In the ever-evolving landscape of eDiscovery, one of the most prominent challenges that legal professionals face is dealing with emerging data types. As technology advances, the ways in which people communicate and collaborate have diversified, leading to a proliferation of data across various platforms and applications. However, with a comprehensive Information Governance strategy within an integrated cloud-centric solution such as Microsoft 365, you bring your eDiscovery processes to where the work is actually being done, minimizing the challenges introduced with the use of multiple platforms.
While it’s already a complex task to gather, review, and produce electronic data originating from a single collaboration platform, the real challenge arises when the same conversation or communication thread travels between multiple platforms. This increasingly common scenario introduces a host of complications when it comes to reviewing conversations and collaboration seamlessly across disparate platforms and applications.
Data Fragmentation and Contextual Challenges: Users today frequently shift between communication tools like Microsoft Teams or Loop, Slack, email, text, and more. Conversations initiated within one platform might continue within another, making it difficult to piece together the entire context of a conversation or collaboration thread. This fragmentation can lead to incomplete or disjointed understanding of the communication, which can be a significant concern in the context of eDiscovery and investigations.
Data Volume and Complexity: The sheer magnitude and variety of collaboration data generated in modern organizations can be staggering. Each platform produces distinct sets of metadata and message formats, posing difficulties in upholding data integrity and consistency. Additionally, different platforms often have differing retention policies as well as distinct capabilities for supporting those policies. Tracking and managing the various scenarios is not easy, which can result in potential data loss if not effectively managed.
Legal and Regulatory Requirements: Legal obligations for data preservation and collection apply across all these platforms. Organizations must ensure they capture and preserve pertinent data, but doing so can be technically complex and legally risky if not executed properly. It’s not enough to establish preservation policies; they must also be rigorously enforced. Non-compliance can result in sanctions and penalties, and these can be quite painful. (Consider what happened when Morgan Stanley’s traders were using WhatsApp even though the messaging application was prohibited by their policies.)
With the complications listed above along with others not specifically mentioned that may come to mind, it might seem that eDiscovery has finally met its match. However, just as we have seen with past newly introduced challenges, technology offers some compelling options, and those options tend to get better over time as tools continue to evolve.
M365 Impact on Litigation
A unified cloud-based platform like Microsoft 365 provides a seamless and integrated digital workspace for employees. It enables them to work from anywhere, using their preferred devices, while minimizing or eliminating the need to chase information across disparate tools and applications.
- Accessibility from Anywhere: Microsoft 365 is a cloud-based platform, meaning that it provides employees with the ability to access their work resources and applications from virtually anywhere with an internet connection. This level of accessibility promotes remote work, enabling employees to work from home, on the go, or while traveling.
- No Device Preference: Microsoft 365 is designed to be device agnostic. This means that whether an employee prefers a Windows PC, a Mac, a smartphone, or a tablet, they can access the same suite of applications and files. Employees are more productive and less likely to “go rogue” by using non-sanctioned applications because they can easily leverage whatever they are most comfortable with.
- Unified Suite of Tools: Microsoft 365 integrates a comprehensive suite of productivity tools such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Teams, SharePoint, and more. These tools are tightly interconnected, making it easy for employees to collaborate, communicate, and work on documents without switching between disparate applications.
- Data and Document Centralization: Microsoft 365 offers robust cloud storage solutions like OneDrive and SharePoint. This centralizes data and documents, eliminating the need to chase information across various file shares, email attachments, or local storage devices. Users can easily locate and collaborate on documents stored in a centralized location.
- Integration Capabilities: Microsoft 365 can be integrated with various third-party applications and services, further reducing the need for employees to switch between different tools. This allows for a more streamlined workflow.
By providing employees with the means to so easily and conveniently access whatever they need whenever and however they need it, organizations can eliminate the temptation of turning to alternatives. Not only can this enhance productivity, but it also simplifies eDiscovery workflows by ensuring that the data landscape stays manageable rather than turning into a nightmare of different sources and confusing collection paths to follow.
While technology plays a crucial role, eDiscovery is never just about tools. Proficient professionals who grasp the legal intricacies, technical aspects, and unique complexities associated with interrogating cross-platform data are crucial.
Historically, law firms have been notorious for lagging behind on the technology front, but that’s rapidly changing. Corporations have the power to apply pressure here, as well. If they don’t see the adoption they want, there are alternatives available to them – they can take their business to a different firm that understands and appreciates the importance of embracing technology rather than ignoring it.
That said, just because someone appreciates the value technology brings, does not mean they know when (and how) to use it effectively. Legal teams must be trained to leverage these tools appropriately. However, juggling this learning curve alongside their core responsibilities can be nearly impossible, and it’s not just a one-time thing. Given the relentless evolution of new tools, it’s imperative to enlist technology consultants’ expertise to ensure that legal teams optimize their use of all that is available to them.
The Way Forward
At the end of the day, eDiscovery in the context of emerging data types and cross-platform communication may seem daunting, but it’s not insurmountable. With the right technology in place combined with a commitment to maintaining best practices and leveraging best-in-breed tools, organizations and their legal teams can effectively navigate these complexities, ensuring a comprehensive and defensible approach to their eDiscovery framework and processes.
If you’re interested in learning more about how Microsoft 365 can be leveraged by your organization, please get in touch! I’d love to help.