During an investigation or as part of litigation, often hundreds or thousands of documents (tangible and electronic) are gathered that need to be reviewed. Before any review, it is important to plan ahead so that significant time and money can be saved down the road.


Although sometimes it seems easier to review documents on paper, this method almost always results in an ineffective and time-consuming review. Before printing emails and documents, provide them electronically to outside counsel or a vendor who can place the documents in a document review tool. Such tools allow electronic files and scanned paper images to be processed so they are text searchable, if not already— allowing for quick retrieval of documents. The tools also provide for the elimination of duplicates and assignment of control numbers to allow tracking of documents throughout the review process. Documents can be easily organized, grouped together or “tagged” for various issues and concerns. Using a document review tool is certain to be faster than flipping through paper, especially when trying to locate a document. For example, a simple search can retrieve emails with a specific date range or between certain custodians, or documents that contain key words or phrases.


When there is a litigation hold on documents, or some other obligation to preserve, a document review tool is great for managing important information in its native form so that the electronic documents retain their integrity. Moreover, the documents are securely stored on a server and access to that server can be limited, thereby reducing the risk of loss of key data or improper access.


In collecting information to review (either within the organization or in delivering to outside counsel), it is tempting to use no-cost or community websites and systems to transmit documents, but those methods are usually riddled with landmines. For example, such programs are vulnerable to access by unknown third parties. The same applies to web-based email accounts where in creating the account the user accepts certain terms and conditions that state that there is no expectation of privacy and that third parties, including the provider, may view, use and disseminate information contained in the emails. Such exposure and potential unauthorized use could result in motion practice to protect the information, which may include confidential and proprietary business information. It also may arguably waive any privilege attached to such documents.


When compiling information for an investigation or for litigation, it is important to know and keep track of who has handled the data. Chain of custody forms are simple documents that can provide a credible defense if there are questions as to how evidence is handled. Also, in the day of thumb drives and CDs—which seem to pile up on desks—it is vital to keep tabs on who has these goldmines of information and make sure they are stored securely.