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How lawyers can make their keyword search strategy a more effective process

keyword search strategy

How lawyers can make their eDisclosure keyword search strategy a more effective process.

The volume of Electronically Stored Information (ESI) can be enormous within an eDisclosure case; it is, therefore, essential that steps are taken to reduce this by using electronic keyword searches.

Reviewing every item of ESI is impractical and in order for lawyers to have the most relevant data to analyse and the least amount that is irrelevant, these items need to be reduced to a manageable amount. Keyword searching enables quick sifting through documents and e-mails, reducing large data sets down to only those items that contain the information that is important for the case.

However, despite the best intention of legal teams to create and use keywords, keyword searching is beset with challenges. The great majority of pure ‘search providers’ were never formed with eDisclosure in mind, but rather to provide a simple method for finding a single document or a few documents that match a given search term. This “data retrieval over document retrieval” methodology ignores the unique needs of the legal world – namely, returning all of the relevant documents and finding useful patterns within the evidence that the lawyer might have had no idea even existed.

Productive eDisclosure keyword search

With this in mind, a critical factor before carrying out this search is to create a keyword list that will produce a good, responsive result set. The importance of creating a productive keyword list determines how many items are returned that will require manual reviewing. An unsuccessful keyword search will return a large number of false positives that will be irrelevant to your case. A successful keyword search will reduce the costs to the clients as well as the overall time the job will take to review, in order to track down the relevant items within the case.

A number of factors should be considered when writing an eDisclosure keyword list:

  • Before creating a keyword list, a thorough understanding is required of what the case is about and exactly what is required from the search. Set out what you aim to achieve by working out what relevant documents you want the keywords to return.
  • Refrain from putting any keywords in your list which appear in an email signature. When the search is being carried out over email files, every email will be returned as a positive if it contains a word or phrase from the keyword list. This can include names, addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers etc.
  • Avoid any words relating to the computer system such as ‘Windows’, data, program, user etc. These types of words will return a large number of irrelevant hits relating to system files that you would not be interested in.
  • If you are investigating a certain custodian’s computer, using that custodian’s name as a keyword is going to bring back an extremely large amount of irrelevant data. Similarly, if you are searching for a company’s name when you are examining the organisation’s computer. As default a lot of items will typically contain the owner’s names, therefore producing a large number of false positives.
  • Searching relevant phrases rather than individual keywords make your search stronger and will reduce the number of irrelevant items to review.
  • Use built-in functionality, dependant to the tool, allowing you to carry out complex searches. For example, the use of Boolean syntax (AND/OR) to carry out searches such as any items containing “litigation AND eDisclosure”.
  • Choose keywords that you know will be used within the items you intend to find or are relevant to the case. If searching for the ‘smoking gun’ evidence, bear in mind that people committing fraud do not tend to use the word ‘fraud’ when talking about what they have carried out.
  • Try to avoid using keywords which may form part of a more commonly used word i.e. as, word, able. If these are required, ensure that the search you carry out is an exact word search.

How CYFOR can assist

Legal teams working within the eDisclosure process can become overburdened by the heavy reliance on keyword search within a compressed timeframe. At the same time, many search technology vendors have attempted to enter the eDisclosure market, quickly branding their technologies as solutions for the legal domain but with little understanding of the legal eDiscovery process. The effect has been to do little to help the modern legal team. As a specialist in eDisclosure rather than purely keyword search providers, CYFOR’s Litigation and eDisclosure Team delivers knowledge rather than data, and foresight instead of hindsight. CYFOR can also demonstrate how keyword search can be effective if the dataset collection is small, well understood and easy to access, as well as environments that are dynamic, big, and unknown.

Fortunately for the legal teams, we work with, CYFOR’s Litigation and eDisclosure Team is dedicated to the legal community and to helping lawyers grappling with the many day-to-day challenges they face. Given our experience in developing keyword strategy, legal teams are able to free themselves up from spending valuable time making decisions about the methods used to identify the documents, to make legal decisions based on those documents.

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