Email threading, a means of gathering related emails together for easier and more consistent review than doing so piecemeal, is a fairly commonplace feature of many document review platforms. At ALM’s Legaltech NY 2016, I asked a vendor about a concern I have always had about the practice and was pleased/distressed to have him confirm my suspicions. While it is no big deal to collect all of the emails in an actual chain – those responded to with the reply button, or forwarded to others – there IS a problem in finding related emails that are not part of the chain. Imagine A and B engage in a lengthy exchange about something adverse to their employer’s interest – a defective product, a dangerous condition, a material misrepresentation, etc; many tools will have no trouble gathering those up and putting a bow on them for the reviewer IF, but only if, the reply button was used. If new emails are generated, they might not be picked up by threading tools. If A and B are arguing and their supervisor, C, having been forwarded the chain, writes an entirely new email telling them who he or she agrees with, a threading tool most likely will not pick that up, even though it might be the most relevant email on the topic, because it is not part of the chain. Similarly, if C writes a second email to D summarizing the situation, but without forwarding the chain, that email will also escape detection. Smart bad guys know this.
While it is true that concept clusters might pick up C’s emails, or a timeline generator might reveal them during a key time, those tools must be used in addition to the threader, or your smoking gun/needle in the haystack might not be recognized for what it is.
Artificial intelligence and algorithms are wonderful, but there still is no substitute for the inquisitive human. A shout-out goes to Cavo eD, makers of an interesting, full-feature eDiscovery product, for their candor here.