Understanding Where Conversations Begin and End, The Biggest Challenge for Collaboration Data: eDiscovery Best Practices

There are a lot of challenges associated with the collection, processing and review of data from collaboration apps like Slack and Teams.  But a Legalweek(year) session this week illustrated the biggest challenge for collaboration data, understanding where conversations begin and end.

As discussed on Legaltech® News (E-discovery Struggles With Where to Begin—and End—With Collaboration Data, written by Rhys Dipshan), eDiscovery professionals have known for years that new forms of collaboration data would need to be addressed. But only after chat tools became widespread in workplaces over the past year have they realized just how different this data is from everything else they’ve encountered.

“We want to talk about things like emojis … but I truly don’t think we have a handle on the chat messages alone,” said Maureen Holland, e-discovery senior service manager at AstraZeneca.

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Holland was one of several in-house e-discovery experts at the “Understanding the New Data Set: Implications of Slack, Teams and Other Conversation Platforms for Legal, Compliance and Governance Teams” session at the May’s Legalweek(year) conference. For the panelists, one of the biggest questions with collaboration data is how to deal with its scope. Finding out where such data is being created and stored, for instance, is almost never straightforward.

But getting all the data may only be half the battle. The biggest challenge for collaboration data may be the question of what exactly a “complete record” of a conversation relevant to a matter or investigation means when it comes to chat messages. “One of the big issues we’re going to wrestle with over the next probably several years is when we talk about producing a complete document, what does that mean for chat?” said Ellen Blanchard, director of discovery and information governance at T-Mobile.

Unlike emails, chat messages aren’t neatly organized by subject lines. “[You] might have two years’ worth of chat with your partner or college best friend that goes into topics from work to the weather, to your kids, to the latest concert you saw. … And that is expanded when you go into a collaboration tool such as Slack or Teams where it’s not just a collaboration tool between two people, but has hundreds of people in it that over the course of many years talking about many things”, said Blanchard.

This is the biggest challenge for collaboration data – understanding where conversations begin and end.  In pretty much every email client today, every email is a self-contained snapshot of the conversation up to that point.  The problem with email is not understanding the beginning and ending of conversations – it’s having parts of those conversations duplicated over and over again in different emails in a thread.  That’s why email thread identification has become such an important part of efficient discovery of emails.


Many people don’t realize that most email clients (including Outlook) provide an option to include or not include the original message in the text of a reply or forward.  The default is to include the original message text (which, in turn, includes the text of messages before that).  But, that default can be changed.  Here is a screen shot of where it is set in Outlook:

Outlook Options, including options for including original message text

A completely different problem exists with chat messages.  Each “chat” is stored separately, so it becomes a matter of attempting to piece together a conversation between two or more people and try to determine the beginning and end of a “conversation” that may be responsive to the case.  It’s like trying to assemble a puzzle where you may not have all the pieces, or you may have pieces from a hundred other puzzles you don’t even need.  Good luck with that!

So, what do you think?  Do you agree that understanding where conversations begin and end is the biggest challenge for collaboration data?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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