BP Perspective Insights from a Business Partner

E-Discovery in the Modern Workplace: What Law Professionals Need to Know

As the pandemic gave way to the rise of cloud-based collaboration apps in the workplace, the way we communicate and exchange information is fundamentally changing. 

Scott McVeigh

Communication flows that used to be linear and static, like email and attachments, are increasingly happening dynamically and in real time — think video meetings over Zoom, live document collaboration in Google Workspace, or instant messaging and emoji reactions via Slack, just to name a few (of many) examples.

While these new styles of collaboration and the apps that support them have undoubtedly boosted our productivity and helped us remain connected in our new world of remote work, they have also come at the risk of creating scattered knowledge silos and new hiding places for our information. For legal management professionals in particular, these risks can have costly consequences when it comes to fulfilling e-discovery requests.


The scope of e-discovery includes any electronically stored information (ESI), including text, audio and video files, instant messages and emoji, social media posts, attachments, links and more — all of which are growing massively in volume within organizations today.

Even before the pandemic, many companies were already grappling with the data tsunami created by the cloud era. Now, it’s only getting worse. According to Okta, the number of apps deployed within organizations has risen steadily across all industries and company sizes, for a combined growth of 22% over the past four years. Today, the average number of apps per organization is 88, with large companies using as many as 175 apps. As these apps proliferate, they become separate and siloed stores of data. The more data is fragmented, the more time and effort is required for legal departments to find what they are looking for in legal discovery.

“Between 2004 and 2019 there was an exponential rise in emoji and emoticon references in U.S. court opinions, a trend that we’ll likely see continue as they become a standard in online communication.”

Not to mention, most ESI is unstructured data that can’t be easily categorized or indexed, making it that much more difficult to find, process and understand. For example, if you’re using Microsoft Teams or Slack, there will be public channels, private channels, one-to-one or group messages, each with different retention settings. Messages can also be edited, deleted or embedded within other conversations, which adds even more complexity to the data collection process. Beyond data collection, these usually create challenging data exports as well, often producing difficult-to-decipher content that doesn’t fit neatly into the document review process.


Many legacy e-discovery solutions have struggled to keep pace with the migration to cloud computing and are no longer suitable in today’s world, where apps are a prominent source of information exchange. This is a problem considering that courts are increasingly requiring litigants to produce a variety of ESI, including from collaboration apps like Slack. Even emoji are showing up as evidence in court more frequently: Between 2004 and 2019 there was an exponential rise in emoji and emoticon references in U.S. court opinions, a trend that we’ll likely see continue as they become a standard in online communication.

Instead of (or in addition to) legacy e-discovery solutions, specialist tools are needed to recognize the new hiding places for data in the various apps that have become commonplace in our work lives. This is where legal management professionals need to step in and make recommendations for capabilities that can help legal teams find, manage and protect the vast amounts of unstructured data created by proliferating cloud apps.

The most effective tools will be those that can break down data silos, unifying information from multiple apps within one central repository, to allow for rapid search across several data sources all at once. They should also go well beyond tagging, using technology such as machine learning and artificial intelligence to generate knowledge from data by understanding the context and content of what’s being stored. They should also possess the intelligence to know when to delete duplicate data or convert unstructured files into readable formats.

These are just a few examples of essential capabilities that can better prepare legal teams for inevitable ESI requests. Most importantly, a proactive approach to e-discovery — one that puts tools and processes in place to gather information now, rather than waiting until litigation rises — should be at the center of any strategy.

For many organizations, the pace of change in a remote or hybrid working model is uncharted territory. The cloud-based apps that flooded the workplace weren’t designed with e-discovery in mind, and legal teams have an important role to play in evolving their discovery strategy accordingly. Steering a more proactive e-discovery approach starts with recommending the right tools that can keep up with the data deluge, helping save money and time, minimizing litigation risk, and empowering the business for the future.