder to do.  The haystack has become much bigger. Sophisticated software and processes, with names like TAR, have been developed to supplement and/or replace key word searching, but they are only part of the solution.

Rather than simply collecting everything and then relying on software to tame the information monster, start off with a rational, staged approach. Limit the initial collection to a few custodians and a short time span. See what that gives you, and if you need more, expand the scope.  The technology can still be employed, but since the initial data set is much more focused, the whole process will be much more efficient and cost effective.