Overcome E-Discovery Fear with these Free and Low-Cost Tools

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At a recent panel on the future of technology in the law, a judge described lawyers not keeping up with technological e-discovery progress as lawyers slowly committing career suicide. I do not wish to question the good judge but while this might be overly dramatic, it sometimes seems that the entire legal profession may be on life support and in danger of being overrun by progress it is sometimes reluctant to keep up with or to lead. I have to admit that I sometimes view a topic like e-discovery as a scary monster that might render alternate demises preferable.

The judge further noted that, “The absence of technical knowledge is a distinct competitive disadvantage.” I view this as positive insight for young and newer lawyers, many of whom may be solos starting out. This is an area of opportunity for new lawyers to define themselves by a technology advantage that sets them apart. While the legal profession as a whole may be struggling to properly communicate its relevance to the public, some lawyers may be able to increase individual marketability with a simple technology edge such as in the area of e-discovery.

I will not likely be able to capture all there is to know about e-discovery in this article. E-discovery is, as the name describes, the discovery process related to electronically stored information commonly referred as “EIS.” I will discuss a few free and low-cost e-discovery options for newer and young lawyers–and solos and small firms–to consider.

Cloud-Based E-Discovery Solutions

There is much talk these days about the cloud and everyone seems to be directed there. There are potential security concerns that may need to be addressed with cloud use and every attorney is encouraged to evaluate and resolve those issues, at a comfort level that suits the attorney. For newer and solo practitioners, according to the ABA Journal, cloud-based e-discovery may offer options for “smaller firms to save a significant amount of money.”

By using cloud solutions for e-discovery, new, small and solo firms may discover a good investment. With minimal investment up front, they can utilize cloud services on an ad-hoc basis. This eliminates worry about a significant investment quickly becoming obsolete. As one panelist at the recent LegalTech New York 2014 trade show noted, “For firms without robust IT departments, it grants them the experts to manage the technology operations and security.” Additionally, the cloud-based solution does not require technology infrastructure except for a computer and high-speed internet, and does not require software purchases, updates, and maintenance.

E-Discovery Software Solutions

Software solutions, however, can allow newer and solo practitioners to grow into e-discovery options that suit both budgets and needs. Like the cloud, software solutions can also be utilized as individual tools in a toolbox or on an ad-hoc basis. For collecting data, the free FTK Imager (the link to download is seventh from the top on the menu) is designed for collection of ESI but can be used by attorneys in the e-discovery process to view ESI and copy the materials that prove useful. An attorney can load a file, thumb drive or hard drive of data; the data can then be viewed in an explorer tree format. An item of interest can be highlighted and viewed in the built-in viewer and copied for later use.

Simple tools for analysis include Windows Search on a PC or Spotlight on Mac. Additionally, a program like ProofFinder allows the user to search and analyze both content and metadata. While the cost of ProofFinder is $100 annually, all of that cost is donated to charity.

Obviously, this does not begin to capture the universe of e-discovery and the tools that are available. Hopefully, however, it provides a few free and low-cost options to get started because when greater efficiency can be achieved through technology resources, attorneys and clients can save both time and money. These savings can create a competitive advantage for young and newer attorneys, as well as solo practitioners, in their practices.