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Litigation support companies began scanning paper discovery documents during the early 1990s, and the manifold advantages over the old banker’s box method of handling documents were quickly apparent. Optical character recognition (“scanning”) helped lower costly storage expenses and made document retrieval possible in seconds rather than hours or days. Even so, litigants still produce paper discovery documents to read and annotate, and as long as that happens, there will never be an end to the paper trail. Most case productions today are a mixture of electronic and paper with varying percentages of each. Frequently, a document is produced in both formats with differentiating features, like hand-written annotations on the paper version. Additional document formats, such as audio and video tapes, also may be produced. Regardless of the format, however, every document is an integral part of the same case and documents must be viewed as a whole, not as separate parts. Isolating documents that share relationships within a case could cause litigators to lose crucial insights when building arguments. Many lawyers and paralegals have erroneously conceptualized managing paper and electronic discovery documents as two separate processes. This should not be. “Unified discovery” permits the conversion of all documents, produced in a variety of formats, into one master database. It is by far the most efficient way to manage discovery documents. To be most effective, unified discovery should be done by one organization, whether it is a litigation support company or an in-house litigation support department. Unified discovery consists of three components that require planning by the litigation team: paper document scanning to standard image format, electronic document conversion to standard image format and the electronic repository. In the unified discovery process, paper pages are scanned to a standard image format, usually TIFF or PDF files. And electronic documents are converted directly from their native format into the same standard image format. It is that simple. Then, all the documents are stored in a single, automated master database, allowing staff to search the entire population and analyze information. ONE PROCESS, ONE COMPANY Often, a law firm or legal department will work with a different vendor for each section of document discovery, but it is best to work with just one company that can seamlessly provide paper processing, electronic document processing and networked electronic repositories services (Internet, intranet or extranet). Of course, three separate companies can handle the job, but at more time and expense — and greater risk. When a firm hires separate companies, fingers should be kept crossed that the vendors will come together at critical stages, such as when data is loaded. Glitches can — and usually do — arise. But with a single, comprehensive vendor, the firm need only explain its document strategy once, sign only one contract and hire a single project manager with ultimate responsibility for the success — and accuracy — of the project. The outside vendor becomes a business partner with the firm, sharing a holistic view of the project and understanding the entirety of document discovery for the case. Therefore, a firm shopping for a vendor to manage its evidentiary case documents should ask if all the document processing is handled in-house, if subcontractors are hired, or if separate partner vendors are used for various sections of the project. When selecting a vendor, the first thing to look for is the ability to treat the entire body of case documents with a single team of professionals responsible for the project. Remember, each added entity increases the risk of error. ATTENTION TO DETAILS Document scanning and electronic document conversion is pretty straightforward. But what other features should be considered when hiring a vendor? The answer is in the details: How documents are treated — particularly capturing information — and how thorough the company is in several key areas: � Indexing What coding capability does the vendor have beyond electronic data capture? Can hot documents be flagged for further “human” review? Does the company have an experienced coding staff that is part of the organization? � Capturing Metadata Metadata is all of the information “behind” a document. It is attached to a document and stored in electronic memory. Examples include date of draft, drafted by whom, sent to whom, received and read by whom. All documents produced electronically have associated metadata. If a document is produced in paper, but was created or used electronically, the litigation team should request production of an electronic copy to get the metadata. Metadata adds a new layer of information that can show, for example, whether a witness received and read a document. A vendor must be able to tell exactly how it captures and treats metadata. � Managing Duplicates How careful is the company in flagging duplicates? Information can be lost by overlooking relevant categories, like metadata, that might be different. Once a duplicate has been identified, it is safest to have the vendor continue to process it so information will not be lost if a difference is found later. � Unified Repository A unified repository handles all case documents so there is just one search and retrieval process. The master database preserves the original evidentiary “landscape” without breaking it into segments. In addition to the standard image format, the repository also should preserve all of the electronic documents in their original native format so they can be searched by key word. Electronic repositories also greatly differentiate vendors. A company selling complete, unified discovery services must have a robust repository offering available via networks, both intranets and the Internet. If a firm is looking for a long-term solution for litigation document management, it should ensure that the vendor has the ability to perform custom programming to meet the requirements of its system. It is crucial to understand what the repository search screen looks like and to use it before making a decision on a vendor. Nuances are very important. For example, there should be an icon for each document indicating the medium in which it was produced. If a set of documents was produced completely in paper, that implies they were printed out and the opposition may be hiding information. The critical question for the litigator is “why?” The unified repository can identify gaps in production and changes to the documents made in anticipation of litigation. To create the tools to find such gaps, the vendor must have a global view of the document population. FORMATS OF THE FUTURE The types of document formats and their delivery methods will surely proliferate in the future. Already, audio and video documents are produced as evidence. As wireless technology progresses, document production may be deliver via airwaves rather than broadbands or disks. Regardless of the technical nuances, the basic unified discovery concept remains simple and efficient. All case documents, no matter the format, are part of a unified population that must be kept whole to preserve integrity. The best document management companies, therefore, have a global case view and can treat documents seamlessly. Not only is this the most efficient way to manage case data, it also provides litigators with the best tools for creating and supporting case arguments. Jon Gilbertson, an attorney, is manager of technical development and project coordination at Quorum Litigation Services, a document management company based in Eagan, Minn.

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