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No matter is too small – the case for email threading

By Wendy Cole

Consider for a moment the last time you had to review email messages for discovery or pay counsel to do so on your behalf. The endless toil of slogging through random fragments of email threads that appear to be in no particular order. After a while, it starts to feel like a terrible case of déjà vu. Haven’t I seen this email before? Why am I looking at this again and how did I code it when I saw it an hour ago? Did this part of the thread come before or after the portion that I viewed yesterday? 

In any eDiscovery document review project, the vast majority of documents to be reviewed are email messages. Anyone who has ever reviewed email messages can attest to the fact that the traditional approach, involving the review of emails, one by one, in no coherent order, is painfully slow, averaging 50 to 60 documents an hour, and will almost certainly yield inconsistent results.

Fortunately, many eDiscovery review platforms now include email threading capabilities – an elegant technological solution to the technologically created problem.

The benefits of email threading capabilities are twofold:

1. Threading brings related email messages together in sequential order so review counsel can review various parts of the thread in context, ensuring a better understanding of the content and the flow of the conversation; and

2. It allows the review team to eliminate duplicative content from the review so reviewers don’t need to look at fragments of the thread that are fully contained elsewhere.  The latter drastically reducing the volume of email to be reviewed by 25-60 per cent.

Threading technology uses metadata to reconstruct the flow of email communication in a coherent manner, helping counsel make sense of what is otherwise a jumble of email messages collected from multiple custodians. Reviewing individual email messages in the broader context of the entire thread assists review counsel’s understanding of the communications and aids in constructing a coherent theory of the case.

The second benefit of email threading is that the analytics engine separates email messages into three broad categories. In Relativity software parlance the categories are: 

  • Inclusive email messages – those containing unique content not included in any other email, such as the last email in a thread, or those with no replies or forwards;
  • Non-inclusive messages – fragments of larger email threads that do not contain any unique content or attachments (and therefore do not need to be reviewed);
  • Duplicate spares – exact duplicates of the same email thread collected from different custodians (which generally do not need to be reviewed).

Using this technology to identify non-inclusive and duplicative email content allows counsel to eliminate thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of duplicate emails before the substantive review even begins.

Contrary to the myth that email threading is only for “really large cases” the benefits of email threading technology are significant even in relatively small document review projects. Eliminating non-inclusive and duplicate spare emails from a review set results in a substantial decrease in email volume. Whether the original document set to be reviewed consists of 6,000 emails or 600,000 emails, the cost and time savings of a 25 – 60 per cent reduction are significant. Add to that the improved quality of the review made possible by email threading technology and it becomes obvious that email threading should be employed in every case. If your eDiscovery review software doesn’t have email threading functionality, or if you aren’t using that functionality, you’re sacrificing review efficiency and quality. That costs your client extra time and money.

It is worth noting that to ensure the software works correctly and yields accurate threading results it’s critical that your document exchange protocol specifies that both parties will collect and share the appropriate metadata and ideally in native format. That means making sure your client’s collection of the data preserves the critical metadata and asking opposing counsel to do the same.  Upfront communication and agreement are critical to maximize the benefits of threading technology and decrease needless costs for all parties.

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