What Is ESI: A Definition and Why It’s Vital to Understand

  • Will Pfeifer
  • March 30, 2021

Electronic information is playing an increasingly important role in court proceedings. This trend will certainly continue in the coming years as more data gets created on electronic devices. 

Because this type of data is now so important, legal professionals need to have a clear understanding of how to manage, store, exchange, and protect electronically stored information (ESI) during cases. Failure to do so could result in penalties, sanctions, and suboptimal legal outcomes.  

This article provides an overview of ESI and offers tips on how to manage it effectively.  

What Is ESI?

First of all, let’s cover the basics. ESI is a broad term that describes data and documents stored on electronic media.  

For instance, ESI may include a variety of documents, including email, texts, audio, video, messages, mobile data, metadata, and data pulled from the Internet of Things (IoT) devices or corporate databases, to name just a few examples.  

Therefore, if you have digital information and it lives in a hardware or software system, it’s most likely ESI.  

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure: An Overview

The term ESI first appeared in the 2006 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs civil proceedings in U.S. district courts. The FRCP sets specific guidelines governing ESI that organizations must follow. 

The amendments went into effect on December 1, 2006. They introduced ESI as a new category of discoverable information. And they also acknowledged that electronically stored information is discoverable. It was at this point that discovery started being referred to as eDiscovery.

What’s more, the amendments spell out a set of rules guiding how legal teams should handle ESI in court cases. For example, the amendments require both sides of a case to meet early to develop a discovery protocol for ESI and control the scope of electronic discovery. The reasons for this “meet-and-confer” are to avoid conflicts down the line and reduce the burden and cost of analyzing the ESI.  

The FRCP ushered in a number of rule changes. In addition to requiring the disclosure of ESI in response to a court’s scheduling order, it also requires each party to include ESI in its initial disclosure. Also, it outlines the format for the production of ESI. 

How ESI Relates to eDiscovery

By now, you’re probably wondering how ESI relates to eDiscovery.  

When you’re using electronically stored information in a legal proceeding, it must go through a four-step eDiscovery process. So let’s look at each step one by one.  

1. ESI Collection and Processing

First, you identify the custodians of relevant data and ESI they have, preserve it, and secure it for future analysis. Then, during the ESI processing stage, the relevant data is placed into an eDiscovery platform where the data can be reviewed and analyzed. This is the preparation necessary to get all relevant information in order for analysis. 

2. Early Case Assessment 

The next step is an early case assessment (ECA). This enables litigation teams to quickly view and learn more about the data in question. The primary purpose of an ECA is to reduce the amount of data that requires inspection by a review team. That prevents analysis of documents outside the scope of the matter at hand and reduces litigation expenses.  

3. Analysis and Review

During this stage, review teams will inspect and compile smaller subsets of data, tagging items as relevant, not relevant, privileged, and with the legal issues pertinent to the case. Also, the core documents for developing the case strategy will begin to come into focus.  

4. Production

Finally, you’ll compile items to produce to the other side, leaving out the irrelevant and privileged information. This also forms the evidentiary basis for use during litigation.  

Responding to eDiscovery Requests

It’s important to remember that organizations have a limited time in which to complete preliminary ESI steps.  

Under the FRCP, organizations must be ready for litigation with discoverable ESI and respond to eDiscovery requests within 99 days after the date of filing. This must also occur within the 21-day period before a meet-and-confer session. Failure to stick to these guidelines could result in penalties. 

For these reasons, it’s vital to move quickly during the ESI process. The next section explains how.  =

Tips for Managing ESI

As you begin putting together a strategy for how your organization handles ESI, here are some tips to keep in mind to improve your results. 

1. Establish an ESI Collection Process 

Before you do anything else, take the time to outline clear procedures governing ESI collection. This helps you eliminate errors when extracting data from software and hardware systems to ensure maximum success.  

Once you have a collection framework in place, look to use it in all future cases to ensure consistency across your operations. This can prevent team members from going rogue and forming their own strategies. 

2. Leave ESI Up to Legal Professionals 

Law firms often have clients handle data collection and identification. However, this is risky because clients may omit critical information—intentionally or otherwise.  

As such, firms should take ownership of this process to avoid losing or omitting critical information that could influence a case. 

3. Avoid Sanctions

ESI mistakes can lead to costly sanctions in court. And these can result in hefty penalties and fines. For example, you might lose ESI because your team either didn’t properly preserve data or willfully omitted it from a case. These actions could potentially affect the outcome and result in costly sanctions and embarrassment. 

Legal teams, then, should take proper precautions to prevent ESI sanctions and avoid unnecessary complications in court.  

Using an eDiscovery Platform to Manage ESI 

The process of compiling, assessing, reviewing, and producing ESI for a court case can be immensely difficult due to the sheer volume of data at hand. This is an even bigger problem for large firms and corporations that have multiple cases happening simultaneously.  

For the best results, legal teams and eDiscovery service providers should use a robust platform that provides end-to-end eDiscovery services. It’s the easiest way to increase the chances you get the outcomes you’re aiming for in court. 

Next, let’s consider why this type of platform is worth setting up. 

Why Use an eDiscovery Platform?

Here are some of the benefits that come from using an eDiscovery platform.  

Benefit 1: Faster Data Processing

First of all, data processing is typically one of the most time-consuming parts of ESI management. In fact, depending on the amount of data in question, the process can take weeks or even months without the proper software.  

Using a robust ESI platform can expedite processing. You could potentially reach speeds of up to 10 terabytes per day. 

Benefit 2: Workflow Automation

Most legal teams don’t have the ability to individually sort through large piles of data during the review process. But by using an AI-powered eDiscovery platform, you can accelerate this process considerably. AI-powered review can automatically reduce case data by 90 percent. And this supports faster and more efficient discovery and analysis.  

Benefit 3: Secure Data Management

Next, let’s talk about security. Legal teams need to take great care to protect ESI while it’s in their custody. This is particularly important when you’re working on high-profile cases involving large volumes of sensitive data.  

With a fully managed, cloud-based eDiscovery platform with enterprise-grade security features in place, your firm can tighten control over sensitive data and reduce breaches.  

Benefit 4: Rapid Deployment

Not only is this type of platform secure, it’s also quick to set up. You can deploy a cloud-based eDiscovery platform instantly across a global organization. As a result, all your team members will have quick access to a unified and centralized solution. And this in turn can ensure platform uniformity across all teams. The results? More efficiency in data collection, collaboration, and sharing.  

Using Venio for ESI Management 

Venio makes it fast and easy to compile and analyze ESI over a fully managed, secure cloud platform.  

With Venio, you gain immediate insight into ESI and actionable dashboards that you can use to query data for strategic analysis and quality checks. Also, Venio lets you use AI-powered reviews, automate workflows, and upload and search for data over a browser-based portal.  

Add it all up, and Venio lets you take full command over ESI management, expediting eDiscovery and improving legal outcomes along the way. 

For more information on the easiest way to get control over your organization’s ESI to keep legal costs down and protect your organization, request a demo today

This post was written by Justin Reynolds. Justin is a freelance writer who enjoys telling stories about how technology, science, and creativity can help workers be more productive. In his spare time, he likes seeing or playing live music, hiking, and traveling.