[Editor’s note: This is a guest post by veteran e-discovery consultants Tom O’Connor, director of the Gulf Coast Legal Technology Center, and Don Swanson, president of Five Star Legal.]

Nine years is a long time for technology. In 2009, eDiscovery expert Craig D. Ball issued his EDna Challenge, asking eDiscovery lawyers and forensic technologists how they would handle a hypothetical small eDiscovery project on a limited budget. Two years later, Tom O’Connor followed that with his Ernie Challenge, a hypothetical based on a “tweener” case — one bigger than the EDna hypothetical but not a mega-case suitable for the name-brand products that dominate eDiscovery technology. Both challenges garnered significant public exposure and comment.

Today we pose a new hypothetical challenge with a twist: the matter in question still has a budget restriction but all relevant data now resides within Microsoft Office 365. Are Office 365’s eDiscovery capabilities for real? Can litigants achieve the goals outlined in EDna and Ernie within Office 365? Can big case eDiscovery processes be handled within Office 365 on a small budget? This is the focus of the Microsoft Office 365 Challenge.

Why Microsoft Office 365?  Most people know Office 365 as a software-as-a-service offering of email, word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications. Office 365 and the Microsoft Cloud are used by most of the Fortune 500, as well as federal, state and local governments and educational institutions.

Office 365 is different. Servers and applications are managed and maintained by Microsoft. While Office 365 subscribers cannot access the physical machines where their data resides, Microsoft has introduced eDiscovery capabilities, which are built-in to the service and purport to handle key functions, including identification, preservation, analysis and collection.


A multi-national company is facing commercial litigation from a former supplier. The company believes the lawsuit is frivolous yet realizes there is at least $400,000 of potential financial exposure and the likelihood of significant legal expenditures. The business employs 750 and last year the company moved all email and SharePoint content to Microsoft Office 365.

The company general counsel has identified 10 employees who are likely to have data relevant to the lawsuit. Although she has retained outside counsel to handle the litigation, the general counsel is determined to control costs by dealing with initial eDiscovery aspects internally. To that end, she is familiarizing herself with the Electronic Discovery Reference Model™ and is meeting with the company information technology team to explore Office 365’s eDiscovery features.


The general counsel asks: Within the company’s Office 365 E3 licenses, which processes can be performed in-house to help control costs while meeting legal obligations?

The general counsel identifies several goals:

  1. Avoid purchase of additional software or hardware.
  2. Preserve potentially relevant email, including metadata.
  3. Analyze content using advanced search including keyword, date range and Boolean.
  4. Establish a defensible and cost-efficient workflow.

We have built a survey which asks about eDiscovery capabilities in Office 365, including:

  • Information Governance.
  • Identification.
  • Preservation.
  • Collection.
  • Processing.
  • Review.
  • Analysis.
  • Production.
  • Presentation.

The survey can be found at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/M2MS95Q. Survey responses submitted before Oct. 15, 2018, will be included in the white paper detailing the Microsoft Office 365 Challenge findings.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.