Watch any TV show on legal issues – from the procedural shows like the long-running Law and Order through to more off-the-wall programs like Boston Legal or Ally McBeal – and the focus is on high-powered professionals dealing with dramatic challenges. What’s not often shown is the preparation stages surrounding evidence and the collection of data for the companies involved. While eDiscovery may never hit the center stage, it’s essential to all legal cases.
Partly, this is due to how time consuming eDiscovery can be. For any company engaging in eDiscovery processes, this involves going through all files and data for relevant information that would pertain to a case. The challenge today is that so much data is now getting created and stored on mobile devices and cloud applications that it may not be captured by traditional eDiscovery tools or legacy manual processes. With as much as 40 per cent of enterprise data living outside the enterprise network, this can be a fundamental problem for legal processes.
Moving to the cloud can help reduce the risks that exist around eDiscovery, both on the cost and the data management sides. This also has to be considered from the IT side and for the legal team requirements.
Improving IT Operations for eDiscovery
Traditional approaches to eDiscovery involve the collection and preservation of corporate files for information that is required as part of a company’s legal material. This can be a hugely time-consuming process as files can now live on mobile devices or laptops as well as on central IT storage. Finding and storing all this data can take a lot of time; for remote or mobile employees, it can also mean they have to send their laptops or devices in to the IT team for files to be taken in the right manner.
Once all these files and data sources have been identified – along with their metadata and history – they then have to be gathered and preserved in the right manner. This often involves using multiple tools to preserve the data, depending on the platforms involved. For example, data saved on traditional storage will sit alongside files from laptops and information gathered from cloud applications. For eDiscovery, this includes saving both the documents and their metadata, so that all the required material is secured for future use.
After all data has been gathered, it has to be prepared for transfer. This can present two problems – the first is that not carrying out processes in the correct way can destroy the evidence trail and make files not suitable for the legal process. The second problem is that once these files have been collected they have to be sent over to the law firm that has been engaged. This will normally require a set of physical storage media to transport that data, and then the whole process will have to be carried out again. Not only is this time-consuming for both the company’s IT team and the law firm, any instance of information moving from one medium to another introduces the risk of data spoliation and subsequent inadmissibility of evidence.
Reducing this work can have a material benefit for IT operations teams. If teams can be proactive in preparing their corporate IT infrastructures and processes, then legal hold process can be reduced. However, this can be difficult to justify in terms of traditional IT hardware and assets. Moving to a cloud-based approach where data is held securely off-site can therefore help IT to manage this more efficiently, as no additional hardware or management costs are incurred.
Once data gets stored in the cloud, the movement of data can be achieved with an internal cloud transfer rather than using physical media. This simple step within the eDiscovery process can take hours or days out of the time taken to conduct an audit.
Helping Improve Legal Efficiency
Putting eDiscovery in the cloud can also be very beneficial to the law firm involved in any initiative. Rather than having to buy or rent their own IT assets to handle any incoming client data, cloud services can be used instead. Standing this infrastructure up can be done far more quickly, while the costs are also much lower; this approach also makes data ingestion much faster as data transfers within the cloud immediately.
This can also reduce the risk of spoliation of evidence during the handover process thereby ensuring data is legally admissible. One fully controlled handover is safer than having multiple data hand-offs.
“The challenge today is that so much data is now getting created and stored on mobile devices and cloud applications that it may not be captured by traditional eDiscovery tools or legacy manual processes.”
This can all help speed up the data processing and review cycle. The data transfer and ingestion process can start almost immediately in the cloud as these services can scale up automatically as they are required. This data review can be optimized so that analysis and review can be carried out faster. With greater use of automation around that analytics process, the timescale for the overall downstream eDiscovery task can be reduced by as much as 14 times.
Amazon Web Services
Making use of the cloud can offer a common platform for data storage. With public cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), sending data between organizations is far simpler. With current processes it can take days or weeks for IT teams to collect information from endpoints and cloud applications, and then image any laptops that are required as part of the audit and legal hold process. Instead, all this data can be copied into the AWS cloud for storage.
With AWS as a common platform alongside proactive collection and preservation of this data, the discovery process can start within minutes. From its initial positioning as a basic platform for storage, AWS has now added more security functionality and management support for data. Alongside this, the company has a global footprint with multiple locations and availability zones that can be used. This can help support relevant regional data privacy laws during an eDiscovery process, as data does not need to leave the AWS storage in a particular region.
This use of cloud can also help smaller companies when it comes to legal support. For these companies, making use of cloud services can make it possible for them to consider taking on legal action that otherwise would cost them too much money. By shifting eDiscovery to the cloud and taking out a lot of the manual work through faster migration and automation, more companies can consider their options here. For the law firms involved, this can actually drive more valuable business with clients attributed to lawyers, rather than getting put into IT assets.
Moving eDiscovery into the cloud can provide companies with a faster, more efficient approach to preparing their data, reducing the time involved by about half. With eDiscovery in the cloud, custodian data never travels over unprotected networks as only a single intracloud handoff is needed. From a legal perspective, the chain of custody around data is maintained and the risk of spoliation is significantly reduced.
Ultimately, organizations can eliminate the traditional complexities of data collection, preservation, transfer, infrastructure scaling and slow ingestion times that have led to significant additional legal expenses. Using cloud and eDiscovery, this approach can help those representations of legal businesses on TV to look more like reality.
This article orginally appeared in Cloud Computing World in July 2016.