Differentiating Between ECA and EDA–and How the “E” Has Evolved

Written by Doug Austin, Editor of eDiscovery Today

Many people in eDiscovery easily swap the terms Early Case Assessment (ECA) and Early Data Assessment (EDA) – and it’s a pet peeve for some of us, including me.

A typical post about this topic would focus on the differences between the “C” in ECA and the “D” in EDA. It’s important to understand those differences because ECA and EDA are different.

But perhaps even more important to understand is how the “E” has evolved over the years, because “early” is now earlier than ever.

If you’re conducting eDiscovery the old way, you may not be early enough.

Differentiating ECA and EDA

First, it’s important to differentiate Early Case Assessment and Early Data Assessment. There are differences, and the best place to start is to define the two terms. I could do it, but there’s a terrific resource that does it already – The Sedona Conference Glossary, eDiscovery & Digital Information Management, Fifth Edition, which has nearly 800 definitions and is available for download here (login required, which is free). Here is how The Sedona Conference Glossary defines these two terms:

  • Early Case Assessment (ECA): The process of assessing the merits of a case early in the litigation lifecycle to determine its viability. The process may or may not include the collection, analysis, and review of data.
  • Early Data Assessment (EDA): The process of separating possibly relevant electronically stored information from nonrelevant electronically stored information using both computer techniques, such as date filtering or advanced analytics, and human-assisted logical determinations at the beginning of a case. This process may be used to reduce the volume of data collected for processing and review.

While Sedona says that ECA may not include analysis of the data potentially responsive to the case, it almost always does, so EDA activities are typically a component of ECA.

But ECA also includes a lot of considerations that are not central to the data for the case – considerations like venue research, liability analysis, damage assessment, adversary investigation, and litigation budget forecasting. For several of those activities (such as liability analysis, damage assessment, and litigation budget forecasting), assessment of the data early will help accomplish those tasks, but it’s not the central focus of those tasks. Still, it’s difficult to accomplish ECA without early assessment of your data these days as most of the evidence is typically electronic data.

However, true EDA is typically conducted independent of ECA. Early analysis and assessment of the data to make downstream eDiscovery processes more efficient is mandatory in so many cases these days as data volumes have grown. True EDA typically needs to happen, regardless of whether the viability of the case has yet been decided.

How the “E” Has Evolved Over the Years

Of course, if I get an opportunity to throw in a quote from the legendary baseball player Yogi Berra to make a point, I will! He once said: “It gets late early out here”, referring to how the shadows moved over a section of the outfield. It’s one of his many sayings that can be both informative and amusing. You can even apply several of them to eDiscovery!

The quote “It gets late early out here” could also be used to illustrate how the “E” in EDA (as well as ECA) has evolved. “Early” used to indicate initial analysis of potentially responsive data after it was collected. You still had to go through the process of collecting the data and running it through at least an index process to begin to analyze that data and cull out clearly non-responsive data to be moved on to subsequent eDiscovery phases.

Today, that approach to EDA “gets late early”. With index-in-place technologies available today, EDA has moved earlier in the process. Collection is no longer necessary for EDA to occur. The “E” in EDA is earlier than ever, which also makes it possible for ECA to occur earlier as well.


Perhaps one of the best ways to look at ECA and EDA is to treat it as a Venn Diagram with two intersecting circles, where there is some overlap between ECA and EDA, but there are also some areas where they are different. It’s important to understand how they overlap, but also how they are different and don’t overlap.

Equally important is to understand best practices for conducting EDA today. Because EDA is conducted earlier than ever. Don’t let it get late early for you in your eDiscovery process!

For more educational topics from me related to eDiscovery, cybersecurity and data privacy, feel free to follow my blog, eDiscovery Today!

Learn more about Information Governance and eDiscovery tools from IPRO that assist in the EDA and ECA processes.