Linda W. Perkins

Panning for Gold: The Search for Hidden Nuggets of Information

The MedLeh Group (Insight Newsletter) - April 26, 2006

Consultant John Applegate* may not wear a leather hat and vest or spend his life on the water, but every day that he goes to work at The MedLeh Group, he is panning for gold … searching diligently for those critical, hidden nuggets of information planted within the streams of data on clients’ computer systems.

Obtaining the right information from thousands of files is not as easy as just putting in a few key words and pushing a button. It involves the careful analysis of client needs, utilizing specific techniques to expand and contract queries so that the search results are precise and concise, ready to use as supporting evidence in the specific legal cases for which they are required.

According to Applegate, there are two primary search models that are followed in electronic discovery. One is to handpick items to turn over to the other side, achieved by doing a narrow search with finite parameters. The other model is to look for items to exclude, such as confidential or sensitive documents or those covered by attorney-client confidentiality.

One of the reasons choosing the right search methodology is so important is that search parameters can greatly affect a client’s budget and the way a case is approached by the legal counsel. All searches should be constructed with sufficient care that relevant data is not omitted from the results. However, the greater the number of documents to produce and review, the more costly a case can become, so a narrower search is typically better for a more cost conscious client. This is especially significant in electronic discovery, where there is a large volume of available data.

“The electronic discovery process opens the door up to a lot more data,” says Carl Bruce of Fish & Richardson P.C. “Before, if you asked someone to get the relevant documents for a case, they would go to the ones that immediately came to mind or the ones that particular person thought were relevant and so you might only find50% of the actual relevant documents. With electronic discovery, you can now find 80-90% of relevant documents.”

Bruce explains that because search methodologies can impact the final litigation cost for clients, this is a frequent area of conflict between parties, where one side may be demanding broader search parameters in the electronic discovery process, thus running up the legal bill of the opposing party.

“It’s going to be more difficult to control costs for clients when the new rules (on pre-discovery conferences) go into effect,” Bruce says. “It will depend on what we’re up against with the opposing counsel.”

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