Another aspect of “processing” electronic discovery is our love/hate relationship with “embedded objects”. Okay, it really is more of a hate relationship. This is another example of technology getting in the way of practicing law.
Here is the reality:
The lawyer collects their client's electronic documents so they can review them, before producing a subset of the documents to opposing counsel.
The lawyer is told that the best way to review the electronic documents is to have them “processed” and put into a database.
The lawyer expects to get back something that resembles the electronic documents exactly.
The lawyer finds out what “processing” really means in the world of electronic discovery.
The lawyer learns what email families are.
The lawyer learns what “embedded objects” are.
One thing that “processing” means is that “extra documents” will be added to the database. The “extra documents” are the result of “embedded objects”. These “extra documents” can be misunderstood by lawyers who don't understand the technical aspects of “processing” electronic discovery.
Keep in mind that the lawyer's goal is to practice law on behalf of their client. The lawyer simply needs to review the documents and make decisions. The lawyer does not appreciate having to deal with “extra documents” and “best practices regarding email families.”
First, when the software “processes” electronic documents, it will separate each and every object as a separate item. For example, let's say you have an email with two attachments. The end result will be treated as three objects (documents). This usually makes common sense and it is easy enough to explain to the lawyer. Each object will get it own database record. The lawyer will click the next button in the database software to see each of the three documents (records/objects).
Now, another example of an object is one that is embedded within a document.
Here are some easy to understand examples:
- When the author inserts any graphic file inside a Word document.
- When the author adds a logo to their email signature in an Outlook email.
- When the author adds a portion of an Excel spreadsheet to a PowerPoint slide.
- When the author adds an HTML link (URL) in an Outlook email.
Guess what! Each of these “embedded objects” becomes a separate object and eventually a separate database record.
NOTE: If a partial Excel spreadsheet is embedded inside a PowerPoint file, the resulting “embedded object” can sometimes be the entire Excel workbook instead of just the spreadsheet snippet that was inserted in to a PowerPoint slide.
You can now imagine how these embedded objects can get in the way of practicing law. Remember, the lawyer simply wants to review the documents they collected from their client. They did not intend to have to review (deal with) “embedded objects” too.
Unfortunately, the decisions made with regard to how the “embedded objects” should be considered for production purposes, is totally subjective and each legal team decides how they want to handle them. In litigation support, we have some best practices, but in the end, it is the lawyer's call to make.