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Data Collection in eDiscovery: Are Field Collections a Thing of the Past?

March 14, 2024
eDiscovery data collection practice

Digital transformation (DX) is a core pillar of successful businesses today. Corporations continue to invest in technology to improve their productivity, enable secure remote data access, and provide a seamless online experience for customers and users. As a by-product DX has also dramatically changed how eDiscovery data collection is conducted. The once exclusively manual data collection in eDiscovery has increasingly given way to remote collection.

Traditional Field Collection in eDiscovery

Traditionally, companies involved in lawsuits or investigations have hired eDiscovery providers to collect electronically stored information (ESI) that may be relevant to the case. The digital data was often only available on an individual custodian’s computer(s) or on premise network servers.

Manual ESI collection was time-consuming and costly. A skilled professional had to perform the collection to properly preserve the metadata and establish a chain of custody that met evidence admissibility standards.

A consultant would travel to the company network locations and custodians to extract the needed data from their laptop, desktop, or mobile phone. You’d often see a parade of people entering and exiting a conference room where the consultant was trapped for hours, performing the collections. Of course, sometimes you got lucky and the consultant could collect email data from a company’s central email server.

Manual ESI collection methods also involve expensive fees for the skilled forensic experts who conduct the collections. On top of that, the travel expenses add up, especially with multiple (global) company sites to visit.

The other negative of manual data collection in eDiscovery is that it takes time. If you have a sensitive case that you want to settle quickly, you will be frustrated with the weeks of travel time collecting ESI manually.

The Shift to the Cloud and Remote Work

Digital transformation has shifted much of our corporate data to the Cloud. Using cloud-based software, productivity and collaboration Apps like Slack and MS Teams at work means data is now centralized on Cloud servers. The same applies to mobile phone data, including SMS data – stored on the carrier’s central repositories.

This means that the bulk of corporate legal case data is no longer restricted to individual employee devices, requiring you to hire an expert for manual eDiscovery data collection. Cloud data storage and secure access technologies have opened the door to more efficient, cost-effective eDiscovery collections.

The explosion of remote workers has also played a role in the decline of field collection in eDiscovery. Today, when employees work from a home office or travel office, their work is typically saved to a Cloud server or Virtual Machine. So, manual data extraction from their devices is no longer necessary.

Summary – Cloud is effectively escorting manual collection methods out the door

  • Now that businesses store the bulk of their data in a centralized location or Cloud, law departments can reduce collection time and costs. Emerging technology allows you to collect data from the Cloud using secure channels or APIs. The technology ensures the metadata remains intact and maintains the chain of custody.
  • For example, businesses using “Microsoft 365 as a Software as a Service (SaaS) offering in the Microsoft cloud” have one central place to collect custodians’ emails digitally. All the documents, Slack notes, and Teams data are readily available in the Cloud for any eDiscovery collection. Similarly, businesses that use Gmail and Google Docs will have access to custodian data via Google Accounts.
  • Employees may also use various communication Apps to store data in the Cloud. The shift to the Cloud is effectively escorting manual collection methods out the door.

Hold on… manual collections are not completely gone yet!

Finally, don’t overlook instances where you may still need to use manual data collection in eDiscovery. For example,

  1. All the legacy computers and legacy servers may not be connected to the central data repositories, and these will need to be manually catalogued.
  2. There may be a damaged custodian laptop containing important case data. Here, you could hire a forensic expert to try to recover data or fragments from the hard drive or elsewhere on the computer network.
  3. Also, you could bump into a key custodian-employee who only works on an offline computer and isn’t tech-comfortable enough to do a Self-Collection using an imager kit. In this scenario, sending someone to do a field collection in eDiscovery can solve the problem.
  4. There are also scenarios where the volume of data is simply too large and the only way to transfer the data sensibly is by using portable physical drives. This can also help overcome any speed or data connectivity issues.

“A thing of the past, with occasional appearances”

With so many businesses moving their data to the Cloud, most of the potentially relevant legal data nowadays resides in a central, cloud or network location. This means eDiscovery teams can go to a single or a few central sources to collect the bulk of legal case data using remote technology. Still, it’s important to remember that there are situations where ESI data collection can only be done physically or in person on a custodian’s machine or network location. Whilst these cannot be ignored… for the vast majority of collections, however, manual ESI collection in eDiscovery is becoming a thing of the past – of course with occasional “flavor of the old school” appearances as needed!


Daniel Knight
Over the course of his 26 years career, Daniel has extensive experience in Project Management including People Management and Customer Relationship Management in the Data/Document Management environment. During his 8 years at Knovos, Daniel has obtained superior knowledge of all aspects of the Document Management spectrum. He consults and creates strategies for clients leveraging our data management applications to address their needs. His responsibilities include managing eDiscovery projects with direct communication with various Law Firms, Corporate Legal Departments, Financial Institutions, and Government Departments.