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Are Exchange Server 2010’s discovery capabilities enough?

While Exchange 2010 contains helpful discovery features, they may not be sufficient for every company’s legal needs. See why you may need to supplement them with a third-party product.

Email messages are becoming increasingly important in legal proceedings. But if you don’t have the proper tools to collect, manage and search those messages, you could end up spending a lot more than you anticipated on discovery. While Exchange Server 2010 provides basic discovery capabilities, they may not be enough for all organizations. Let’s examine Exchange 2010’s core discovery features and see how they stack up against third-party search and discovery tools.

Basic discovery in Exchange 2010
Exchange Server 2010 provides the search, collaboration and access control features necessary to implement an email-based discovery process. Users are added to a Discovery Management role group via role based access control (RBAC), then assigned roles to search mailboxes and place mailboxes on litigation hold.

Searches are performed across multiple mailboxes using indexes created through Exchange Search. Search queries can use both free-form text terms, such as “product launch,” as well as message properties like author, priority and size.

The Exchange Control Panel (ECP) provides a Web-based search interface that hides complex query syntax from users. Search options let users specify date ranges, to: and from: email addresses and storage location. Users can also search for attachments if the appropriate filters are installed.

Results are stored in a discovery mailbox. Search results are then organized into folders, which are automatically created and named based on the search. You can also configure Exchange discovery to store a single copy of duplicate search results.

A useful feature within Exchange discovery is the ability to annotate messages in discovery mailboxes. These annotations serve as additional attributes about a message, such as a case number or review status.

Of course, all of these features are only useful for content that has been preserved. Consider these two cases:

  • When you want to prevent active email users from tampering with relevant messages;
  • When employees leave your company and their mailboxes must be preserved.

For active users, the litigation hold function preserves the contents of mailboxes. This is accomplished by retaining copies of deleted or altered messages in the Recoverable Items folder. In the case of former employees, disable any procedures that automatically purge users’ mailboxes after a specified period of time.

So what’s missing from Exchange 2010 discovery?
While Exchange 2010 provides basic search, security and collaboration features, you’ll need to add more capabilities via third party tools to carry out more complex tasks such as:

  • Expanded search capabilities. With third-party tools, search capabilities are enhanced and users benefit from a greater search scope and search query expansion. Discovery efforts often include file systems, collaboration servers, instant messaging logs and other repositories of unstructured content. Third-party tools let users search over multiple repositories through a single interface.

    Search-term expansion is the process of mapping a user-provided search term to equivalent terms. For example, if you need to search for all messages that reference the state of Massachusetts, you can search for “Massachusetts,” “Mass” and “MA.” More advanced search tools can provide thesauri-based query expansion and allow users to customize expansion terms.

  • Workflows. Discovery results are not just limited to email messages, but also the analysis, interpretation and legal response to the information contained in those messages. The ultimate consumer may be an attorney that never performs a single query.

    Additionally, the path from searching to final legal analysis may contain multiple steps and reviews by human resources, paralegals and multiple attorneys who annotate and filter messages. They may also want to initiate additional queries over the course of a discovery effort. Third-party discovery tools are often needed to provide effective workflow support.

  • Classification. When the number of messages collected during a discovery process reaches the tens of thousands or more, companies can benefit from automated classification. With classification systems, you can choose to either group documents according to a predefined set of categories or into clusters of similar documents without predefined categories.

    Methods that use predefined categories are helpful in large litigation efforts where tasks are divided among domain experts. Clustering without categories is helpful for early exploratory analysis.

  • Reporting and delivery. Reporting tools also contribute to more effective management of the discovery process when linked to workflows. Managers in large discovery efforts can better manage the process with information about the number of messages discovered, annotated and pending review.

    Ultimately, messages must be delivered to attorneys or other end users in appropriate formats. They must also be organized to facilitate -- or at least not hinder -- further review.

As you can see, Exchange 2010 provides basic discovery features that may be sufficient for some cases. However, as the scope of discovery grows and the number of individuals increases, so does the need for additional tools to improve search, analysis and management.

Dan Sullivan is a technology writer and analyst with Concentrated Technology, LLC.

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