Putting the EARLY into Early Data Assessment

Written by Doug Austin, Editor of eDiscovery Today

The concept of Early Data Assessment (EDA) is like the 70’s tagline for Dr. Pepper – it’s often been misunderstood.

Many legal professionals have interchanged the term early data assessment with early case assessment, which is a completely different type of assessment. Early Case Assessment (ECA) actually refers to estimating risk (cost of time and money) to prosecute or defend a legal case, not to assess an organization’s data for the case, which is what EDA is.

Because so much of the time and cost of the case is tied up in the discovery of the associated data, people often use the terms interchangeably; but EDA is about developing an understanding of your data early in the discovery life cycle, not about assessing overall case risk.

Not only have people historically misunderstood what EDA is – today, they are misunderstanding when and where it occurs. We only thought the EDA of yesterday was early data assessment – but it’s nowhere near as early as it is today!

Changing the Paradigm of Early Data Assessment

The EDRM model has always represented the stages associated with electronic discovery, but the mechanics associated with those stages used to be different. When we used to identify electronically stored information (ESI) for discovery, it was typically by identifying the custodians that possessed potentially responsive ESI.

When we used to preserve ESI, we did so by collecting it, and that typically involved collecting the entire ESI corpus for potentially responsive custodians. Then (and only then) did you begin to assess your data from an EDA standpoint.

The left side of the EDRM model was the proverbial “shoot first, ask questions later” method of discovery. You needed to collect broadly, making sure you had everything that was possibly responsive to the case, then put it into a review platform and sort it out from there.

As data volumes grew, that approach become no longer viable. There was too much data to collect, and too much data to host to be able to conduct discovery proportionally, much less efficiently and cost-effectively.

Valuable time was lost in understanding what data you had related to the case because too much time was lost to collecting it, processing it, and loading it into a review platform. Early data assessment wasn’t conducted very early at all.

To make early data assessment truly early in the case, a paradigm shift was necessary. You couldn’t collect as broadly anymore. You needed to assess the data in place, where it lived.

That is truly early data assessment because it can be conducted early in the case – not after waiting to collect broadly from a group of custodians and load into a review platform. Not having to wait for collection and processing puts the EARLY into early data assessment.

Today, Early Data Assessment Means In-Place Assessment

Today, it has become possible to assess the data where it lives. M365 data? No problem. Google Suite? Of course!

OneDrive, SharePoint, Slack, and other cloud-based data sources can also be assessed without moving the data. Even on-prem file shares and systems can be accessible – and assessed – where the data lives.

Preservation for many of these data sources occurs in place, without requiring the data to be collected for it to be preserved.

Data collection is performed across the repositories, using parameters to identify data that’s much more likely to be responsive instead of collecting broadly at the custodian level.

And if you don’t collect enough? No problem, just go back and collect any additional data you may subsequently identify that you need.

The data is preserved in place, which means it can be assessed in place. The savings in time and cost is tremendous!


Early data assessment has been often misunderstood for what it is. Now, it’s misunderstood for when and where it occurs. But the EDA of today occurs where the data lies, putting the EARLY into early data assessment. Finally!

IPRO recently announced expanded capabilities for its eDiscovery Enterprise solution that include Live EDA.

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