By Don Swanson posted 07-14-2020 10:45


Timing is everything.  Bill Gross, the Pasadena, California based serial entrepreneur who has invested in dozens of start-ups, including X1 Discovery, the popular enterprise search software, says that the number one predictor of a technology company's success is neither financial capital, the founders' talent, the business model nor cutting-edge intellectual property.  The biggest success factor for a new product or service is timing. Microsoft 365's eDiscovery capabilities may have hit the timing just right with COVID-19. 

How could the pandemic have anything to do with the success of Microsoft 365 eDiscovery?  Microsoft already was very successful and its Advanced eDiscovery features are just a small feature of the Microsoft 365 juggernaut.  Yet, consider how quickly we all pivoted to work from home. We sheltered "in-place" for health, safety, and security. Cloud-powered virtual meetings and Netflix movie sessions enabled us to stay, safe and connected. 

During this pandemic, litigation support, information security, and investigation professionals looked at their own processes to determine what could be done "in-place" from home.  A significant and sudden shift in remote collection has been noted in legal discovery technologist Rob Robinson's revised market sizing. Now cloud-based technology such as Microsoft 365 is driving a digital modernization of eDiscovery.  

While some litigation support professionals have been wary of Microsoft getting involved in eDiscovery, litigation technology consultants Tom O'Connor and I found most survey respondents believed Microsoft 365’s eDiscovery features were somewhat or very positive and promising.  Pundits have wondered whether the world's largest software maker would become an eDiscovery powerhouse overnight by acquiring a market leader. Microsoft has taken a different tack by providing features to manage data within Microsoft 365.

Microsoft 365 eDiscovery offers an alternative to copying, downloading, and uploading data between eDiscovery software tools. Corporate and government eDiscovery professionals are considering whether, like their work teams, data are safer at home.

The in-place data management model keeps data secure within its native environment.  This new twist on digital modernization will be highly disruptive to the eDiscovery industry.  Let's examine the EDRM and consider activities that can be performed in-place within Microsoft 365.

Information Governance Microsoft 365 includes policy-based governance, auto-classification, and record labeling features, which enables data retention and disposition according to an organization's record plan.   Microsoft 365 is designed for an in-place information governance model.

Identification Determining where relevant content exists within email, SharePoint and Teams sites is facilitated by content search. The ability to search an organization's Microsoft 365 tenant improves early case assessment and informs targeted collection decisions by running reports before collection.

Preservation Microsoft 365 introduces a new paradigm: in-place preservation.  Immutability, the promise to preserve without alteration or destruction, is a cornerstone to the in-place model.  Preservation in place is a modern, internationally accepted practice that can save time and money.

Collection Today's cloud data cannot be collected using classic computer forensics techniques. A vendor cannot show up at a Microsoft data center to mirror image customer data.   All Microsoft 365 customers must use the in-place collection tools provided by Microsoft.

Processing Microsoft 365 Advanced eDiscovery offers many levels of processing, including metadata extraction, OCR, de-duplication, MD5 hash, themes analysis, and error identification.  Law firm clients and internal legal teams no longer must export email into a separate processing tool since these capabilities exist within Microsoft 365.

Analytics Microsoft 365's analytics algorithms deliver insights that inform. Near and exact duplicate analytics streamlines review while visualizations transform large data sets into digestible interactive graphics.  These in-place analytics functions provide insights that can save time, eliminate waste, and reduce costs.

Review Document review with native style rendering and record sorting is now available within Microsoft 365 Advanced eDiscovery.  Various use cases are emerging where in-place review is enough to get the job done, including government Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and corporate internal investigations.


Corporations, government agencies, and law firms are re-thinking their eDiscovery processes associated with Microsoft 365 data.  Rather than copying to preserve, copying to process, copying to run analytics, and copying to a review platform, why not explore whether these activities can be performed in-place within Microsoft 365?  The disjointed, linear workflow involving different software tools and multiple data copies is being redesigned into a modern workflow where data remains securely stored in its native environment for as long as possible.  A modern process involves less copying and moving data, fewer eDiscovery software application licenses and better information security.

The timing is right for legal technology professionals to consider whether Microsoft 365 data is safer at home, too. 





Don Swanson is a Microsoft eDiscovery Partner and senior consultant with Five Star Legal and Compliance Systems, Inc. Don assists counsel and information technology teams on high-stakes, document intensive matters. Prior to starting the company in 1992, Don was a senior paralegal in the corporate legal department of Boston Edison Company. Don has trained over 1000 users in litigation support technology, developed and managed multi-million page databases, taught litigation support at California and Hawaii university campuses, testified in court and provided affidavits on electronic discovery issues. His Los Angeles based company has attracted law firm, corporate and government clients from Washington, DC to Hawaii. Don earned an undergraduate business degree from the University of Denver and a Masters in Finance from Boston College. He received an ABA-Approved paralegal certificate from the University of San Diego.