Early Case Assessment | 6 Best Practices to Help Your Law Firm Efficiently Perform ECA


When a case first comes across your law firm’s proverbial desk, you must quickly determine what direction it is likely to go in and how you should handle it. That way, you can give your client the best strategic advice possible. In other words, you need to perform early case assessment (ECA).

When done well, ECA is like a crystal ball that gives you a sneak peek into the future life of a case, allowing you to glean all the insight you need to formulate an effective strategy and efficiently handle the matter to its correct conclusion.

In this post, we’ll discuss the basics of early case assessment (ECA) as well as early data assessment (EDA), an essential component of ECA. We’ll then share six best practices your law firm can adopt to handle ECA more efficiently and effectively.


The Basics of Early Case Assessment
     What is Early Case Assessment?
     How Early Data Assessment informs Early Case Assessment
     The common challenges of Early Case Assessment
     The key benefits of Early Case Assessment
Comparing and contrasting traditional and in-place approaches to Early Case Assessment
How your law firm can benefit from handling in-place Early Case Assessment internally
6 best practices for efficient Early Case Assessment
Technology can revolutionize the way your law firm performs Early Case Assessment

The Basics of Early Case Assessment

Before we dive into specifics about how best to handle ECA, let’s take a step back to define ECA and EDA and discuss how the two relate.

What is Early Case Assessment?

Early Case Assessment (ECA) is the process of locating and evaluating relevant information at the outset of a legal matter so that you can:

  • determine potential legal liability,
  • calculate risk,
  • project the costs associated with a matter,
  • weigh the viability of different approaches, and
  • develop an overall strategy for each stage of litigation.

ECA typically involves interviewing custodians, collecting and evaluating data, performing data analytics, and generating reports.

How Early Data Assessment informs Early Case Assessment

Early Case Assessment (ECA) is the entire process of determining whether you can win a case and what course of action you should take to achieve your desired outcome. Early Data Assessment (EDA), on the other hand, is specifically about data and how potentially relevant information is gathered and evaluated. Effective EDA typically requires the use of eDiscovery technology to narrow the amount of data you must evaluate, especially when dealing with a high volume of electronically stored information (ESI).

EDA is therefore a critical component of ECA because it gives you the information you need to gain a big-picture perspective on a case. You need EDA to complete ECA and decide whether your client should consider proceeding with litigation or pursue an early settlement.

The common challenges of Early Case Assessment

Early Case Assessment sounds like a fairly straightforward process, but because it necessarily involves locating, accessing, and evaluating data through EDA, it can be cumbersome, tedious, and time-intensive. The sheer volume of data and the complexity of locating that data, especially when it is stored across multiple data sources, can quickly bog down the ECA process.

ECA also involves unavoidable time pressure. Time is of the essence when advising a client about whether to litigate a matter or reach a quick settlement; the longer your client waits to settle, the more they’re likely to pay in eDiscovery costs, attorney fees, and ultimate settlement funds.

The key benefits of Early Case Assessment

Early Case Assessment offers several critical benefits. It allows lawyers and clients to weigh different approaches to a case and consider the likelihood of success under various parameters. It also helps lawyers and clients develop an optimal litigation strategy. Because ECA helps clients avoid unnecessary litigation, it saves them substantial time, money, and stress. Finally, because you can gain rapid insights into a case through effective ECA, you can avoid the unnecessary over-collection of data during eDiscovery, which further avoids unnecessary spend for cost-conscious clients.

ECA reveals the likelihood that your client will prevail in a case, and gives insight into how the most favorable result can be achieved. And because ECA may lead to early settlement, it can save your client a significant amount of time and litigation costs.

Now that we’ve covered the basics of ECA, let’s talk about the different approaches to ECA and how the process has changed as in-place ECA solutions have largely replaced the more traditional approach of collecting data prior to further processing and analysis.

Comparing and contrasting traditional and in-place approaches to Early Case Assessment

Traditionally, Early Case Assessment necessitated collecting all potentially relevant data at the outset of a case, processing it, and reviewing it for relevance. This approach required law firms to dive right into the collection phase of eDiscovery immediately and analyze a high volume of data, including potentially irrelevant data such as duplicate documents and system files.

The in-place approach to Early Case Assessment, by contrast, involves evaluating only potentially relevant data, and it focuses on assessing data in place, where it lives, without first engaging in data collection. This approach allows your law firm to analyze a narrower, more targeted scope of data with a higher potential for relevance and avoids the cost of data collection and storage.

In-place ECA is faster, more efficient, and less costly than the traditional approach—but let’s look at a few other ways the in-place approach can benefit your law firm.

How your law firm can benefit from handling in-place Early Case Assessment internally

There are several key benefits that a law firm can gain by handling Early Case Assessment internally using an in-place approach to data. By performing in-place ECA yourself, your law firm can:

  • gain a competitive edge over other law firms that are ill-equipped to perform efficient ECA;
  • save your client time and effort by making your law firm a one-stop-shop for all of their eDiscovery needs;
  • build trust with your client early on in the case;
  • win more business because clients will turn to you sooner; and
  • gain important insights about the case that you can put to use during the remaining phases of eDiscovery as well as settlement negotiations and other stages of litigation.

Sound good? Let’s turn next to how you can reap these benefits and make your law firm’s ECA process more efficient.

6 Best Practices for Efficient Early Case Assessment

Here are six key best practices that your law firm can implement to perform more efficient and successful Early Case Assessment.

  • Ensure effective data preservation

The quality of ECA turns on the quality of the data you evaluate—and you won’t have access to relevant data if you don’t ensure that it’s preserved. After all, if a bad actor has a chance to damage, modify, or delete data, how can you analyze it? To ensure a smooth and comprehensive ECA process, you must first ensure that your client employs sound preservation procedures, starting with an effective legal hold process.

  • Craft a sound data-culling strategy

While you want to preserve all potentially relevant data, you don’t want to waste your time or effort—or your client’s money—on duplicate documents, system files, and other irrelevant data. That’s why your law firm should craft a defensible data-culling strategy to filter out extraneous and worthless data. This ensures that you’ll only be evaluating potentially relevant and helpful information during ECA.

  • Leverage information technology resources

You know the phrase: keep your client close and their information technology (IT) department closer. IT departments can be incredibly helpful when it comes to ECA, primarily because they can provide your law firm with invaluable information about where data lives and whether it is readily accessible. By getting in touch with the client’s IT resources early in the process, you can develop a workable plan and establish rapport so it will be easier to reach out to them if questions or complications arise.

  • Take a phased approach to EDA

One of the key benefits of in-place ECA is that you can avoid analyzing an excessive amount of data. By taking a phased approach to EDA, you can focus on the most relevant documents available at the very outset of your process. This evidence can then help you focus your efforts during future phases of EDA as well as later phases of eDiscovery.

  • Collaborate with opposing counsel

Once you’ve gained an overall sense of the data you have analyzed through ECA, it can be helpful to confer with opposing counsel. During this meeting, you can discuss what evidence you do and do not have and discuss any potential eDiscovery issues that may arise later. An early conferral like this can engender further cooperation, convince the assigned judge of your good faith, and give you insight as to areas where compromise may be possible.

  • Use in-place search technology

Comprehensive EDA technology is essential to efficient ECA. For example, Live Early Data Assessment (Live EDA) is a leading, proven solution for navigating and evaluating data as part of ECA. Live EDA is the go-to in-place search solution, especially for law firms whose clients store data across multiple repositories.

Live EDA allows you to perform in-place searches across numerous data sources from a single interface. Live EDA then compiles the information it has gathered into a content index that gives you the who, what, when, where, and why of potentially relevant data.

Live EDA also helps your legal team perform in-place review and analysis of that data so that you can identify relevant documents and avoid wasteful over-collection. During this process, you can modify the scope of your inquiry to add new custodians or data sources at any point without having to start over at square one.

Technology can revolutionize the way your law firm performs Early Case Assessment

In-place search technology is a fast and effective way to optimize Early Case Assessment workflows. By using a solution like Live EDA, your law firm can perform Early Data Assessment more efficiently than ever, breathing new life into the broader ECA process and helping you achieve even greater results for your clients—at a lower cost, and with less associated stress.

To learn more about Live EDA and other tools you can use to improve the way your law firm handles ECA, contact IPRO today.

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