Here are the highlights from our webcast on ediscovery for Slack, Teams and other collaboration apps. Watch the webcast here.
Let’s think back to April 2020. Apologies if that’s a time period you’d rather forget. You haven’t been to the office in weeks, you are still polishing your Zoom profile, and your email inbox is filled with communications that could have been a quick, in-person chat. Or maybe – if you’re lucky – your organization had an alternative platform to collaborate with colleagues while isolated at home, like Slack or MS Teams.
Collaboration apps became widespread during the Covid-19 pandemic, giving workplaces a way to operate from home without losing the value of spontaneous interaction between employees. And of course, anytime a new form of communication technology becomes commonplace, its data is bound to crop up in the litigation sphere as well. It’s essential for attorneys to understand how to handle these types of electronically stored information (ESI) and how they differ from typical ediscovery data.
Understanding Collaboration Data
What is a Collaboration App? The simple answer: a company wide chat room, or any place colleagues gather (virtually) to store and share data. It can be a hub for reviewing work documents, making company-wide announcements, planning a happy hour or even sharing pictures of pets. These apps offer many components:
- Communication (including public or private communication)
- File Sharing
- Huddles & Clips
- App Integration
Each of these allow for easy collaboration whether you’re working in or out of the office. Rather than an email-centric, one-to-one, text-based approach to inter-office communications, the experience of using Slack or Microsoft Teams is similar to that of colleagues circling a water cooler or planning an informal office outing. Employees can chat in groups, laugh at messages, and start impromptu video calls, much like a casual workplace gathering.
In our webinar titled “Mastering Ediscovery for Slack, MS Teams, and Other Collaboration Apps,” our ediscovery experts explained how to collect, review and produce ediscovery data from these collaboration platforms. Considering the ever-changing nature of ediscovery data, it’s important for legal professionals to keep up with new forms of ESI and be prepared to handle it in their litigation.
★ A Breakdown of Slack Terminology
- Workplace: Specific URL unique to your group or organization that allows teams to join Slack
- Channels: Chat rooms, which can be made private or public
- Private channels are closed and require an invite to join
- Public channels are open and can be joined by members of the workplace (It’s important to note that once a channel is made private, it cannot be changed back to public.)
- Direct messages: Conversations between one to nine messengers
- Shared channels: Shared channels connect separate organizations into a single channel
- Multilevel-workplace channels: Connects workplaces in an enterprise grid organization
The Challenges of Collecting Collaboration Data
Apps like Slack make office chats simple and digestible – there’s no doubt using Slack is more efficient than sharing every little detail via email. On the other hand, the constant stream of communication can create ediscovery challenges that don’t always have simple solutions. The key is to know what you’re up against. Here are some points to remember when working with data from collaboration apps:
Slack and Teams record streams of messages, not discrete documents. Attorneys are used to reviewing individual emails that can easily be Bates stamped and identified as a single piece of data. Slack and Teams conversations are more similar to a flow of text messages, making it difficult to keep up with individual files.
Slack and Teams communications can contain a number of different components beyond the text of the message. Embedded files, linked files, images, videos, gifs, and even emojis are all part of the stream of conversation, which can be difficult to keep track of and interpret.
Conversations not only take place in multiple formats, but in various avenues as well, like public channels, private channels, direct messages, comments on files, and threads, which can occur within channels. Two users could be chatting in a public channel, in their private direct messages, and in a direct message with other users, all at the same time. Organizing these communications goes beyond the grouping of email families and threads that you may be used to in ediscovery.
Everything can be changed and edited on the fly. This point is less of a “challenge” and more of a “nightmare” for many attorneys. You may notice a small flag at the bottom of some messages that reads, ”This message has been edited,” or something to that effect. Messages can also be deleted, which is important to be aware of when collecting data for ediscovery.
It’s all in flux! A new collaboration platform could arise and completely change the game. Slack or Teams could adjust the backend of the app and dismantle what we know about collecting ediscovery data from these tools. Unlike email, which is an open and accepted standard of communication, collaboration apps can change at a moment’s notice. New data privacy laws may also affect how we access and handle data from these apps.
Fun Fact: Slack is actually an acronym for Searchable Log of All Communication and Knowledge. Many companies use Slack as a knowledge base where they can document their ideas and communications.
Understanding the Tiers of Slack is Essential
Slack offers several subscription tiers that each unlock certain capabilities. An organization’s ability to collect and analyze Slack data will depend on the level of subscription they choose.
Slack subscription tiers – 4/21/2023
The option to change subscription tiers is always available. Once upgraded, retroactive use of the higher tier is activated. For example, free-tier Slack users can only view the 10,000 most recent messages in their workspace. However, if a free-tier user needs to view a message that is older than their 10,000 allotted message range, they can upgrade the tier, allowing old messages to regenerate.
This is just one example of how Slack tiers can affect access to ediscovery data. The Business and Enterprise tiers also allow custom message retention settings, while options with the free plan are limited – for example, it won’t track edits and deletions. Law firms will want to gather information on their clients’ plan to understand any limitations when it comes to collecting data.
★ A Fundamental Discovery Approach for Slack
These are the first questions you should ask when conducting ediscovery of Slack data. Knowing these answers will help you determine your options for collecting the ESI.
- What tier is your client on?
- If they have a Business+ tier or higher, what is their current retention schedule regarding edits and deletions?
- Is there any kind of Slack employee use policy / handbook?
Slack Exports: The JSON File
All Slack exports come as a JSON file, which may look like a block of incomprehensible code at first glance. But all the messages are displayed in a readable format, no matter how unsightly they look. This format only includes links to files shared in Slack, which means you’d need to download each file manually in order to include them in your review.
But luckily, JSON files do include all the relevant metadata that will help you filter the ESI and organize your document review. The files can also be converted to virtually any file type you might need for easier review – text files, PDFs, load files, and more. You can always turn to ediscovery experts (like the Nextpoint team) for help.
Your Options for Exporting Slack Data
Slack offers a self-service way to export data, but it may not include everything you need for ediscovery collection. The self-service option allows you to export all text and links to files sent in public channels only. This excludes communications sent in private channels and direct messages as well as editing and deletion logs. Companies can apply to download private communications, but Slack will require proof of a valid legal process or consent of the users.
There is an alternative way to download private communications from specific users as long as you have their username and password. The Slack API, or Application Programming Interface, allows admins to access the backend of their Slack workspace. Using this tool, you can input a user’s login credentials and access all their data for download – but the complex interface will likely require a technical expert to navigate.
Finally, you can download data using Slack’s Discovery API – also known as the holy grail of ediscovery and forensics for Slack. This API provides access to all of the communications across a company’s workspace. It is only available in the Enterprise Grid subscription plan and includes Data Loss Prevention to ensure sensitive information is kept confidential.
★ Utilize Activity and Access Logs
- Slack displays an activity dashboard that shows all the users in your workspace, how many days they’ve been active, their number of messages sent, and more.
- Access logs provide information on third-party app integrations, devices, IP addresses and more. It also shares when and how users access their Slack account.
Reviewing Slack Data in Nextpoint
Your decisions during the collection and processing stages will impact the information you can access during document review.
The method you choose should depend on what you want the final results to look like – and what will make your clients the happiest. To ensure data is handled practically, consider: What’s your goal for production? Do you need to see all the emojis and reactions to reach this goal, or is the text of the messages enough? Do you need to review a full channel or individual messages? Making the right decisions early on in discovery will ensure your document review goes smoothly.
In our experience, most firms don’t need all the bells and whistles – PDF files of the relevant channels are usually enough. Each channel will be imported into Nextpoint as a single file with multiple pages, and the first page will list all the members of the channel. You can utilize the page note feature to indicate which pages are responsive and only produce those pages. You can also add redactions and highlights as you would with any other file.
Since JSON files include all the original metadata, you can filter messages based on date range, custodian, or any other relevant criteria. If you choose to review the messages as individual files rather than a single PDF, the conversations and attachments can be linked together like a traditional email thread/family.
Quick Tips for Microsoft Teams
Many of the tactics discussed for ediscovery of Slack data can be applied to Microsoft Teams as well. You’ll want to start with the same approach – determine the tier, retention schedule, and any employee use policies. You can also apply for a Teams Discovery API to download data for review in a platform like Nextpoint.
Microsoft does include some features to review discovery data in the platform, like legal hold tools and content search capabilities. However, we recommend importing the data into your ediscovery software platform as you would with any other ESI to ensure the integrity of all evidence is maintained.
From Slack to Teams and Beyond
As more of our corporate and personal lives take place online, collaboration data in ediscovery may extend beyond Slack and Teams. Google Chat, Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp for Business, Discord, and Workplace from Meta are just a few of the platforms that could crop up in the litigation landscape.
Fortunately, although we may deal with these increasingly varied forms of ESI, the fundamental ediscovery approach remains the same. Understand the different subscription plans and what they offer, the retention schedule and how long messages are stored, and the various export options.
★ Watch the Full Webcast
Click here to watch the full webcast on ediscovery for Slack and Teams and hear from our experts firsthand.
Need Help with a New Form of ESI?
We hope this overview has helped you understand the main challenges and factors at play when dealing with collaboration app data. Still, handling this data can get tricky – so don’t hesitate to reach out to the Nextpoint team for help.
From strategic guidance on what to include in your collections to technical assistance with data processing, our experts can do it all. Schedule a free consultation today to see how we can help.