Legal cases resolve disputes between parties in a court of law. Because individuals and businesses interact with each other online through smartphones, computers, and online devices, electronic discovery, or “e-discovery”, has become a critical part of the discovery process in legal cases.
E-discovery is the process of identifying, recovering, searching, organizing, and analyzing data stored on electronic devices and digital storage systems, for the purpose of being used in legal cases in court.
Most of our daily lives are lived online, and communication has moved primarily to email, smartphone messages, social media, and other electronic communication. This produces a digital footprint of communication which attorneys and paralegals must uncover in many legal cases. This highly relevant electronically stored information (ESI) is quickly replacing traditional paper documents as evidence in litigation.
As paralegals are often tasked with collecting and organizing information during the client discovery process, they must also be able to properly manage e-discovery as part of their regular duties and responsibilities.
As a paralegal in a rapidly changing landscape, e-discovery is a crucial skill that will make you valuable to any law office or government agency.
What is Electronically Stored Information?
ESI can be any digitally stored records or data, including emails, cell phone data, video recordings, GPS records, information in databases, social media posts and information, digital audio, or any other digital records created by an individual or party. ESI, in a legal sense, is digitally stored information that is retrieved for production in the discovery process during litigation.
E-Discovery in Litigation
In litigation, both sides of a legal dispute must have access to the evidence that will be produced during the hearings. One thing a legal team must do during a case is determine which records and documents are worth introducing into evidence.
The process of selecting which electronically stored information will be used in court are:
Here are some of the primary challenges you might face as a paralegal doing e-discovery on a regular basis.
Adapting to Digital Transformation
Some lawyers remember a time when all records were captured on paper. Today, most transactions, interactions, and records are stored and transmitted digitally. Savvy law firms are used to uncovering electronically stored evidence.
Familiarity with Digital Gatekeepers
Paralegals require access to case materials that are stored digitally. By identifying key people in the organization who control access to ESI, the paralegal can collect, search, and organize crucial information for use in a case. The legal team may need to gain access from an IT department or technology manager to properly collect data for use in discovery.
Protecting Confidential Information
Some information stored in electronic records or databases may be sensitive data, private contact information, fall under intellectual property protection, are subject to a constitutional right to privacy, or fall within a category of privileges that prohibit such information from being disclosed. Care must be taken to ensure that only required data is produced during the discovery process.
During e-discovery, more information may be given to the paralegal at the last minute by a supervising attorney. When information, documents, and records are being collected and processed quickly, it takes elite organizational skills to review and organize this data properly.
Managing ESI Using Software
Right now, there multiple software products that help manage ESI during the e-discovery process. Attorneys may not be aware of these options. Or your legal office may be extremely savvy, and have a preferred software suite that helps collect, organize, validate, and review electronic data before the production stage. Get familiar with the different types of software that help paralegals and lawyers manage electronic records and documents.
Corrupt or Missing Data
Another challenge you may face is resolving issues with incomplete data, such as corrupted files or missing metadata. Working with the IT department for the client organization may be a necessity in some cases. Files must also be tested to make sure they are virus-free before producing them.
As you can see, being a paralegal is not mutually exclusive from working with technology. If becoming a paralegal sounds like a career you’d like to pursue, read onward.
Take the First Step to Becoming a California Paralegal
MTI College offers two programs for students to become certified paralegals in California.
The A.A. Online Paralegal Studies program at MTI College is open to students residing in California who have already completed 54 quarter units (36 semester units) in general studies and business from an accredited institution and have an Associate’s degree or higher. This fully online program will let you fast track your education to becoming a paralegal in California. For more details, or to talk directly to our friendly Admissions department, call (916) 339-1500 or fill our contact form today. A representative from MTI College will be in contact with you shortly afterwards.
Even if you are not eligible for our fully online Paralegal Studies program, and if you are in the Sacramento area, you can become a paralegal with our OnlinePlus Paralegal Studies program . This American Bar Association-approved Paralegal Studies program allows students to do most of their coursework online, with minimal in-classroom days required.