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The importance of effective eDiscovery keywords

 eDiscovery keywords

CYFOR eDiscovery Manager Danielle Neil suggests how lawyers can make their eDiscovery keywords search strategy a more effective process.

The sheer volume of electronically stored information (ESI) within an eDiscovery matter can be overwhelming. It is critical that essential steps are taken to reduce this volume of data by identifying an effective set of keywords from the offset.

Reviewing every item of electronic data is impractical. In order for lawyers to identify the most relevant data to analyse for their matter, the document set needs to be reduced to a manageable amount. Keyword searching enables the quick sifting through of 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.

Productive keyword searches

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.

Considerations when compiling an eDiscovery keywords 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 amount 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 a company’s name when you are examining the organisations computer. As a default, many items will typically contain owner’s names, therefore producing a high volume of false positives. Instead consider combining the word with another keyword by utilising the Boolean function.
  • Searching relevant phrases rather than individual key words makes your search stronger and will reduce the volume of irrelevant items to review.
  • 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.
  • Use built in search functionality allowing you to carry out complex searches. The use of Boolean syntax (AND/OR/NOT) allows you to combine multiple keywords or exclude keywords i.e. Dave AND electronic, Bobby AND NOT football.
  • If you think there may be a possibility of misspelt words or want to look for grammatical variations of a words, then features such as wildcards and stemming can be utilised. If you know the word electric may be used in a number of different ways (i.e. electric, electrical, electricity) then a search can be conducted like this: electric*.

How CYFOR can assist with your eDiscovery keywords strategy

Legal teams working within the eDiscovery process can become overburdened by the heavy reliance on keyword searches within a compressed timeframe. Mainly that fact that if the keywords set out are of poor quality, it can cause a large number of false hits and unnecessary review time, or miss out extremely important documents to the case.

CYFOR’s in-house eDiscovery professionals deliver knowledge rather than data, and foresight instead of hindsight. CYFOR can demonstrate how keyword searches 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.

It is extremely useful to discuss with our eDiscovery team your objectives of the document review and your thoughts on the main scope of the matter. We can then advise you on the best ways to search for this data and what (if any) advanced features may suit your requirements.

Fortunately for the legal teams we work with, CYFOR is dedicated to the legal community and to helping lawyers with the many day-to-day challenges they face. Given our experience in developing keyword strategies, we can work with legal teams to advise and assist in producing a strong set of keyword searches that are likely to achieve the best results.

For more information on how CYFOR can assist with eDiscovery keywords and strategy, please contact our team on 0161 797 8123 or email

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