Tangled: Taking the Knots Out of E-Mail Threads and Near Duplicates

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01Jan2011

Tangled: Taking the Knots Out of E-Mail Threads and Near Duplicates

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By Ron Tienzo, Director of Catalyst Consulting

I was recently asked out on a daddy-daughter date by my three-year-old girl. Although I was the one paying (she has yet to find a job, I blame the recession), she got to pick the activity. For our date, we went out to the matinée showing of the Disney movie, Tangled. For those of you without young children, Tangled is the modern interpretation of the classic fairytale, Rapunzel.

At work the following Monday I was asked how to effectively untangle  e-mail threading and near duplicates. I immediately thought of the movie I just saw and realized that I have knots of my own – or, should I say, of my clients – to work through.

For example: Say you have an e-mail with an attachment, a real estate contract. This e-mail was sent to five recipients. Each of them then forwarded it to five others. In the collection, there exist multiple duplicates and near-duplicates of the attachment that were themselves sent in multiple different e-mails. These e-mails were also forwarded, modified and re-forwarded.

How can the review team be sure these documents are being reviewed efficiently and coded consistently? With multiple reviewers and a large document collection, the chain of duplicates and near-duplicates can easily lead to confusion and inconsistencies.

Consider another example: When company employees use a graphical logo in their e-mail signatures, that logo travels as an attachment. If I look for near-duplicates of such an e-mail, I can end up looping in easily half the e-mails from that site. Where do the near-dupes begin and end?

You see why I referenced Tangled? Instead of 70-feet of hair, I had what seemed like a mile of documents to straighten out. While threading and near-dupe technology is great for increasing review speed and maintaining consistent coding, it can quickly branch out into a big mess.

To solve my dilemma I needed to find a way to add structure to these content groupings. I thought back to my daughter and the movie and came up with a way to keep both her hair and my documents from getting out of control.

The Pig Tail Approach

To assist case teams that find themselves tangled up in their review, I created what I call “Pig Tail Batching.” Essentially, e-mail threads and loose files need to be treated as two separate reviews. Then, once review is done, you can let your hair down and brush out the few inevitable knots that may appear.

Email Threads

First batch the e-mail threads and attachments without including any near-duplicates. To maintain review efficiency and coding consistency, threads should be batched in their entirety to the same reviewer. This consistency is important as partially produced e-mail threads may open the door for a challenge that relevant documents are being willfully withheld.

Loose Files

Like e-mail threads, you will then want to batch loose files (non-e-mail/non-attachment files) in their respective near-duplicate groups. Again, you want the same reviewer looking at the entire group. This way, the reviewer can take advantage of comparison technology that highlights the differences between documents instead of having to read the entire near-duplicate record.

While there may be some loose files that are near or exact duplicates to attachments within the collection, it is important that these files remain in their own group. If not, the batches would quickly become unmanageable. In fact, it is quite possible that you would end up with one batch that consists of nearly your entire collection.

Quality Control

Once review has completed, you can then focus on reconciling the coding between related e-mails and loose files. Special care should be taken when looking at loose files that have a near-duplicate coded as privileged during the e-mail review.

This simple batching technique will help you make the most of threading and near-duplicate identification technology. With just a bit of structure, you can increase your review speeds and maintain consistent coding, all while keeping the tangles to a minimum. You may even get a chance to let your hair down once the day is done.

About the Author

Ron Tienzo, Catalyst Consulting

With a degree from Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver and extensive training in a range of legal software applications and programming languages, Ron provides litigation consulting to corporate law departments and law firms. Prior to joining Catalyst, Ron was the software specialist at a full-service Los Angeles law firm. There, he was the firm’s lead person on the use of technology in complex litigation matters. In addition, he was the firm’s principal adviser on all software matters and was responsible for software training for all professionals and staff.

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