Finding a Needle in Three Haystacks
It’s one thing to find a needle in the proverbial haystack, but what about finding that needle in three haystacks?
Our opposing counsel produced a mountain of electronic documents—well over 300,000 pages. We had to take key depositions the following week, and we weren’t able to even get through half of the documents in time. This task started to look hopeless, as it seemed we were reviewing the same documents over and over again, and still had not found the documents we’d hoped to find.
But then we noticed something fishy in the metadata: the file paths (ie, location) for many of the electronic documents showed that every document came from one of three root directories named “Database,” “Old Database,” and “Old Database1”. That’s unusual, because typically root directories are named things like “My Documents” or “Documents on My Computer,” not "Database."
Where there’s smoke there’s usually fire. So we dug deeper into the metadata. We discovered that each individual document custodian had documents stored in each of these three “databases.” Indeed, the file structures within these three databases were suspiciously similar. We suspected that the document production was not just duplicated, but was actually triplicated (in an effort to create three times as much ‘stuff’ for us to sort through—a classic case of trying to overwhelm opposing counsel with irrelevant discovery material). Suspecting is one thing; proving it in court is another. So, we set about to prove the triplication.
The Critical Electronic Discovery Solution
We figured out a way to match each electronic document within each database to its duplicate in the two other databases. Not only did the databases contain the same documents but the documents were in the same order. To illustrate the triplication for the court, we created a detailed cross-reference report. But this story gets better: our phone book-sized cross-reference report contained a few holes where there was no triplication. In our report, these holes stood out like a sore thumb. Within a sea of triplication, certain select documents appeared only once in the production. In fact, they were scattered throughout the final triplicated set, buried under over 200,000 pages of electronic evidence. Our curiosity was piqued. We went straight to these buried documents and as you might have guessed by now, these were the smoking gun documents that we were looking for—the only ones out of these 300,000 pages of documents that we actually needed.
The bottom line: we found the most critical evidence in the case, we avoided re-reviewing approximately 180,000 pages of electronic documents, and we went into the following week’s depositions fully prepared.
In terms of cost, our client saved a bundle. If you figure that an attorney can review on average 200 pages in an hour, and a first or second-year associate charges an average fee of $200 per hour, identifying the triplication avoided 900 hours of attorney review time and $180,000 in attorneys fees. Not bad for a day’s work.