eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Throwback Thursdays – How things evolved, part 3

So far in this blog series, we’ve taken a look at the ‘litigation support culture’ circa 1980, and we’ve covered how databases were built and used.  We’ve come a long way since then, and in the past couple of weeks we’ve discussed how things have evolved — we’ll continue that this week. First, though, If you missed the earlier posts in this series, they can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

In the past couple of weeks we’ve talked about the form in which document collections were stored and the evolution – first in paper form, then on microfilm, then microfiche, and then as digital images.  Database content has evolved too.  Early databases included coded information only.  In the mid 1980’s, litigation support professionals starting thinking about and talking about OCR (optical character recognition) technology, mostly because one of the main-stream litigation support vendors promoted the advantages of full-text databases.

The primary advantage was, of course, the availability of all words on a document for searching.  There was a price-tag though, because the starting point was still paper.  Text was captured in an OCR scanning process.  Like image technology, full-text took a while to catch on in our industry.  The biggest hurdle initially was a lack of confidence in the results – with good reason.  At the time, searching the internet wasn’t mainstream, so the average litigation team member wasn’t comfortable with employing a less-than-rigid search method.

In addition, search technology was less advanced than it is today, so there was a greater burden on the user to get a search right.  And, OCR technology wasn’t as advanced either, so there were a lot of errors in the scanning process – errors that affected search results. Over time, however, these things changed.  Average business people became more and more comfortable searching text (thanks in large part to Google); search technology advanced; and OCR technology advanced.

Eventually, including full-text in a database became the norm, and even started replacing coded information.  Another factor that contributed to the evolution of full-text was the cost to store data.  It used to be expensive.  I remember sitting in meetings where attorneys debated on things like using abbreviations and punctuation in databases because of the expense of storage – they looked for every way they could to cut down on the data that was stored.  As storage costs went down over the years, it became easier to justify including full-text in databases.

These changes — databases that included images and full-text, coupled with advanced search technology – made a huge change in how litigation databases were used.  Databases were no longer a ‘back-office’ tool – they were used directly by attorneys, and they provided attorneys with very, very fast access to their documents.  By the mid 1990’s litigation databases were not only main stream, but they were regularly portable.  Not only did attorneys have almost-immediate access to their documents – they had that access even when not in the office.

This brings us up to the 1990’s, at which point electronic discovery quickly emerged as the next big advancement.  I won’t cover the evolution of it in this series… CloudNine has documented that well here in its eDiscovery Daily Blog.

This post concludes the Throwback Thursday blog series. I hope you enjoyed this look back at the way things used to be in our industry!

Please let us know if there are eDiscovery topics you’d like to see us cover in eDiscoveryDaily.

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