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Presenting data with integrity: transparency in the eDiscovery presentation stage

Explore the importance of transparency in eDiscovery's presentation stage and how to use technology to shape outcomes, ensure compliance, and build trust.


 

Nobody wants litigation. If it has to happen, it needs to be run as smoothly as possible. 
In modern business, data and information are often integral to legal proceedings. When the legal process of gathering information is efficient, transparent, and trustworthy, reputations and budgets can be preserved. 

However, this rare outcome will likely become even rarer in the future, thanks to the flood of data AI is unleashing across business ecosystems. According to IDC, the global datasphere will grow from 45 zettabytes in 2019 to 175 zettabytes by 2025, with enterprises creating 60% of this data.

The increase in data volumes poses a significant challenges for teams involved in gathering data. Unless of course compliance leaders and their legal advisors take a moment to reflect on the future and map a better path that allows them to cope with the triple threat of increased data volumes, bewildering regulatory complexity and disorderly digital ecosystems…

eDiscovery and its importance in legal proceedings

Identifying, collecting, and producing electronically stored information (ESI) for legal cases is known as electronic discovery, most often referred to as “eDiscovery” by the legal and compliance teams who manage this process. 

eDiscovery is where legal teams uncover relevant evidence, establish facts, and build compelling arguments, all based on data and digital information. The process is described in the industry-standard Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM). Developed to provide a structured approach to managing electronically stored information (ESI) in legal proceedings, the EDRM model is essential for ensuring compliance and efficiency in eDiscovery. 

eDiscovery based on the EDRM model involves several stages:

  1. Identification: Finding potential sources of relevant data and information.
  2. Preservation: Ensuring the data is protected against alteration or destruction.
  3. Collection: Gathering data for further use in the eDiscovery process.
  4. Processing: Reducing the volume of data and converting it into accessible formats.
  5. Review: Examining data for relevance and privilege.
  6. Analysis: Evaluating data for content and context, often using advanced tools.
  7. Production: Delivering data to relevant parties in appropriate formats.
  8. Presentation: Displaying data in legal proceedings in a comprehensible and usable manner​.

The model is typically presented as a flow diagram, like the one below.

Increases in data volumes and velocity may pose significant challenges for teams involved in gathering data, and this does mean that teams need systems that can cope with magnitude.

However, that's not the only problem to tackle, because eDiscovery is not just about data retrieval; it ideally involves protocols designed to ensure that any information shared with third parties is reliable, authentic, and, critically, has not been tampered with. Evidencing the integrity of the ESI produced and presented during eDiscovery is uppermost in a compliance leader’s mind, as it can significantly influence the outcomes of legal proceedings. 

Presentation is not just part of the process, it shapes outcomes

The final, “Production” and “Presentation”, stages of eDiscovery are the most challenging and crucial as they involve showcasing electronically stored information (ESI) to stakeholders, such as legal teams, courts, and regulatory bodies.  It’s where things tend to break down and is therefore essential to get right.

During the Presentation stage, ESI is presented in a comprehensible and usable format for legal proceedings. Reaching for high standards at this stage is vital for several reasons:

  1. Accuracy and integrity: Any discrepancies can lead to challenges regarding the credibility and admissibility of the evidence, which can impact legal outcomes.
  2. Stakeholder confidence: Trustworthy presentation practices build confidence among stakeholders who rely on the integrity of the data to make informed decisions, such as judgements.
  3. Compliance: Proper presentation must adhere to legal standards and regulatory requirements, ensuring that the data presented meets all procedural and evidentiary rules.

Failures in the Presentation stage can have severe repercussions, including mistrials, sanctions, and adverse legal judgments. Here are a few examples:

  • Zubulake v. UBS Warburg. UBS Warburg was sanctioned for failing to produce relevant emails in this landmark case. This impacted the case's outcome, underscoring the importance of proper data management and presentation in eDiscovery​ (Wikipedia)​.
  • Qualcomm Inc. v. Broadcom Corp. Qualcomm faced severe sanctions after failing to disclose thousands of emails and documents. The case highlights the consequences of inadequate data presentation and the importance of compliance with eDiscovery obligations​ (CaseBriefs)​.
  • Morgan Stanley & Co. v. Coleman (Parent) Holdings, Inc. Morgan Stanley was penalised for its inability to produce critical emails, resulting in a substantial judgment against it. This case illustrates the critical nature of the Presentation stage and the financial and reputational damage from failures​ (eDiscoveryLaw)

These examples demonstrate that the Presentation stage is not just about the process—presentation can itself shape legal outcomes. That is why proper handling, transparency, and accurate presentation of ESI are indispensable to compliance and legal teams.

The importance of transparent practices in presenting ESI

Data transparency in the context of eDiscovery refers to the practice of ensuring that electronically stored information (ESI) is presented in a way that is complete, accurate, and unaltered. This involves maintaining clear and open records of how data is collected, processed, and reviewed to ensure that all parties can verify the integrity and authenticity of the information.

The key principles of data transparency are completeness, accuracy and unaltered ESI.

Completeness

  • Ensuring that all relevant data is included and no relevant information is omitted. This means collecting and preserving all potential sources of ESI that may be relevant to the case.
  • Example: In a legal case, failing to present all relevant emails could lead to accusations of evidence spoliation - the intentional, reckless, or negligent destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence that is relevant to a legal proceeding.

Accuracy

  • Maintaining the correctness of the data throughout the eDiscovery process involves rigorous checks and validations to ensure that the data presented matches the original data in both content and format.
  • Example: Incorrect metadata or misdated documents can lead to misinterpretations and could give opposing parties or regulators grounds to question the evidence's reliability for the case being examined.

Unaltered ESI

  • Guaranteeing that ESI has not been tampered with or modified from its original state means using secure methods for data collection and preservation, as well as employing a tool that tracks and documents any access or changes to the data.
  • Example: Any alteration in the data could lead to severe legal repercussions, as it might be seen as an attempt to manipulate evidence.

Any lack of transparency in presenting data can lead to negative outcomes, such as:

  • Legal penalties: As the cases above show, courts and regulators regularly impose sanctions or penalties for failure to produce complete and accurate data. 
  • Loss of credibility: Compliance and legal teams and the businesses they serve can suffer a loss of credibility in the eyes of people like shareholders if they are found to have presented incomplete or inaccurate data. 
  • Brand reputation: Any suggestion of data tampering or misrepresentation can severely damage a company's public image.
  • Loss of trust from regulators: Regulatory bodies require strict adherence to data transparency standards. Failing to comply can lead to loss of trust, increased scrutiny, and of course, penalties.

Transparency in eDiscovery benefits everyone

Transparency in eDiscovery can be pivotal in achieving favourable legal outcomes. For example, in a complex intellectual property dispute, a law firm used eDiscovery tools to efficiently process vast volumes of electronic data. This enabled them to identify key evidence faster, leading to a quicker resolution of the case​ (Conventus Law)​. 

In another instance, a multinational corporation used eDiscovery solutions to ensure data retention and privacy regulation compliance. These tools helped the company efficiently locate and produce necessary records during regulatory investigations, minimising legal risks and avoiding penalties​ (TERIS)​.

Compliance teams, legal teams and the judicial authorities all benefit from transparency.

Compliance teams

  • Cost savings: Transparent eDiscovery practices help avoid penalties and reduce the costs associated with legal disputes.
  • Trust and assurance: Compliance teams gain confidence knowing their legal teams handle data with integrity and transparency.

Legal teams

  • Enhanced credibility: Transparent practices build trust and credibility with the court, opposing lawyers, and clients.
  • Efficient case management: Clear documentation and data handling streamline the eDiscovery process, saving time and reducing errors.

The judicial system as a whole

  • Fair and just outcomes: Transparency ensures that judges and juries have access to complete and accurate information, supporting fair verdicts and improving trust in the justice system.
  • Efficiency: Transparent data handling reduces disputes over evidence admissibility, leading to more efficient court proceedings.

Use technology to make Presentation more transparent

Ensuring data integrity and transparency in the presentation phase of eDiscovery is key. Advanced tools, especially those backed by blockchain technology, are essential for achieving this. These tools create an immutable ledger that securely logs every action in the eDiscovery process, from data collection to presentation. This guarantees the authenticity and reliability of the data.

A robust eDiscovery monitoring tool, which employs blockchain, provides an unalterable record of all activities. This immutable ledger ensures the data remains unchanged and verifiable, maintaining its integrity. Such tools also integrate with cloud platforms, enhance data security and accessibility, and provide a secure basis for data sharing with external parties.

Blockchain based solutions in the production and presentation phases of eDiscovery offer some significant advantages to teams that use them for eDiscovery

  • Defensible immutability. The very nature of blockchain technology means that data and information cannot be altered, with the ability to quickly share that proof.
  • Improved transparency: An immutable ledger provides a transparent record of all eDiscovery activities, building trust among legal teams, clients, and the judicial system.
  • Enhanced security: Blockchain technology ensures that all actions are securely logged and cannot be altered, significantly reducing the risk of data tampering.
  • Increased efficiency: Search and discovery features help process and review large datasets quickly, efficiently identifying key documents and patterns.
  • Regulatory compliance: These tools help businesses meet legal and regulatory requirements by ensuring transparent and secure data management.
  • Cost savings: Blockchain based solutions are generally much more cost-effective when it comes to long-term data storage.

Are you ready to face the storm?

Ensuring transparency in the presentation stage of eDiscovery is like navigating a ship through treacherous waters: without a clear and reliable compass that everyone trusts, the journey will end in disaster. Transparency isn't just an option; it's the compass guiding the legal process to fair and just outcomes, ensuring that data is complete, accurate, and unaltered.

Ask yourself…

Will you embrace best practices or risk disaster?

Adopting best practices in eDiscovery, such as rigorous documentation and transparency of action, is essential. Are you prepared to implement these safeguards, or will you let your data integrity sink?

Is your technology up to the challenge? 

Leveraging advanced technological tools, particularly those incorporating blockchain technology, enhances transparency by creating an immutable record of all activities. This isn't just a tech upgrade; protecting data integrity and building stakeholder trust is essential. Are you ready to take this step?

Can you navigate complexity with confidence?

By embracing these practices and technologies, businesses can confidently navigate the complexities of eDiscovery, ensuring they meet regulatory requirements, reduce costs, and achieve better legal outcomes. Will you take the helm and steer your organisation towards success?

The compass you can't ignore

Just as a reliable compass is indispensable for a successful journey, so is transparency, guiding the eDiscovery process to its rightful conclusion. 

Are you equipped to make this journey, or will you be lost at sea? The choice is yours - flounder in the flood of data or ensure transparency and navigate towards a successful outcome for you and your business.

 

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