A survey of 500 lawyers in the UK has revealed that problems with processing digital information had led all of them to lose a case or suffer a significant legal impact on their work in the last two years. All the lawyers surveyed admitted that in some cases they had been unable to locate or process electronically stored information (ESI) that could have been presented as evidence.

Some 54 percent said that ESI issues had materially affected cases in the last three months alone. British lawyers are not unique in facing these difficulties, according to a survey conducted last month by LM Research for Symantec. The security company commissioned research among 5,000 lawyers in the UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates, and all reported similar challenges.

ESI was found to be critical to the daily work of 78 percent of UK lawyers. Of all the lawyers surveyed, 98 percent said that ESI identified “digital evidence” during e-discovery had been vital to the success of legal matters they had been involved in the past two years.

For 45 percent of respondents, the type of ESI they had to search most frequently were the contents of individual hard drives.

Yet despite its critical nature, there appears to be significant issues surrounding the use of ESI. Fifty-four percent of the UK lawyers said that problems with ESI had led to them losing a case, seeing a case delayed or them suffering sanctions by a court or regulator in the last three months alone.

For the majority of UK lawyers (54 percent), the main challenge with ESI is the volume of digital information that has to be searched. In addition, overall, 29 percent of lawyers said they did not have enough time to conduct thorough investigations.

Meanwhile, 55 percent of UK lawyers believed that their ESI problems could be resolved if improvements were made to their organisation’s ESI search, preserving and processing technology. Twenty-four percent of all lawyers said they did not have sufficiently sophisticated e-discovery technology to handle requests effectively.

Sharon White, from Symantec’s information management group, explained that all relevant case information, including ESI, must be submitted to a court or regulator before it can be heard: “In the past, collating evidence for a case was a paper chase, but the rise of digital communications means that lawyers now routinely have to search thousands or millions of emails and voicemails.”

“The survey results suggest that although lawyers might feel prepared, the fact that 100% of UK lawyers surveyed have lost cases or legal matters because of difficulties producing ‘digital evidence’ shows that more needs to be done for the good of the legal process.”