A new legal document review project may seem daunting. At first glance, you may only see voluminous ESI (electronically stored information), many custodians from which data must be collected, not to mention the challenge of making sense of how that data supports the multiple factual and legal issues in the case.
So where should you start? The first step is prioritizing what should be reviewed (and what should not). That is where keyword searching comes in. Using search terms is a fundamental tool to reduce the volume of ESI to a manageable amount for the review. Keywords can not only be used to find documents relating to a legal dispute but, should also be used to figure out what is not relevant to the project.
Even those new to electronic discovery are probably familiar with keyword searches. Using Boolean search terms for legal research has long been a staple of the law school curriculum. Keyword searching is a tried and true e-discovery tool to help pinpoint documents relevant to a legal project.
One of the first steps in the document review process is creating a keyword list. A list of search queries and key phrases based on the main issues presented by the legal matter. The initial keyword search term list is just a starting point and should be revised and edited as you learn more about the project from the review.
While using search terms is a good way to proactively identify ESI related to a legal project, exclusionary search terms may be used to identify search hits that are non-responsive to the review. Examples of good exclusion terms could be names of people, products, or customers not involved in the legal dispute, irrelevant document forms, and domains that are not responsive like travel alerts, or email newsletters.
Using exclusion terms is a helpful tool used to isolate both relevant and irrelevant documents. Exclusion term lists may vary in size based on how broad or narrow a review project’s dataset is.
Once you have a list of possible exclusion terms it is important to test them. To do so we recommend reviewing a sample of the exclusion term search results to confirm documents are in fact not relevant to the document review. It is important to test your exclusion and search terms to make sure they are not overbroad.
Using proximity searches as well as conjunctive combinations can help narrow a search that is yielding too many non-responsive results or false responsive hits. For instance, if you need to find documents relating to Contract A, but not Contract B, you would search for (Contract B AND NOT Contract A.) That way, if a document contains both a reference to both Contract A and B, it will still make it into your review.
This practice helps prioritize responsive documents and avoid costly “eyes on” manual review of non-responsive documents. After running preliminary test searches and making some tweaks you should have a very useful exclusion search term list.
Work on an exclusion term list is never over. For the managed review projects we handle at Percipient, we use a few helpful tools to continuously work exclusionary search terms into our process. With the help of the collaboration tool Slack, our review team is in constant communication about document review projects. We use Slack to post and answer questions about the review and reviewers continuously post about new issues they are seeing and ideas they discover to increase review efficiency (like new exclusion terms ideas for the case). As the ideas come in, we keep a running list of exclusion terms that is continually updated.