How Much Is That Case Worth?

In consulting with clients about how to handle their ediscovery, I have learned that one of the first Early Case Assessment (ECA) questions needs to be “How much is the case worth?” It does not take long for the eDiscovery costs to mount to startling amounts. And, unfortunately for both the vendor and the client, it is often not possible to estimate accurately what those costs might be without doing at least some of the processing. Hence my question, “What is the case worth?”

Recently, a client sent a hard drive of email and miscellaneous electronically stored information (ESI). Once processed, the hard drive yielded 18 gigabytes of data and about 90,000 documents. The client was clear about the upper limit she could spend for eDiscovery, so we discussed what could be done within the limits she could spend.

First, she prioritized the data to be processed. Much of the case revolved around what data had been shared with whom. Therefore, we began by processing the PST and other email files. We provided the images and text for the emails with the To, From, DateSent, DateReceived, Subject, Body and other email metadata and the file name and native file for each attachment while maintaining the family structure. Because she did not have a database manager and did not want the cost of an online hosting platform, we provided the data in an Excel spreadsheet with hyperlinks to the native emails and attachments. While less than ideal, at least she was able to review, comment, sort and see what she had and who was emailing who for a fairly nominal cost.

Of course, this left a considerable amount of ESI to address. However, she had learned enough in her review of the email and attachments to substantially narrow her search parameters for the remaining ESI. Since using a hosted review platform was not a financial option, we deduped the ESI, resulting in a significant reduction of volume. Using some additional tools to further cull the collection, we returned a second hyperlinked spreadsheet.

Our client used the second spreadsheet to go back to her client and discuss the costs to go further in processing and/or reviewing the eDiscovery. There is a law of diminishing returns and she wanted to be sure that she did not break it. Fully processing all of the ediscovery originally supplied at the beginning of the project could easily have run into tens of thousands of dollars for a case that ultimately was not worth that much. Spending a fraction of that figure to evaluate the case and the potential costs helped her to advise her client on whether and when to fight on or settle.


Susan Bonar Mayer is President and CEO of Litigation Abstract, Inc., headquartered in Missoula, Montana, with a sales and service office in Seattle, Washington.  Susan graduated from Duke University with a degree in History.  Since 1989, Susan and Litigation Abstract, Inc. have provided customized litigation support services to both public and private clients in the United States and Canada, including data and information management, discovery reviews, document and ediscovery productions and electronic trial support.  Susan is an active member of Women in Ediscovery, participates in The Sedona Conference on ediscovery, writes a blog on litigation support and ediscovery, and frequently speaks on data management, ediscovery and electronic trial. Visit: Susan can be contacted at: Twitter: @Litigation_Abs

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