Electronic Discovery: Early Case Assessment v Review Platforms

Early Case Assessment: Why not just use a linear review platform?

Early case assessment is the new buzzword in town. Last year it was concept searching, previously it has been near de-duping, long before that it was simply de-duplication.

A variety of tools are on the market, Recommind, Clearwell, Nuix, offer Early Case Assessment features. These are good tools, with lots of R&D and a growing market share, but does this mean that linear review platforms, the RingTails, the iConnencts, the Relativities, are of a thing of the past?

No, and for two reasons.

Firstly the Early Case Assessment tools are often not geared up for the highly detailed linear review, which will be required once the bulk of the documents have been culled.  RingTail, for example, has an incredibly granular capability, from using multiple highlighting colors to rotating individual pages in a document that have not been scanned correctly.  Most people who are producing early case assessment tools recognize this and currently recommend that their tool is used for a first review (hence the name), and the detail work is done in more of the heavy weight linear review tools. This alone means that the linear review platforms are here for a while yet; of course those building the ECA platforms are no doubt working on producing a more detailed review platform, introducing tiffing, redaction, etc. The ECA camp are, almost certainly, going to move into the linear review market space sooner rather than later.

Secondly, the reverse is also true. Some “linear” review platforms have moved into the market space of the ECA tools. The linear review platforms that have not moved on, the Summations and Concordances are certainly a thing of the past, but some review platforms that have evolved. Relativity and IConect probably have a strong future ahead of them, as they have moved with the technology. Internal tools such as Documatrix, and KrollOntrack InView have also evolved and developed along the same lines, but are not available for purchase so are not discussed here.

Relativity has taken an approach, much like iPhone has with Apps, to allow third part vendors make software for their product. ContentAnalyst and Equivio are the two big ones. This means that Relativity leverage the knowledge and experience of other companies, rather than having to build everything themselves. RingTail is building a similar package to link it to Attenex.

The net result is that a Relativity can allow for a linear review, a non linear review, or an early case assessment  in a single platform. This means that once data has been loaded into a review platform it can be culled, clustered, de-duped, near de-duped, and generally treated as an early case assessment tool.

Data can be loaded into Relativity and culled down using the methods of an ECA platform.  Then once the set of data has been chosen for review this can simply be released/tagged or otherwise identified for a full scale/detailed linear review. This can be done either by the vendor or the reviewers.

The beauty of this type of solution is that if there is an error in the culling process, either too much or too little data has been identified for linear review, then it can easily be untagged or re-tagged and moved between the ECA and Linear review phase.  The data is not moving between platforms, its not moving from a Nuix to a Ringtail, or a Recommind to an Introspect, but staying inside Relativity, this is very cheap and almost instant to do. The data is moving between phases, not platforms.

So, why the big issue about Early Case Assessment?

If linear review platforms can also conduct non-linear review, why the big buzz about early case assessment?

There are probably several reasons for this.

  • The Megan Fox effect. Megan Fox is a good looking woman, no doubt, and that may influence our opinion of her as an actress and the quality of her films. Is it any wonder advertisers use good looking men and women to sell products? We associate beauty with quality. Early Case Assessment tools generally look brilliant, with clean simple interfaces, easy to use, intuitive, etc. The new breed of linear review platforms with concept searching may have all the functionality of an ECA tool, but it’s not immediately obvious, those skills are hidden.
  • Pricing: Traditionally the linear review tools have had a high price and been seen to be expensive to review in time and money for lawyers. Early Case Assessment tools have a different pricing model, and their aim is not to make a lawyer review everything, but just an initial look. This is not necessarily cheaper than processing all of the data, putting it into a review platform and then seamlessly moving between linear and non-linear review as needed, but on first look it does appear cheaper.
  • Processing Myth: Processing is hard work, period! Even processing 1,000 files will generate numerous errors. Then there is the loading of the data into a review platform, e.g. moving from Discovery Cracker to RingTail, or LAW to iConnect.  This also causes a degree of effort, time, pain, and therefore costs. Early Case Assessment tools offer a simple solution; you just load the data into the ECA tool/platform and then review it, and then “process” it later, but only process the data you need to review in detail. Voila, there is a cost and time saving already, quick get a an ECA….err….not quite. If data can be searched, filtering, clustered, etc – then it has been processed. The ECA tool has processed the data, in almost the same way the traditional processing tools have – extracted the metadata and text, for searching and filtering. The ECA tools tend not to show the errors as much, they make it simpler to use, it’s more of a black box. The value of that versus the risk, will depend on the client, vendor, and case.  The lack of processing appears to be a clever branding/pricing trick.  The main exception to this is Nuix which has managed to process files in a slightly different manner, making it genuinely faster than other processing tools on the market, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

In short, what can be achieved through an Early Case Assessment tool can be achieved through a good quality review platform, assuming it has all the bells and whistles and those using it know how to use, and how it needs to be used for specific case.

This does not mean that dedicated early case assessment tools do not have a place in the market; they will no doubt grow particularly well in internal market, for corporate, where they are trying to get a hand and what they have and what they need.

It’s quite probable that review platforms and ECA platforms will merge into each others’ market space, with ECA tools adding complete linear review capability and review platforms adding complete processing capability.

The vendors will, of course, need a new name for these tools, as well as new look, and new pricing structure.

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2 Responses to “Electronic Discovery: Early Case Assessment v Review Platforms”

  1. Rich Turner Says:

    Good points, all, but one thing that an ECA tool does (or should) bring to the table is robust reporting, i.e. ability to estimate the size of the case, client exposure, projected eDiscovery costs, etc. This is where linear review capabilities are starting to affect ECA tools – however, few linear review tools really “get” that ECA is all about identifying – and potentially controlling – volume. The other issue is that most ECA tools today are glorified cull-and-report tools: the unabated growth of ESI means that analytics companies, like Content Analyst, will likely see their technology start “moving left,” i.e. incorporated into ECA platforms where they may have an even greater impact and value for clients than in the review process. And the Nuix idea – really “processing” files in ECA tools – will also become less of an exception. It’s simply the pressure of volume + economics.

  2. Grayson Wolfe Says:

    The top tier ECA tools use “in place assesment” and eliminate the need for collection during the preliminary investigation. After all, If you have to do collection – the assessment isn’t really early.


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