Demystifying ESI Lingo

Demystifying ESI Lingo


By Julia Romero Peter
VP of Business Development, TERIS

If you have had any exposure to eDiscovery and the wonderful world of all things ESI, you are probably wondering if there is a secret dictionary or handbook out there to help you navigate the jargon – especially since this industry seems to use more acronyms and catch phrases than the Feds do! So today, I will humbly attempt to shed some light on a few of them for you.

ESI – Electronically Stored Information

Albeit, this is an easy one, but at least admit that at first you wondered…

ESI is used to refer to all information or data found in computers, tablets, mobile phones, servers, the cloud, social media sites, etc. (Basically, it refers to anything stored digitally that may need to be processed, hosted, and reviewed.)

ECA – Early Case Assessment

This is by far one of the most overused and under-defined terms in our repertoire, though you don’t have to go far to find a variety of definitions. For example:

At the LegalTech NY 2010 conference, the panel defined ECA as “the implementation of litigation analysis and management protocol that provides for the assembly and review of appropriate information on an expedited basis (30‐90 days) in order to provide a preliminary assessment of the case and the optimal method for proceeding.”  [1]

In an article in the January 2006 edition of Counsel to Counsel [2], Lawyers Eric W. Iskra and Charles L. “Chuck” Woody, of Spilman, Thomas & Battle PLLC, wrote:

“Under the ECA method, counsel take an aggressive stance, gathering information as quickly as possible to ensure the company can determine the most favorable way to resolve the case instead of simply reacting to opposing counsel. This process involves making a concerted effort to complete all the major work within the first 90 to 120 days of a lawsuit’s filing.”

In an article published in the Buffalo Business Journal [3], author Matt Chandler talked with Lisa Smith, a partner with a Buffalo-based law firm, Phillip Lytle LLP, who described ECA as a cost-benefit analysis used to determine what a successful outcome would entail for a client.

“There may be times when you can spend five years on a case and prevail at trial,” she says, “but that may not be a success to your client.” Smith says there are several factors that need to be considered during an early cases assessment, including deciding the ultimate goals in the case. “It front-loads the decision-making and we decide: Do we want to look at settling, arbitration or litigation?”

The ECA lifecycle includes:

  • Risk-benefit analysis

  • Preservation of information and securing legal holds on documents that may be relevant to the case

  • Collection of relevant documents/ESI for review by attorneys and experts

  • Information processing, filtering, searching, and analysis

  • Information hosting for document review, commenting, and editing by attorneys and experts

  • Producing documents for presentation to all parties involved in the case

  • Reusing any relevant information in future cases

Notwithstanding this and similar definitions and explanations in practice, ECA usually amounts to sophisticated culling, reporting, and clustering of data that is neither early nor an assessment of a case. It is nothing more than a reactive attempt to play catch-up.

In order to truly conduct an ECA with a return on investment (or ROI), you need to start the process before you collect your first gigabyte of data. ECA should occur when you are assessing whether to file or defend a suit, or immediately thereafter. Conducting your case’s assessment at this point will ensure that you not only have a defensible approach, but that you minimize eDiscovery costs across the lifecycle of the case, especially down the line when you’re conducting a document/information review.

At the end of the day, the most expensive phase of eDiscovery is attorney review. It’s simple logic: if you process less data, you will be billed less by counsel.


This is the second most overused and under-defined term in our industry. Every attorney, corporation, and service provider defines processing differently. It can include the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), information governance, the cloud, social media, and big data.

EDRM – Electronic Discovery Reference Model

The EDRM is not the be-all and end-all of eDiscovery, but it is a good place to start. While every law firm, consultant, and ESI provider claims they follow the EDRM, few actually cover the entire EDRM, which includes:

  • Information Management

  • Identification

  • Preservation

  • Collection

  • Processing

  • Review

  • Analysis

  • Production

  • Presentation

Information Governance

Like ECA, this is another term for which there is no consistent definition – the various players define it in a manner that best suits the service they offer. I define information governance as the entire kit and caboodle relating to a company’s information/data, be it paper documents or ESI – not just document retention policies and document retention, but the true life cycle of information, which includes:

  • Hiring of the custodian

  • Assignment of data sources – mobile phone, tablet, PC/MAC, server, shares, wikis, etc.

  • Maintenance, upgrades, and backups of data sources

  • Creation and enforcement of retention policies

  • Legal holds/identification

  • Preservation

  • Collection

  • Processing

  • Review

  • Analysis

  • Production

  • Presentation

  • Archiving/data disposition or reuse

The Cloud

The origin of the term ‘cloud computing’ is a bit hazy. At a conference in 2006, Google’s Eric Schmidt referred to Google services as “belonging in a cloud somewhere,” thus putting the term ‘out there’ for the world. However, there are other references to cloud computing that date back to the 1990s, including an application made to the US Patent and Trademark Office in 1997 to protect the term as a service mark. (It was later abandoned.) [4]

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing, in part, as:

“… a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” [5]

Cloud computing is not a new concept. For the past several years, this subject has come up at just about every industry conference under the sun. The fact is that the cloud is just a collection of servers…somewhere. The ‘somewhere’ is probably in an SSAE 16 SOC Type 2 facility, which is, without a doubt, a lot safer than your computer or your counsel’s.

Social Media defines social media as “web sites and other online means of communication that are used by large groups of people to share information and to develop social and professional contacts: Many businesses are utilizing social media to generate sales.” [6]

I believe that any litigator who ignores social media is neglecting a goldmine of information, and this is especially true for employment cases. Most individuals really have no censor and post just about everything on social media sites, and not just the obvious sites like Facebook and Twitter. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sites where members share information such as Waze, Words with Friends, Scramble, Foursquare, etc.  Many of these sites include geotags and other useful information.

Do NOT neglect this source of ESI.  It is easy to collect and review; and can potentially change the outcome of a case.

Big Data

Big data is a relatively new term. It need not send you running for the tools, but it does take planning and some capital expenditures to tackle.

According to IBM, “every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — so much that 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the last two years alone. This data comes from everywhere: sensors used to gather climate information, posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos, purchase transaction records, and cell phone GPS signals to name a few. This data is big data.” [7]

Basically, the archiving and data management tools built in the 1990s and earlier 2000s can no longer adequately house the data sizes of larger corporations. When your data size is in the petabytes, solutions tend to be bogged down. You could either pay for another solution or execute a well-planned and developed information governance protocol that includes the remediation of data outside legal holds and applicable retention periods. We recommend the latter.

So there you have it. When deconstructed, ESI lingo isn’t nearly as mysterious as it sounds, though like all technologies, it has the annoying tendency to spawn vague jargon.

[1] “Legal Tech NY 2010: Early Case Assessment — how far left can you go?”

[2] Early Case Assessment, Counsel to Counsel, January 2006, pp. 9

[3] Early case assessment can save time and money, by Matt Chandler, Buffalo Business First, March 31, 2008,

[4] United States Patent and Trademark Office Trademark Status & Document Retrieval

[5] The NIST Definition of Cloud Computing


[7] What is big data?



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