Wake-Up Call on Slipshod Search Terms–Is Google Making You a Lazy Researcher?

This article from New York Law Journal reports on a recent case where the judge admonished the lawyers for their inability to do efficient keyword searching to retrieve relevant emails and other electronically stored information (ESI). Judge Andrew J. Peck, U.S. Magistrate Judge (S.D.N.Y.), said this

should serve as a wake-up call to the Bar in this District about the need for careful thought, quality control, testing, and cooperation with opposing counsel in designing search terms or “keywords” to be used to produce emails or other electronically stored information (“ESI”). While this message has appeared in several cases from outside this Circuit, it appears that the message has not reached many members of our Bar.

He goes on to say that this

is just the latest example of lawyers designing keyword searches in the dark, by the seat of the pants, without adequate (indeed, here, apparently without any) discussion with those who wrote the emails.

And concludes with this

Electronic discovery requires cooperation between opposing counsel and transparency in all aspects of preservation and production of ESI. Moreover, where counsel are using keyword searches for retrieval of ESI, they at a minimum must carefully craft the appropriate keywords, with input from the ESI’s custodians as to the words and abbreviations they use, and the proposed methodology must be quality control tested to assure accuracy in retrieval and elimination of “false positives.” It is time that the Bar – even those lawyers who did not come of age in the computer era – understand this.

I’ll put in a plug here for our podcast on this topic. Lucie Olejnikova and Vicky Gannon’s Food for Though: Generating Search Terms discusses some helpful ideas on how to generate search terms for your research.

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