What is eDiscovery? How to Become a Paralegal Cyber Sleuth

Close up of a laptop with cyber security icons over it

You were browsing online for new career options in the legal field when you came across the term “eDiscovery.” You were immediately intrigued—it sounds like something out of a futuristic Sherlock Holmes novel! Could your new career come complete with a virtual magnifying glass and pea coat?

Your curiosity is piqued and now you’re on the hunt for more info. What is eDiscovery, and how could it play a role in your legal career?

eDiscovery, an abbreviation for electronic discovery, is the electronic version of a legal procedure called “discovery.” eDiscovery allows paralegals to collect and process electronically stored information (ESI) to “discover facts relevant to the lawsuit and to identify potential witnesses and evidence,” according to the American Institute for Paralegal Studies (AIPS).

eDiscovery has become a crucial part of a paralegal’s job due to the increased prevalence of information sharing via technology. Learn more about this exciting aspect of the legal field as we consult the experts and break down everything you need to know about eDiscovery!

What is eDiscovery? A deeper examination

The basics of eDiscovery are quite simple: paralegals use ESI to help their firm’s client in litigation. But how often do paralegals really use this skill? Turns out they use it a lot!

“Electronic discovery is utilized in all cases involving litigation, from personal injury cases to employment and workers compensation cases,” says Katherine Pawlak, Rasmussen College School of Justice Studies instructor.

"Nearly everything exists in electronic format these days."

eDiscovery is much more than just conducting a quick Google search on all parties involved in a lawsuit. ESI covers a vast category of information, including e-mails, instant messaging chats, documents, accounting databases, websites and of course, social media, which has become a large part of eDiscovery, according Pawlak.

It’s not enough for a paralegal to simply print an e-mail to serve as evidence in litigation. Thanks to metadata, paralegals practicing eDiscovery must also access electronic formats of the information they’re collecting. Metadata contains information about the ESI itself, including things like the exact time a plaintiff opened an app on his or her phone or the date a file was created or modified.

Accessing this metadata is vital to litigation. Pawlak gives the example of a car accident caused by a driver who was using his phone. Metadata from the phone can be used to prove the exact time an app was opened or viewed. This information isn’t always available on the surface, so it’s important for paralegals to possess the skills to dig deeper and find this embedded information that could prove crucial to their case.

eDiscovery: An prominent piece of the legal puzzle

As you can see from the example above, eDiscovery is making waves in the legal industry in a big way.

“It’s important to bear in mind that nearly everything exists in electronic format these days, which means it’s likely that your opponent either has what you are looking for, or had it and deleted it,” says Anne Mitchell, attorney at law and CEO of the Institute for Social Internet Public Policy (ISIPP).

This means all aspiring paralegals should be prepared to incorporate eDiscovery skills in their new career. According to AIPS, daily job duties related to eDiscovery include:

  • Collecting & analyzing ESI
  • Explaining eDiscovery policies to clients
  • Using technology to aid in eDiscovery
  • Ensuring all eDiscovery procedures are in compliance with federal law
  • Acting as a contact for both the legal team & IT personnel who may provide ESI

Important skills involved in eDiscovery

Does cyber sleuthing using eDiscovery sound like an appealing career choice? Here’s the lowdown on the skills you’ll need to break into this revolutionary field.

Technology is constantly changing, which means prospective paralegals must be prepared to stay ahead of the curve in their eDiscovery practices. Paralegals will need to keep up on new avenues of discovery, including how to obtain and subpoena electronic formats of social media sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat, according to Pawlak.

Technology isn’t the only thing that changes. Federal laws and regulations surrounding eDiscovery and ESI are also in constant flux. It’s crucial for paralegals to stay up-to-date and in compliance with these regulations. A thorough knowledge of ethics, court rules and obtaining ESI in the correct way are all essential for paralegals involved in litigation and eDiscovery, Pawlak advises.

eDiscovery best practices

In addition to keeping up with changing laws and technology, Mitchell recommends following a few best practices to have the greatest opportunity for success using eDiscovery.

Mitchell advises paralegals to retrieve as much information as they can from outside sources before serving a discovery request on the opposing party. For example, take screenshots of an opponent’s social media accounts in case he or she tries to evade eDiscovery by deleting the relevant information. “This not only preserves the statements but allows you to catch them in the deletion,” Mitchell says.

Paralegals would also be wise to request a copy of any opposing organizations’ Electronic Data Retention Policies. “Many organizations don’t even have such a policy, which will run to your favor,” Mitchell explains.

No matter what situation you find yourself in as a paralegal practicing eDiscovery, our experts agree that the most important best practice is to always follow ethical and legal requirements of obtaining ESI.

Are you ready to become a paralegal cyber sleuth?

So what is eDiscovery? You should now have a basic understanding of this in-demand paralegal specialty and the role it plays in modern-day litigation. If you’re intrigued at the thought of tracking down cyber clues to assist in court cases, you must first know how to break into the field.

Check out this article to learn more: I Want to Be a Paralegal … Now What?


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Ashley Brooks

Ashley is a freelance writer for Collegis education who writes student-focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen College. She believes in the power of words and knowledge and enjoys using both to encourage others on their learning journeys

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