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Discovery litigation support is the assistance provided by outside consultants to lawyers handling document productions in civil cases. It includes the types of supports traditionally provided for hard copy documents and the newer support systems developed for discovery of computerized correspondence and records, known as electronic discovery (e-discovery). Litigation support consultants provide both manpower and software systems to help lawyers and law firms manage discovery.
The discovery process in civil cases can be overwhelming. A party has a right to request documents from the other side, but will rarely know in advance the exact documents needed to make a case. Discovery requests often seek broad categories of documents in the hope that a meticulous review will find relevant material buried somewhere in the production. In large civil cases and class action suits, thousands of boxes of documents are often offered in response to discovery requests. It doesn't benefit the responding party to scale back the production because the more documents produced, the harder it is to find usable evidence.
Consultants provide discovery litigation support to lawyers and law firms so they do not have to increase infrastructure to manage any particular case. These consultants offer either support for one aspect of production or for the entire production process. The most common distinction amongst consulting firms is between those that provide support for traditional paper document productions and those that handle e-discovery.
Discovery litigation support for traditional document productions includes document collection, scanning, coding, conversion, and optical character recognition. The result of the work on the paper documents is to create an electronic database that has an exact image of the document and a version of the document converted into searchable text. The consulting firm might then provide manpower to help review and organize the documents into evidence appropriate for trial.
Consulting firms that specialize in electronically stored information (ESI) have become an official part of the discovery litigation support landscape since the courts changed the evidence rules to recognize the importance of communications by email and through social networks and micro-blogging. These firms tend to focus on ESI processing. Many have designed proprietary software systems that purport to collect organize and review ESI, obviating the need for the lawyers to understand all of the particulars behind authenticating a chain of electronic correspondence.
Both traditional and ESI discovery litigation support specialists serve important functions in the progress of civil suits. By having the initial organization and review of the documents conducted by people with lower hourly rates than the lawyers assigned to the case keeps the overall costs down. Specialty processing of the documents into an accessible electronic format also enables the lawyers to find information to support the case on an as needed basis and to go back to documents easily, even if the initial reviewer was unaware of the importance of a document when it was initially processed.