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eDiscovery Review: Evolution of Document Review

Document review is an integral piece of the electronic discovery process. In understanding how it works now, it is helpful to see how document review functioned in its inception and how it evolved over the last few decades.

The Early Years

Since the 1970s, technology has been used to manage the review of large paper-based document collections. Early best practices were to uniquely number and index documents subject to discovery, thus creating the ability to search and sort bibliographical fields of information about the documents, such as Date, Title, Author, Recipient, etc. Search results would then be retrieved from the paper repository, and copied for the review team.

In the 1980s and '90s, document imaging (scanning) was added to the process, and litigation document management became more fully automated. Advances in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and database software provided for full-text searching and the ability to easily annotate and categorize documents electronically. Imaged collections continue to be a major component of litigation discovery.

"Electronic to Paper"

Unfortunately, electronic data does not always easily co-exist with paper (scanned) documents. As a matter of necessity, a process emerged in the late 1990s known as "electronic to paper," whereby electronic files (Word, Excel, Email etc.) were collected, printed, scanned and indexed into a database, reviewed and printed for production. A costly and time-consuming process, this was the only practical method given the tools and available technology of the era.

The Digital World

In the digital world, the volume of documents that can (and normally do) come into play has dramatically increased beyond what was normally seen in the paper world. This has necessitated a shift in how to prepare for a document review. It is now considered impractical to print electronic documents for a paper review under most scenarios. This has less to do with the inherent problems and economic inefficiencies of printing huge volumes of paper; it is mostly because having documents in digital form offers reviewers a greater ability to handle the huge volume of discovery documents. Consequently, preparing for a document review in the electronic discovery era requires selecting, putting into place, and then using appropriate review tools, tools to manage the review process, production tools and potentially a host of other tools.

Looking Forward

Technology and services have improved greatly and continue to evolve. Nonetheless, the process of reviewing and producing electronic data in response to a discovery request presents a variety of challenges and pitfalls. While the obligation to produce electronic and paper documents is fundamentally the same, producing electronic data is far more complex. A clear strategy and an awareness of available options can dramatically reduce the time and cost of the review and subsequent production, while at the same time increasing the quality of the work performed.

For an in-depth look at how to best create such a strategy and understand the process, see the articles on eDiscovery Review: Planning the Review Part 1, and eDiscovery Review: Planning the Review Part 2.

Source: EDRM (

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