How to Use an ESI Questionnaire to Automate and Streamline the Discovery Process

As litigators are now well aware, nowadays it is very hard to escape electronic discovery (or e-discovery) in any case. Electronic documents are involved in nearly every case because that is how we communicate in the Twenty-First Century. There is probably no case in modern litigation that does not involve an email message, electronic file or social media entry. Here are some tips about how using an ESI questionnaire can help automate and streamline the discovery process for litigators.

Streamline the Discovery Process With Electronic Questionnaires

To get a handle on the e-discovery aspects of a case, using an ESI (electronically stored information) questionnaire is extremely helpful. ESI questionnaires permit lawyers to identify ESI custodians and find out what information and knowledge the custodians possess regarding a legal matter (or, in non-legalese, determine which witnesses have what information).  

As you know, this information is critical in your evaluation of a case. But if you don’t have a good process in place for capturing and storing the information, it can be cumbersome to collect, and worst of all it can expose you to malpractice liability.

At the heart of ESI questionnaires is really just the 5 Ws (and 1 H). The who, what, when, where, why and how. Identifying custodians and learning what relevant evidence they possess helps satisfy preservation obligations and helps attorneys more effectively represent their clients and satisfy discovery requirements.

How to Create an ESI Questionnaire

Below is a list of important questions for your ESI questionnaire. Of course, these are just a few questions to consider, and you will need to think about the needs of your specific practice in developing your own questionnaire.

  • Do you have any nicknames or alternate spellings of your name?
    • If so, please list them.
  • Please list your current employment title and employer.
  • Did you receive and review the litigation hold notice?
  • Please identify all desktop and laptop computers you might have used to view or create documents relating to this legal matter (include both personal and work devices).
  • Please identify all cellular phones, tablet and smartphones you use. Please include any devices you own as well as any issued by your employer.
  • Please list all email addresses you’ve used, including work email addresses.
  • Please list all all social media services you use (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) and your user name or “handle”.
  • Do you use removable storage devices (such as “thumb drives” and USB storage devices) to store electronic materials?
  • Do you communicate with others via text message?
    • If so, please list all telephone numbers used for text messaging.
  • Do communicate with others via direct messaging on social media accounts (such as through LinkedIn InMail or Facebook Messages)?
    • If so, please identify the social media service used.
  • Do you communicate with others on instant messaging or video (such as Skype or Google Hangouts)?
    • If so, please explain.
  • Do you have any saved voicemail messages relating to this legal matter?
    • If so, please explain.
  • What is your practice regarding the deletion of emails?
  • Where do you save documents that might relate to this legal matter?
  • Do you store information in the “cloud,” such as on Dropbox, Box. Google Drive or Microsoft SharePoint/One Drive?

    • If so, please explain.
  • Do you keep a paper calendar?
  • Do you keep an electronic calendar?
    • If so, please identify the calendar application used.
  • What electronic documents do you possess relevant to this matter (i.e. email messages, notes, contracts, etc.)?
    • Please describe the documents and their location.
  • Do you possess or know of any hard copy (printed) documents relevant to this matter?
    • If so, please describe the documents and their location.
  • If you know others who would possess information, documents or records relevant to this matter, please identify them.

Use Online Forms to Automate and Streamline the Discovery Process

These days, it is easier for most clients to submit the information online rather than by filling out a paper form by hand. To make the ESI questionnaire creation and submission process as efficient as possible, it is helpful to use an online tool like Lexicata’s online intake form builder, Google forms, Wufoo, or Formstack.

Any online form tool can get the job done, but Lexicata is particularly useful because it is designed for attorneys and can automate the entry of the questionnaire information into your case management system, which saves a lot of time.

Lexicata’s form creator and automation tool is perfect for creating an ESI questionnaire, and once created, it can be included in your normal litigation intake workflows and on your case checklists. The pre-built form fields include text answers, multiple choice responses, and yes or no responses, among others. Creating the form is a breeze, and you can even ask follow up questions based on a particular answer, which allows you drill down and get very specific information from clients. 


As you can see, there are many benefits for litigators who use an online ESI questionnaire to capture important information during the client intake process. Not only does it help to establish an effective, repeatable process for capturing critical information prior to taking a case. It also allows for the automation of data entry to help attorneys save time on administrative tasks, and focus their energy on getting results for clients.

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Author Bio

Chad Main is an attorney and the founder of Percipient, a legal technology and e-discovery company focusing on managed document review. Percipient handles all aspects of legal document review projects including collection, review, analysis and production. Prior to founding Percipient, Chad worked as a litigator in Los Angeles and Chicago. He may be reached at He writes frequently about electronic discovery and litigation on the Percipient E-Discovery Blog.