Electronic discovery is a term that is usually used to refer to the process of discovery during a civil trial, although it can also be applied in criminal proceedings as well as regulatory investigations. During this process, electronically stored information, also abbreviated as ESI, is exchanged between the counsels of parties involved in a lawsuit. In this respect, it is similar to the regular discovery process where paper documents are exchanged; however the unique properties of electronic information do bring some significant differences as to how it's handled.
The main properties of electronically stored information are that it is intangible and can reach very high volumes. This brings some challenges during the discovery process, as the relevant data has to be located, separated from documents that are not relevant to the case, analyzed and often converted into a different format that can be presented for use in a court. There are other elements that can come into play as far as ESI is concerned, in addition to the documents themselves. While it may be difficult to determine when a paper document was first created, when it was modified and by who, electronic documents are commonly accompanied by meta data, which can be used to determine the date and time a document was first created, when it was modified, when it was accessed and by who, etc. In certain cases, this meta data could play a very important role in a civil proceeding.
Even though electronic discovery is seen as something relatively new, there is already an entire industry that has been developed around it, with a wide range of individuals with different specialties involved in it. We have the usual lawyers and paralegals, however the nature of electronically stored information means that the expertise of other individuals will often be required, such as digital forensics experts, systems administrators, electronic storage technicians, etc.
Companies are now forming entire departments whose task it is to deal with all matters related to e-discovery and many third party vendors have started appearing in the past few years to provide services that will be useful to a company that is involved in a civil lawsuit and that needs to present electronic information for use in court. One notable example of services provided by electronic discovery related service providers is software solutions that are designed to accelerate the document review process by automating the search for relevant documents across millions of objects on electronic storage mediums.