Today, email is the most common form of Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”) collected during discovery in litigation. This is not surprising. Many businesses, including law firms, conduct the bulk of their business communications with an email system such as Microsoft Outlook.
Collecting and processing email is not technically difficult. Some businesses actually make the task easier by journaling email, which is a behind-the-scenes method of retaining copies of all email regardless what a user does (such as deleting a message or archiving it in a folder).
Most often, collecting email and attachments (called an email “family”) is done by exporting the files in bulk into a single large “container” file such as a “PST” (Personal Storage). However, viewing email in a PST file still requires using Outlook. So, email initially collected within a PST is typically converted to a form that allows review in a more convenient way, such as by using Relativity, the eDiscovery platform available at Ulmer.
Surprisingly large volumes of email are collected, even in seemingly small matters. A single email, sent to even a small group of persons, can start quite a chain reaction. Emails that are sent, forwarded, and replied to as part of a topically related chain are said to comprise a single email “conversation” in eDiscovery lingo. The problem is that email files are not collected by conversation, but by custodian.
So, what we often find distributed throughout the email collections from a group of custodians are emails in multiple copies and versions that really belong to a single conversation. For widely distributed emails that result in numerous replies and “side discussions,” a single email may generate many related, subsequent email items. Having to review and code every instance of the same or a related email found repeatedly throughout a large email collection is costly and inefficient. Reviewing related emails in isolation also risks inconsistent results during review.
How can one organize hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of emails and attachments for effective review? A technology called “email threading” is specifically designed to organize and simplify email review. Email threading is a structured analytics tool available in Relativity. This tool will find all members of an email conversation and group them together based upon their logical and temporal relationships.
Email threading offers several significant advantages during review and coding. First, it allows related emails to be reviewed and coded together, minimizing the error potential of assessing parts of the same email conversation in isolation. Second, it allows for “bulk coding,” of all items in a conversation at once. This decreases reviewer time, review costs, and also decreases error. It also is “lossless.” No information about the origins of the threaded emails is lost during the process.
Increasingly, parties are agreeing to production of only “inclusive” emails. Inclusive emails are those that include earlier emails within the conversation. If you have ever read an email chain from the “bottom” up, you may have been reading an “inclusive.” Producing only inclusive emails can reduce the burdens of eDiscovery by decreasing the volume of email productions significantly.
As email remains a focal point of eDiscovery, and as the volume of email generated in businesses continues to expand, email threading is an analytic tool whose application is quickly reaching “best practices” status.