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Features - Working With Electronic Evidence with Summation

By Chris Santella, Published on September 15, 2002

Chris Santella is a freelance writer and principal of Steelhead Communications, a small marketing firm based in Portland, Oregon. His stories have appeared in the New York Times, New Yorker Travel & Leisure, Golf, American Lawyer, National Law Journal, Yale Anglers’ Journal and Northwest Fly Fishing, among other publications. Before forming Steelhead, he worked in senior marketing positions in technology companies serving the legal profession.


Traditional 'paper' documents have been sought in the legal discovery process for hundreds of years. Yet an attorney fifty years ago – or five years ago, for that matter-- would have been perplexed as to how to introduce the emails around Merrill Lynch into evidence.

A by-product of our automated society is that many modern documents are not typed or handwritten. Instead, they are created using personal computers with word processing applications or E-mail programs. Most professionals rely upon personal computers to maintain journals and to create their written communications…and most computer users have become prolific writers thanks to the convenience that computers provide.

The result: more documentary evidence exists today than ever before, yet it only exists in electronically stored formats, and is read on a computer screen.

And those involved in litigation need a way to deal with it!

The latest generation of litigation support products from SummationVersion 2 of Summation Blaze® LG -- include new tools for working with electronic evidence. I’ll explain those tools in a moment. However, it might first be useful to explain how non-electronic evidence – which is to say, old-fashioned paper documents – are stored and searched in Summation.

Database Records, Image Files, and OCRed Text

In the Summation environment, traditional documentary evidence resides in two places on the hard drive or server – as a record in the document database, and as a TIFF image. The document database is a collection of summaries or abstracts of important documents pertaining to a given case. Each summary record corresponds to a single document, and contains a number of fields for objective information (Bates numbers, Document Date & Type, Authors, Names Mentioned, etc.) and subjective information (Issues, Summaries, Comments, “Hot” designations, and so on). Once a document database is constructed, the user can full-text search the entire database, or perform field-specific searches (e.g., search the NAME field of all records for records containing the word “Jones”.) Once a database is created, it can quickly be disseminated to all the parties involved in the case, and can easily be updated as new evidence comes into play.

You don’t need an advanced degree in computer science to create a litigation support database. Electronic coding forms can easily be created to match the profile of your case, thus streamlining data entry; or, your team can use the default forms most programs provide. Fields can be quickly added and named. Assigning issues to key database records (for later searching and digesting purposes) is facilitated by lookup tables, which you should set up at the beginning of the case. It’s worth noting that more sophisticated programs use the same set of issues across an entire case to insure consistency in your coding/searching; that is, the issues for your document database records are the same as the issues for your transcript notes.

The database of documents associated with a case can be searched and categorized with ease. Simple full-text searches across the body of the database can be performed on the full text of the database or on specific fields (“author”, for example) by entering search terms into a box, much as you’d search the web. You have the option of sorting search results by the dates or issues you’ve assigned to each database record – a powerful tool for creating a case chronology or outline. Full Boolean searches (like the “and”/”or”searches that can be done with Westlaw or Lexis) can also be conducted (Example: you can search your entire database for document summaries containing the term ‘asbestos’ and the issue ‘health damages’.)


This screen shows integrated search results in Summation. The left side shows an outline of search result hits. The right side shows excerpts from the database record for two electronic documents in the database. The small “e” above each excerpt indicates that this record relates to an eDoc.


Document images are the second part of the equation in Summation. A document image is an electronically stored photograph of a page –a cyber-photocopy, if you will. Typed reports, handwritten notes, schematics, photographs – any document that can be photocopied can also be saved as a document image, using a piece of hardware called a scanner. As mentioned earlier, Summation utilizes the TIFF IV Image file format.

Here, a new document image has been loaded into Summation. It can be edited, OCRed, and otherwise manipulated.


TIFF files for each document (a document may be one page or many pages; you can decide how you wish to segment them) are linked to corresponding document summaries in the litigation database. It should be pointed out that the Summation search engine does not search the TIFF files for key words – instead, it searches the summaries that have been created for each document that’s been imaged. Once a record of interest has been located in the database, you can toggle to view the document itself on screen. Once on screen, the image can be enlarged, rotated, redacted, assigned a Bates Stamp #, printed, and otherwise manipulated. With a trial presentation program (like inData’s TrialDirector, for example), images can be projected on screen to a jury and marked with circles, notes, and other annotations.

There is a third state in which scanned documents can exist within Summation – that is as OCR text. OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software turns pictures of words (the scanned document image) into searchable full text, with varying levels of conversion accuracy, depending on the OCR engine being used. Once a document has undergone OCR conversion, text can be searched for key terms (rather than reviewing the whole document on screen), with relevant passages dragged and dropped into the associated document summary. OCRing documents can provide a potentially less labor-intensive means of coding and assessing evidentiary documents.

Going Electronic

As mentioned earlier, electronic evidence will proliferate in coming years. This is not necessarily a bad thing. “Providing a means for reviewing discovery in its native electronic format makes great sense,” said Scott Stevens, business development manager with the electronic evidence discovery firm New Technologies Inc. “Too often, firms begin reviewing electronic evidence AFTER they’ve reviewed hard-copy documents – hard-copy documents that they’ve scanned and loaded into a database. We’ve been encouraging our clients to review available electronic evidence BEFORE reviewing and imaging hard copy documents, as reviewing this evidence that’s already in electronic format could very well give the litigation team great insights into themes for the case much faster, thus allowing them to establish a case strategy…and be more selective in deciding what documents should be imaged. Also, reviewing evidence for discovery in native digital format let you view more data – that is, meta data and file properties, which are both not available AND altered when a document is printed.”

Version 2 of the Summation Blaze LG family of products provides several tools for working with electronic documents. Summation’s Case Explorer interface now includes an “eDocs and eMail” folder, which serves as a repository for electronic documents (defined as any Windows compatible file in its native format), eMail (from either Outlook or Lotus Notes), and eMail attachments (again, any Windows compatible file). When you load an electronic document into a case, a document database record (an electronic form for fielded information) is automatically created for each document. Fields in the “e-form” store information regarding your eDocs such as the document title, date created, and document type. eDocs can be viewed as plain text or in their original format using the program in which they were created (Microsoft Word, for example) -- as long as the necessary program is installed on your system. eDocs are searchable from the Case Explorer discretely – that is, you can search just eDocs -- or they can be searched along with other evidentiary information, such as documents that originated in hard copy (explained above), deposition transcripts, and transcript notes. Icons in the search results screen identify the origin of the search results hit – if a hit is an eDoc, for example, the eDoc icon will appear by the evidence excerpt.

Summation supports the following electronic document formats: Word (.DOC and all variations); Excel (.XLS and all variations); Adobe Acrobat (.PDF); HTML (.HTM, .HTML); XML (.XML); WordPerfect (WP, WPD) version 9; and Standard Text Files (.TXT)

Here, a PDF file has been loaded into Summation iBlaze™ as an eDoc, and is viewed in its native format.

 


(It should be noted that the ability to search eDocs along with other forms of evidence – and the ability to display eDoc search results with excerpts from the eDoc database record – are an extension of core Summation functionality. The logic driving Summation’s “integrated” structure is that litigation team members need to be able to search all evidence simultaneously to identify telling evidentiary combinations. By allowing excerpts of database records or transcripts to be viewed in search results, Summation permits the user to evaluate the value of a given “hit” before clicking through to electronic file, document, or transcript in its entirety.)

Getting Electronic Files Into Summation

Summation's Document Attachments feature gives you the opportunity to associate one or more electronic document files with a Core Database record and then display those attachments in their associated applications. In a field designated as an attachment field, you can enter the Image ID(s) for an imaged document in the Core Database, the filename of a document including its full path, or an Internet address.

An attachment field is a multi-entry data type, so you can reference multiple files, including both the image of a document and the electronic version of the same document. You may also use this feature to list the attachments associated with the document being summarized in the database record. For example, a database record relates to and summarizes a contract. The attachment field lists the document filenames or Image IDs, depending upon the result you desire, for the exhibits associated with the contract.

Summation has also made it easy to load email and attachments into the “eDocs and eMail” folder for searching and retrieval, using the E-Loader Lite utility. You can see how many attachments are associated with an e-mail and zoom into the documents themselves or the record in the document database associated with the attachments.

Using Summation With PDF Files

A few months back, a detailed and well-written piece on how litigators can make use of PDF files appeared on LLRX.com (Adobe Acrobat for Lawyers, by Ernest Svenson, 6/17/02). PDF files are indeed extremely flexible. With Version 2 of Summation Blaze LG Gold and Summation iBlaze (Summation’s top-of-the-line products), you can make good use of documents in PDF format.

For example, PDF files can be loaded as an image (using the Document Attachment feature described above), allowing you to mark up the PDF document using Summation’s various mark-up tools (redaction, Bates-stamping, etc.) Or, a PDF file can be loaded into Summation as an eDoc. When this is done, metadata from the PDF file is indexed in Summation, allowing you to determine who might have worked on it, when it was created – and who authored it.