The early case assessment is a critical step in the
legal discovery process

The early case assessment (ECA) provides the foundation for the eDiscovery process. Through an early case assessment, your organization will determine the best use of its resources — which is especially important for small firms and solo practitioners. Mistakes during the preliminary stages of a case can become quite costly down the line, and a smaller firm may not have the buffer needed to compensate.

Since this is such a critical step in the eDiscovery process, there are a few things that you need to keep in mind during the early case assessment.

1. Perform an Early Data Assessment

One of the most critical stages of this process is the early data assessment (EDA), through which your firm will determine the likelihood of your case’s success (among other things). While it’s easy to mix the terms early case assessment and early data assessment, they are definitely separate (though related) concepts.

During early data assessment, you review a sample of the preliminary electronically stored information (ESI), then compare what you learn to past cases in order to determine a number of things, including

The timeline for the case

The potential cost of the case

The chances of a successful verdict

While you may think that you need to collect the entirety of the ESI related to a case before you can make judgment calls on the above points, that isn’t necessarily the case. EDiscovery tools such as ICONECT’s Xera can provide you with a hefty amount of data before you begin the actual discovery process, allowing you to more informed decisions when you are initially planning out your case. Data analytics has also become exceptionally advanced, and systems can now “learn” from sample sets to provide better and more accurate insights into a case, including its overall scope.

But firms should not be wary if they realize that their case is tremendously large in scope. There are many ways that even resource-limited firms will be able to handle large volumes of data, especially now that new technology has arisen.

2. Digital Automation Should Be Used Throughout the Process

Tools such as an Automated Interview System or eDiscovery suites can be used throughout the case to automate core processes. Digital automation is used whenever there are simple and easy manual tasks that need to be completed, such as stripping out repeat copies of data and searching for keywords in legal discovery documents. Automated Interview Systems can be  used to provide better predictions and more accurate assessments earlier on, which will give the firm the information that it needs to make informed decisions.

When completing an early case assessment, a small firm should factor in the use of these utilities and look for opportunities to introduce automation. This will allow the firm to expand its scope and potentially leverage its resources further than it otherwise could. The ability to comb through more documentation and potentially aggregate more data can even increase the odds of winning a case, especially when the data is particularly large in scope.

Automated services need to be used properly in order to be most effective — sometimes this can require the services of an expert consultancy. In general, automated services should be used whenever the task itself is simple and easily checked. An automated service will usually be reviewed but will be designed so that reviews can be completed easily. When properly used, automated services can make it much easier to leverage existing human capital.

These technologies have an additional side effect in case assessment: the technology may also be able to reduce billable hours, thereby helping smaller firms remain more competitive. By reducing overhead, smaller firms can once again compete with the larger firms in their area.

3. Get the Right Tools and Services

An early case assessment is essentially a preliminary procedure that is designed to determine how the case will proceed. For smaller firms, tools can be just as important as human resources. Integrating the right tools into the process could mean the difference between failure and success; this is especially true as other firms have raced to adopt eDiscovery and automated systems.

Firms should explore not only the processes that they will need to take throughout the case but also the technologies that they can use to make the case faster and easier. Better litigation support through technology will give the firm the ability to react to unexpected issues further down the line and will give the firm a buffer through which they can make modifications and potentially as needed.

In addition to the technology, legal services can also be strategically effective. By outsourcing processes such as discovery to credentialed third-parties, organizations can neatly sidestep any of the complications that could be related to them.

Legal tech is changing at an exceptionally rapid pace, as artificial intelligence and machine learning are being adopted, and precedents are being set based on which types of technology can be safely integrated into the processes. It is in the best interest of smaller legal firms to remain knowledgeable and proactive about the new technology that is available to them.

Once an ECA has been completed, a small firm may believe that the case is too broad in scope to take on. But that isn’t necessarily true, especially when it comes to new technology and services available. Before passing on a case, small firms should always consult a litigation support expert. Litigation support experts are knowledgeable about the new solutions that small firms can use to make their cases more manageable.

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