The Small Case Dilemma: EDiscovery for the Rest of Us

Craig Ball and I are speaking on this topic today at the Georgetown Law EDiscovery Training Academy.  If you missed the Webcast called eDiscovery for the Rest of Us thaI did with Doug Austin of Cloud 9 on Wed May 30, 2018 you can see a recording at

During the webinar, Doug mentioned my four part blog post series that Cloud 9 published on their blog in the past couple of weeks.  You can click on the links above for each individual post or scroll down below where I’ve compiled all four posts together for your reading pleasure!

PART 1:  May 15, 2018 

eDiscovery: The Early Years

The first formalized changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were made in December of 2006 as the culmination of a period of debate and review that started in March 2000. Prior to the codified changes, there were several prominent lawsuits touching on the subject, most notably the matter popularly known as the Zubulake case. (Zubulake v. UBS Warburg, 220 F.R.D. 212 (S.D.N.Y. 2003))

Throughout the case, the plaintiff claimed that the evidence needed to prove the case existed in emails stored on UBS’ own computer systems. Because the emails requested were either never found or destroyed, the court found that it was more likely that they existed than not. The court found that while the corporation’s counsel directed that all potential discovery evidence, including emails, be preserved, the staff that the directive applied to did not follow through. This resulted in significant sanctions against UBS.


That case and the subsequent rule changes effectively forced civil litigants into a compliance mode with respect to their proper retention and management of electronically stored information (ESI). The risks that litigants then began to face because of improper management of ESI include spoliation of evidence, adverse inference, summary judgment, and sanctions. In some cases, such as Qualcomm Inc., v. Broadcom Corp., 548 F.3d 1004 (Fed. Cir. 2008), attorneys were even brought before their state bar association to answer to charges of misconduct.

At roughly the same time, the EDRM was started to deliver leadership, standards, best practices, tools, guides, and test data sets to improve electronic discovery work flow processes.  The original EDRM project (it is now owned by Duke University School of Law) came up with the following chart to show a general work flow for eDiscovery projects.


The problems faced by these new rules was the multiplicity of data in electronic formats. Examples of the types of data included in e-discovery are not just documents but e-mail, databases, web sites, instant messaging and any other electronically stored information that could be relevant evidence in litigation. Also included in e-discovery is “raw data”, which Forensic Investigators can review for hidden evidence.


Litigators may review material from e-discovery in one of several formats: printed paper, PDF images (with or without searchable text) or as single- or multi-page TIFF images. The original file format is also known as the “native” format. 


PART TWO:  May 17, 2018 

The EDna Challenge, 2009

In 2009, noted e-discovery consultant Craig Ball wrote a fascinating article in Law Technology News called  “E-Discovery for Everybody.”  That column came to be known as the “EDna Challenge” (Craig likes visual puns) because in it, Craig posited a solo practitioner named Edna with an e-discovery budget of $1,000 and asked how she could possibly perform any e-discovery on that amount.  He then solicited a wide-ranging number of answers from a variety of consultants and vendors and compiled them into the article, which is now posted on his website at .


Craig asked people to suggest a program or programs with the following criteria:

  1. Preserve relevant metadata;
  2. Incorporate de-duplication, as feasible;
  3. Support robust search of Outlook mail and productivity formats;
  4. Allow for efficient workflow;
  5. Enable rudimentary redaction;
  6. Run well on most late-model personal computers; and
  7. Require no more than $1,000.00in new software or hardware, though it’s fine to use fully-functional “free trial” software so long as you can access the data for the 2-3 year life of the case


The problem as Craig defined it still exists now:

“The vast majority of cases filed, developed and tried in the United States are not multimillion dollar dust ups between big companies. The evidence in modest cases is digital, too. Solo and small firm counsel like Edna need affordable, user-friendly tools designed for desktop eDiscovery — tools that preserve metadata, offer efficient workflow and ably handle the common file formats that account for nearly all of the ESI seen in day-to-day litigation. Using the tools and techniques described by my thoughtful colleagues, Edna will get the job done on time and under budget. The pieces are there, though the integration falls short.”


However, Craig did offer a little future optimism here:

“One possible bright spot was the emergence of hosted options. No one was sure the job could be begun–let alone completed–using SaaS on so tight a budget; but, there was enough mention of Saas to make it seem like a possibility, now or someday soon.”


PART 3  May 22, 2018

The Ernie Challenge

What about cases that fall between the Edna budget limit of $1,000 and major litigation like Pension Committee, a $550 million case arising out of the liquidation of hedge funds? (Pension Committee of the University of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of America Securities, LLC, 685 F.Supp.2d 456, 465 (S.D.N.Y.2010)?

To answer the question of what to do for the cases larger than $1,000 but less than the major litigation cases, I drew up the “Ernie Challenge,” with advice from Craig Ball and late DLA Piper senior counsel Browning Marean.  Named for my good friend Ernie Svenson, then a solo attorney with a general practice in New Orleans, it was posted on its own blog site at .

Ernie is very tech savvy and often calls me when he has an EDD question involving what we call the “tweener” cases, those that fit in between the range covered by the Edna Challenge and mega cases suitable for the larger brand name products that dominate the EDD world.

The Ernie Challenge posited a case with roughly 1 terabyte of data to collect and a final amount of 200 gigabytes of data to review, most of that e-mail with the balance being various types of financial data. We also asked for some form of web review tool to work with the clients’ counsel and contract staff in a separate location.

There were several problems in meeting this challenge. First of course was pricing. Many, if not most, eDiscovery vendors at that time had their roots in the per unit commodity pricing days of photocopying and imaging. The standard practice was to charge hundreds of dollars per GB to process the data (which included culling, deduping, and de-nisting of the data set then preparing it for loading into a review software); then charging again — by both GB and user — on a monthly basis to review the data.

As a result, a simple license plus annual maintenance or a monthly subscription fee model for eDiscovery products didn’t exist. Instead, we had to sort through hundreds of products priced by varying and often widely divergent methods.

$X per GB for processing, $X per page for OCR, $X per document for near duplicate detection, $X per page for Bates numbers, $X per user and per GB to host and so on. Each is performed for different units with different unit pricing that can run from a penny to $500 per unit

For example, if a client paid for a forensically sound data collection of 800 GB (the size of the hard drive of one typical computer) and that data set eventually yields 200 GB of reviewable material, a typical eDiscovery company would charge $200 per GB for the processing ($160,000) plus $50 per month per GB ($10,000) and $90 per month per user for the hosting. If the case were to last 18 months, this cost alone would be just under $350,000.00. And if we accept the commonly cited statistic that the review process will account for 60-70% of the total project price, then we’re looking at a project cost that will eventually be close to $1,000,000.00.

For 200 GB of data!

To avoid the shock of those costs being immediately apparent, vendors often using pricing sheets in response to an eDiscovery RFP that looked like the menu in a Chinese restaurant … without English subtitles. And very few people had the experience, let alone the patience, to sort through those sheets. I myself was often called by clients to help them in that process because the separate bids they receive to an RFP don’t even appear to respond to the same proposal!

So, if your case was only worth $400,000 and after analysis and discussion with your client, you believe you cannot spend more than $10,000 for ESI processing and hosting services over the anticipated 18-month life of the case, you had a problem.

And if your case fell within the scope of the EDna Challenge, a small case with an eDiscovery budget of less than $1,000, you had an enormous problem.

By 2011, the question was paramount but we began to see some glimmer of hope. Craig Ball, in an interview at Legal Tech New York with Doug Austin ( said “…  I’m seeing some behind the firewall products, even desktop products, that are going to be able to allow lawyers and people with relatively little technical expertise to handle small and medium sized cases.”

And that is the essence of our Small Case Dilemma. Where are those programs? Are there really applications that attorneys can use themselves to process and host data? Is there really a way to process and review a couple of hundred GB of data for a reasonable price?

By 2012, the products Craig Ball mentioned had materialized. In the book we wrote as a follow up to our ABA TechShow session (Electronic Discovery for Small Cases (ABA, 2012), Bruce Olson and I listed several, including:

  • Acrobat Legal Edition
  • Digital WarRoom Pro
  • Discovery Cloud
  • dtSearch Desktop
  • Harvester
  • Intella
  • Lexbe Online
  • Quick View Plus
  • SafeCopy

And at the same time, pricing began to drop substantially. Not only did unit pricing lower dramatically but we also began to see drop a trend away from the unit pricing model towards a flat fee or “all in” pricing. These sort of bundled flat rate prices, whether it be “per gigabyte,” “per drive,” or even “per case,” cover all the variables currently priced by the big boys as separate line items.

This development stemmed from two factors: (1) increased pricing competition among vendors and (2) newer cheaper technology. Faster processing products were being sold directly to corporate legal departments and law firms while the cost of hosting is being driven down by non-legal services such as Amazon and Microsoft. These developments give clients the option of using an in-house solution that cost far less than the prices stated above which then caused vendors to drop their prices accordingly.


PART FOUR May 24, 2018


The EDna Challenge, 2016

In 2016, Craig Ball revisited the Edna challenge with a new set of parameters and a panel at the annual ILTA conference on which I was privileged to be a participant. The panel sought what Craig called “… a re-examination of EDna options circa 2016 on a bigger budget. .

In this new challenge, Edna had a Zip file on a thumb drive containing collected ESI in various formats: 10 custodians with ESI PSTs for six of them, four MBOX take outs from Gmail for the other four and a combination of  word processed documents, spreadsheets, PowerPoint documents, PDFs and a few scanned paper documents for all ten. She estimated the contents will unzip to about 10-12 GB with somewhere between 50,000 to 100, 000 documents total.

The goal was to conduct a paperless privilege and responsiveness review of the material in-house, sharing the task with an associate and legal assistant.  All staff had high-end, big screen desktop PC running Windows 8.1 with MS Office 2016 and Adobe Acrobat 11 Pro installed and the office’s network file server had ample space for the document collection.

The specific goals were:

  • Efficient workflow
  • Robust search
  • Ability to process relevant metadata
  • Simple document tagging and production identification
  • Effective tracked deduplication
  • Review may take up to 90 days, and the case may not conclude for up to two years.  All review, hosting and production costs must be borne by the budget.

Edna didn’t own a review tool and was willing to spend up to $5,000.00 total for software, vendor services, SaaS, etc.  Craig’s only restrictions on responses were “She won’t spend a penny more.  You can’t loan her your systems or software.  You can’t talk her out of it.  Pricing must mirror real-world availability, not a special deal.”

The good news was that the increase in budget accompanied by the shift to Web based solutions made a dramatic change in the responses. As one independent analyst noted, if kept to 3 months hosting, more than 70% of the companies he worked with could meet the challenge. Brad Jenkins, CEO of CloudNine (the host of this article) noted that the CloudNine software would allow Edna  “… access to a complete eDiscovery platform for processing, review, and production. She can upload her data for automated native processing, review her data in CloudNine’s integrated review tool, and produce her data in almost any format.”  All for under the limit of the challenge.


What’s Next?

The next step in the market of technology for the rest of us is growth of Internet based tools.  We are now seeing even more budget conscious solutions in a SaaS environment, solutions that work with common native format files where you host your own data with programs installed locally that are able to accommodate smaller data collections.

Some of these are well-established companies such as Relativity or Ipro Tech and others are newer companies such as CloudNine, Digital War Room, Logikcull, CS Disco and Everlaw. Some of them also incorporate some form of front-end analytics to significantly uce the amount of data to be processed as well as TAR or predictive coding technology to enable faster review of documents.



But the ultimate solution is more than just knowing the rules, avoiding e-jargon and understanding the technology. In our estimation, it is the process not the technology.

We are not alone in this appraisal. Technologist John Martin once commented, “It’s the archer not the arrow.” Craig Ball says, “The key consideration is workflow”.

The fact is that technology is not the key to successful management of e-discovery in small cases. Rather, the single most effective way to keep eDiscovery costs low is to work with your opposition in a cooperative manner so you can stipulate to the use of low cost solutions.

We all must change to the new paradigm of working in the digital world. In the words of The Hon. Lee Rosenthal, former Chair of the Standing Committee of the Judicial Conference, “Litigation habits and customs learned in the days of paper must be revisited and revised. The culture of bench and bar must adjust.”

Craig Ball described it as “throwing down the gauntlet in the Edna Challenge when he said, So, how about it e-discovery industryCan you divert your gaze from the golden calf long enough to see the future and recall the past? Sam Walton became the richest man of his era by selling to more for less. There’s a fast-growing need…and a huge emerging market.  The real Edna Challenge is waiting for the visionaries who will meet the need and serve this market.”

I think we’re almost there.

I think we’re very close to being there.

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