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E-discovery software is a type of computer program designed to help lawyers efficiently comply with court orders for electronic document production. The software is capable of screening large numbers of documents in a relatively short amount of time, and can organize files by category, keyword, and subject matter. Lawyers often use e-discovery software in the course of litigation. Screening the files and documents of an opponent to look for evidence before going to trial is almost always permitted, but it can take an enormous amount of time if done manually. E-discovery software can make the screening and sorting tasks easier.
The term “e-discovery” is short for “electronic discovery.” In law, discovery is a process that allows each party in a lawsuit to examine the files and documents of the other. This allows the parties to gather evidence, which they will need in order to craft persuasive arguments.
As more and more documents move online, discovery is increasingly conducted electronically. There are pros and cons to electronic document discovery. On one hand, it is much easier to search for documents on a computer than it is to sift through boxes of paper. Usually, however, electronic data storage captures much more information than does hard-copy filing. Every e-mail that was sent or received through a corporate account, every file that employees created and saved on a central drive, and vast caches of temporary Internet histories are usually included in e-discovery materials.
Sorting through the millions, and sometimes billions, of documents generated in electronic discovery is all too often an overwhelming task. For this reason, law firms frequently purchase electronic discovery software. Most e-discovery software programs allow lawyers to design certain settings and create specific search parameters in order to quickly identify relevant documents. Once those documents have been identified, lawyers can review only that smaller set for evidence.
There are many different types of e-discovery software available. Some are designed to provide comprehensive searching and screening capabilities, while others are designed to be more minimalist. No legal discovery software can itself do all the tasks of a human, however. As good as a program is, it can never replace the thinking, sensing mind of a trained lawyer.
Even the best, most expensive e-discovery software programs should not be viewed as anything more than a litigation support tool. Lawyers can use the programs, but should not allow themselves to be replaced by them. Courts are generally unsympathetic to parties’ arguments that discovery should be re-opened or redone because e-discovery software malfunctioned, or missed some crucial piece of evidence. Most of the time, the use of e-discovery software is permitted by the courts on an “at your own risk” basis.