Q&A: The future of e-discovery technology as data processes evolve

Ben Cole, Site Editor

E-discovery has proved to be a valuable legal tool as organizations increasingly rely on storage and retrieval of digital information for everyday business processes. But as technology advances, so too does the need for e-discovery technology to adapt to the new processes for creating, storing and retrieving data.

Jeffrey RitterJeffrey Ritter

Jeffrey Ritter is one of the nation's leading experts on information management, and advises companies on managing digital information with legal and evidential value. If implemented strategically, the latest e-discovery breakthroughs and best practices ultimately can benefit the countless other business areas that rely on solid information management to meet their everyday needs, Ritter said.

In this excerpt from a Q&A with SearchCompliance Editor Ben Cole, Ritter discusses how e-discovery technology has evolved in recent years -- and will continue to evolve -- and how this evolution influences information governance and data processes.

What are some of the biggest breakthroughs in e-discovery technology in recent years? Is it just predictive coding, or have there been other big technological advances?

Jeffrey Ritter: There are four of them worth mentioning. The first breakthrough that has never been appreciated in the legal community is the use of visualization patterning technology. Visualization allows us to see the relationships between ideas, events, transactions, communications and people as they establish technology, and it has been implemented and leveraged into e-discovery by a variety of companies.

In the 21st century, we are going to have to build confidence in our ability to trust digital information to be self-authenticating.

Jeffrey Ritter

Visualization technologies are heavily used in the intelligence community and by some of the vendors to that community that have transferred their products into e-discovery. We're going to continue to move forward in that direction, and use pattern recognition and visualization of those patterns to better construct and more effectively analyze the historical events that are always the core of litigation: answering the questions of who, what, when and where.

The second breakthrough in technology that I think deserves some recognition also is something that is not terribly important to finding the truth, but certainly [important] to managing the process -- that is, the development and implementation of audit management tools in the field of e-discovery and the related legal services. 'Process management' has become a buzzword in legal services because the significant corporate clients of law firms are insisting that the law firms align to and integrate with the process management practices that have proved successful in generating profits and controlling costs within their corporate operations. We're now seeing that trickle down to one of the highest-cost items that corporations have when engaging law firms, which is the review process for e-discovery. Those process management tools have also allowed the third-party vendors and contract attorneys to move into the space, offering even lower-cost review than the law firms can offer.

The third development is semantic inventory tools. The events that are the basis of the litigation have a vocabulary, a dictionary, a language that is used. A security trader will talk in shorthand; automotive dealers have their own vocabulary. We often make the error of not accounting for understanding the vocabulary of litigation before we begin looking for the relevant evidence. As a result, there's a lot of repetition of process that's been occurring in the last 10 years as the attorneys and those reviewing the mass of data to find the patterns of information that reveal the truth allow us to recognize what was really being said.

The final one that I think is worth mentioning is the increased leveraging of cloud services. The volumes of data involved in e-discovery, the distributed nature of the teams that are involved in large litigation to find and produce and respond to evidence -- all of these create a pattern ideally suited to cloud-based services. They allow everyone to work on the same page and be consistently connected to the process, even though they are not centrally located in a war room in one building in a major town.

Can these e-discovery technologies be used by organizations in their everyday business activities to improve other areas where data management is a concern?

Ritter: In many respects, the fact that e-discovery exists as a multi-billion dollar industry is itself a reflection of corporations properly investing in the challenges of managing their digital information as an asset of value. Today, we now are seeing an entirely new recognition within corporate systems and government agencies that information is an asset and a new kind of property for the company. It is the fuel with which they can manage and hone their business.

The infrastructures are being built around that notion of governing, and managing data the same way you might manage your finances, the same way you might manage your operations, is establishing itself in companies as a consistent business process. The consequence is that governance, risk and compliance and the information governance subsets of that are all evolving.

Do you have any predictions for where you see e-discovery technology heading into the future? For example, will the use of social media and the cloud in the business setting force e-discovery technology to find new ways to search documents?

Ritter: Today we still rely upon human review. The age is coming when information governance enables us to call on computers, not to make guesses, such as predictive coding enables, but to affirmatively identify and segregate, isolate and organize information review in an electronic form so that the computer truly becomes the object of authority.

More on e-discovery technology

Predictive coding boosts e-discovery, but can't replace human review

BYOD, cloud expose lacking e-discovery process components

The reality of computing is there is objectivity, a brutal honesty, in how machines keep information and store it. There is integrity of the information for which human testimony simply cannot contradict. In the 21st century, we are going to have to build confidence in our ability to trust digital information to be self-authenticating.

The technologies are getting ingrained into the way information systems are being designed, so that the records themselves become unalterable, have integrity and are self-authenticating as evidence of the truth. When that occurs, this bubble of e-discovery will disappear and information governance will become a dominant business process. I believe, quite frankly, that it will replace the entire reason we have e-discovery -- which is to try to hire advocates to take selective information and weave alternative versions of the truth -- and take that entire business industry and community and put them out to pasture. When the machine documentation becomes as trustworthy as self-authenticating versions of the truth, e-discovery will become an interesting anecdote of the first decade of the 21st century and we will be addressing our disputes and our differences differently.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, associate editor. For more regulatory compliance news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ITCompliance.

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