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4 Tips to Maximize Office 365 for eDiscovery - part 1

Office 365 logoEmployees across every department at large and medium companies in the U.S. use several key software applications every day to be productive and manage their job duties – applications such as email, chat, calendar, spreadsheets and document sharing systems. Most of those companies, including most of our corporate and law firm clients, today use Microsoft’s subscription service, Office 365 (O365), which makes sense, as it is the most widely adopted cloud service with more than 180 million users.

But O365’s user productivity applications are just the tip of the iceberg. IT staff members within these companies also rely on the backend power of Office 365, utilizing the Security and Compliance Center to monitor and manage security, privacy and accessibility across all documents and data within the Office 365 system. The center allows companies to stay ahead of security issues using the Microsoft Advanced Threat Protection packages and reduce legal risk by leveraging the power of its electronic discovery (eDiscovery) features. 

eDiscovery is a process in which electronically stored information (ESI) is identified, captured, collected and preserved, then culled, searched and reviewed – typically with the help of advanced analytics like AI-based algorithms – to find relevant data for use in legal proceedings. Those proceedings may be lawsuits and litigation, internal investigations and audits or regulatory matters (such as civil investigative demands from government agencies). 

The eDiscovery process, though described above in a highly summary manner, is a sophisticated and sometimes highly complex combination of legal and IT processes. This is what makes it one of the more difficult business processes for a company, and as such, is typically expensive and time-consuming. 

But there is good news for companies using Office 365, because there are enough eDiscovery features that, when configured correctly and administered by well-trained personnel, can be the most expedient and cost-effective way to handle many eDiscovery needs. By taking advantage of the Office 365 eDiscovery features, you can simplify the process of identifying, collecting, searching, analyzing and reviewing documents and data for many different types of legal requests and needs – saving both time and money. 

Here are four tips for maximizing the eDiscovery features built into Microsoft Office 365.

1.Understand what eDiscovery features come with your Office 365 license.

Because many companies already trust Microsoft to maintain their data, they likely already have spent significant dollars on licensing fees, especially in enterprise settings.  And with all that enterprise data already stored in the system and money invested, why pay for a separate eDiscovery solution when O365 already offers many of the same features and functions? 

Usually it’s because companies simply aren’t aware or do not have the legal or technical understanding or staffing to take advantage of those eDiscovery features.  Office 365 can be tailored to include many foundational eDiscovery elements that leverage machine learning, predictive coding and text analytics to search data within the system. In the end, companies can use the platform they already have to get earlier, less expensive and more defensible information out of it.

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There are four licensing options for Office 365: ProPlus, E1, E3 and E5. Each one offers different products and services, but the eDiscovery features are only available with the latter two.  

The E3 license provides standard eDiscovery functions, with the ability to: 

  • Create eDiscovery cases to manage all collected results within the system.
  • Place legal holds on mailboxes, OneDrive and SharePoint (including metadata) to prevent files from being modified or deleted.
  • Perform keyword, basic Boolean, location and other searches to dig through the data – including both the documents you put on hold and data located elsewhere in O365 – to find content relevant to the case at hand.
  • Export the results as an encrypted file.

The E5 license, with Advanced eDiscovery features, offers the above functions as well as the ability to: 

  • Automatically identify content that is relevant to a case using the Relevance module.
  • Extract text from image files using optical character recognition (OCR).
  • Organize content into themes so reviewers can quickly find important content.
  • Reorganize email threads, recognize exact- and near-duplicates and group content for review using machine learning.

The E5 license is more expensive than the E3 plan and is only needed by organizations who require more advanced functionality and have the staff to support those more advanced features. The best way to determine which license is the right one for your organization is to speak to your trusted eDiscovery service provider, a certified Microsoft eDiscovery partner or your current Office 365 license reseller.  

2.Use templated workflows to drive consistent, more legally defensible eDiscovery.

The eDiscovery process and its legal requirements shouldn’t be a fire drill that happens at every possibility of litigation or with every new regulatory investigation that arises. Reactionary eDiscovery causes disruptions to the business, increases the risk of error and requires much more time, people, money and energy. By establishing workflows in Office 365, companies can stay on top of their data management and be prepared for future data collection, litigation hold, data searching or other eDiscovery-related needs. 

Legal

Here are some key functions you can set up and manage in Office 365: 

  • Custodians: Easily identify people as custodians to quickly place legal holds on their content. You can also assign an eDiscovery manager and reviewers.
  • Communications: Send initial legal hold notifications, reminders and release and escalation notices (if there hasn’t been a response) to custodians, which helps legal teams track when notifications have been received, read and acknowledged. O365 also has a reporting feature that can audit email, Office, SharePoint, OneDrive, Yammer and Skype activity.  
  • Holds: Use the system to create, manage, remove and delete legal holds on custodial or non-custodial data.
  • Processing: Identify files, extract text, expand embedded documents and more using O365’s processing feature. The system also allows for advanced indexing and error remediation. 
  • Searches: Search by keywords, date ranges, domains, authors, sender names and more to cull through the data for relevant content. Boolean and proximity searches (how close two words are to one another) are available to help sort massive amounts of data.
  • Review sets: Once you’ve gathered all the necessary data, it can be moved into a review set. At this point, you can run more queries and annotate, redact and tag items for responsiveness, content type and privilege to further narrow it down until you’re left with only the relevant data.
  • Exports: Choose to download the native files directly or export documents to include metadata, annotations and tags. Access keys are provided for all encrypted exported data sets.
  • Jobs: Office 365’s jobs function makes it easy to monitor long-term tasks, such as searches or exporting.

O365 organizes each of these functions into separate tabs which follow the standard eDiscovery (or EDRM) workflow. Of course, there may be a learning curve required for legal staff to fully take advantage of the features and workflows, but there are internet resources and specialists to help guide you through every aspect of leveraging Office 365 for your corporate eDiscovery needs. 

The second part of this article will be published next week

Adam FeinbergAdam Feinberg is executive vice president of professional services at BIA, a leader in reliable, innovative and cost-effective eDiscovery services. As one of the top experts at BIA, Feinberg heads the company’s data collection and forensics group, where he has served as a lead advisor in the forensically sound collection of electronic data in hundreds of cases. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Barry SchwartzBarry Schwartz, Esq., is senior vice president of advisory services at BIA. He has 35 years of legal and business consulting management experience and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

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