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Archive for August, 2011

7th Circuit Electronic Discovery Pilot Program and the Principles on ESI

Thursday, August 25th, 2011

eDiscovery best practices, particularly practical ones, are hard to come by.  That’s why the Pilot Program of the 7th Circuit has been such a novel (and successful) undertaking.  As part of this program, judges, outside counsel and industry experts collaborated to practically deal with the many vexing eDiscovery challenges in the courtroom. By way of background, the 7th Circuit Electronic Discovery Pilot Program Committee was formed in May 2009 and was chartered to conduct a multi-year, multi-phase project to develop, implement, evaluate, and improve pretrial litigation procedures, which ideally would provide fairness and justice to all parties, while seeking to reduce the cost and burden of electronic discovery consistent with Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP).

The Committee, comprised of the most talented experts in the 7th Circuit, as well as experts in relevant fields of technology, promulgated “Principles Relating to the Discovery of Electronically Stored Information” (“Principles”) and a Proposed Standing Order by which participating judges could implement the Principles in the Pilot Program’s test cases.  Practicing lawyers wrote the Principles under the guidance of federal judges in Chicago, with the end result being a consensus from experts in the field of eDiscovery rather than a prescriptive approach dictated by the courts.  The Committee now has 80 members, including members from all 7 federal districts in the 7th Circuit and around the country, and is chaired by Chief Judge Holderman and Magistrate Judge Nolan of the Northern District of Illinois. The Principles provide a checklist of important considerations for the initial meet and confer conference, as well as even-handed rules regarding preserving and producing electronically stored information (ESI) that provide more granularity to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The 7th Circuit has been well-received, and evangelists are jumping on board in other Circuits, including the 9th Circuit.  Art Gollwitzer, a member of the 7th Circuit eDiscovery Pilot Program Committee, practices patent law, was key in the formation of the Principles notably the Preservation Principle 2.04, and now heads the National Outreach Committee for the 7th Circuit Program.  In a recent case, Joao Control & Monitoring Systems of California, LLC v. ACTI Corp., et al., Case No. SA CV10-1909-DOC, in the Central District of California, Art was pleasantly surprised to see language that he helped write in a draft ESI order handed out by the court to the parties for their consideration at the initial status conference.  “I was very happy to see the exact language that our committee drafted after many hours of discussion in the summer of 2009 in the court’s proposed order,” Art explained.  “We worked hard to reduce the cost and burden of electronic discovery and to prevent ESI discovery from turning into a game of ‘gotcha’.”

The goal of the National Outreach Committee is to spread the word about the 7th Circuit’s ESI Program and its benefits.  “We envision spreading the word through articles, speeches, and ‘grass-roots’ or word-of-mouth efforts,” says Gollwitzer. To that end, liaisons in each Circuit or even each district can talk to judges and encourage colleagues to propose that courts adopt the Committee’s principles in Rule 26(f) orders on a case-by-case basis.  “We also can describe the program and its principles at local bar associations and Inns of Court,” he explains.  “Finally, we can volunteer for local rules committees or comment on ESI proposals for local rules.”

With each jurisdiction having its own local rules and each legal community having its own flavor, the exercise of bringing all stakeholders into the process to contribute to the Principles is unprecedented.  Whether each Circuit starts their own Pilot Programs, or initially adopts the 7th Circuit’s Principles and then modifies as necessary, remains to be seen.  Either way, results from the 7th Circuit have been positive thus far, generating supporters nationally.  The hope is that courts and practitioners will start with these Principles in order to avoid a patchwork of ESI rules across the country.

The general consensus of the participating judges in Phase I of the Pilot Program was that the Principles were having a positive effect both on counsel’s cooperation with opposing counsel, and on counsel’s knowledge of procedures to be followed when addressing electronic discovery issues. The judges felt that the involvement of eDiscovery liaisons required by Principle 2.02 contributed to a more efficient and cost effective discovery process. Many of the participating lawyers reported little impact on their cases, presumably mostly because of the limited 6-month duration of Phase I. Those lawyers who did see an effect from the application of the Principles in their cases overwhelmingly reported that the effect was positive in terms of promoting fairness, fostering more amicable dispute resolution, and facilitating their advocacy on behalf of their clients. The Committee intends to present its Final Report on the 2-year Phase II evaluation at the 7th Circuit Bar Association Meeting in May 2012.

While most attorneys are following the guidance of Principle 2.01 (a) and (c), Duty to Meet and Confer on Discovery and to Identify Disputes for Early Resolution, it is barely the majority.  And curiously, a significant minority of attorneys acknowledged they had not familiarized themselves with their client’s information systems or had early discussions with their opponents about ESI preservation issues even though they were applicable in the case.

What does this suggest? For one thing, the landscape is improving – but there is still a long way to go.  Why would even a single attorney with a case in the Pilot Program ignore relevant ESI issues? One of the major problems with the vagueness of the Federal Rules was a lack of clear-cut guidance. Now, even though there is a Standing Order in the case providing guidance and Principle 2.01 (d) outlining sanctions that could be imposed for failure to comply, some lawyers still do not.

Every Circuit should be forming a Committee and bringing practitioners, judges and experts together to weigh in on these important ESI issues.  Fortunately, there is a successful model available with hard data.  The 7th Circuit’s Principles and Standing Order are a good place to start.

Clearwell Doubles Down on Review

Monday, August 22nd, 2011


(Editor’s note: This special guest post was written by Chitran
g Shah, Clearwell Principal Product Manager. He is an RIT alum and avid hiker who works with our engineering team and lead customers to optimize the product for large-scale review. – Kurt)

As we’ve previously shared, our product strategy throughout 2009 and 2010 was to expand the product footprint across the EDRM as customers were demanding a single, end-to-end eDiscovery product. During this period we successfully expanded from our roots in processing, search and analysis to review and production (August 2009), identification and collection (September 2010) and legal hold workflow (March 2011). Over the last several months, our focus has been to go deep in each of these modules and provide features that deliver even greater return on investment to our customers.

Today, I am excited to announce significant new features and feature enhancements to the Clearwell Review and Production Module and say a few words about what motivated us to build these features and how they enable our customers to further streamline their legal review workflow.

There are several exciting features in this release, but I would to like to highlight three in particular:

1. Ability to seamlessly import production load files

Most matters require reviewing relevant documents alongside the documents received from third parties, opposing parties, and even previous litigations. With the new load file import feature, users can now streamline the process of importing load files with three simple steps.

In Step 1, a step-by-step wizard-like interface guides users though the selection of formatting information such as field delimiters and nested value delimiters, metadata information such as bates numbers, family relationships, tags, folders and any number of custom attributes, and content information such as images, extracted text and native files. When the load file has both extracted texts and native files, the wizard gives users an option to specify which content should be used for searching.

In Step 2, the system performs a deep validation of the load file and generates a report documenting any inconsistencies such as missing bates numbers or missing values for required fields found in the load file. As a result, customers have the ability to quickly find and fix any issues with the load file before the import begins.

In Step 3, the system imports the documents and builds analytics. Once this step completes, the imported documents, including all metadata and content, are available for viewing and searching.

All the analytics capabilities customers are familiar with, such as discussion threads and concept search, are also available for documents imported from load files. This allows users to quickly discover documents in the load file that are conceptually similar to natively processed documents, for example.

2. Support for large scale reviews and productions

As the volume of electronically stored information (ESI) continues to grow, our customers find themselves reviewing and exporting more and more documents, and they need a solution that can cope with the massive growth in data. At the same time, they don’t want to spend large sums of money building a server farm in anticipation of the growth. They want the flexibility to add capacity when needed and remove it when not needed.

Clearwell’s scale-out architecture enables administrators to easily add appliances and allocate them to a particular matter and to a specific task using a point-and-click interface.

For example, if an administrator needs to increase the number of reviewers from 200 to 400 in order to meet a tight deadline, he or she can easily add 2 appliances to the cluster and assign them for review. Once the review completes, the administrator can now easily re-assign these appliances for production, allowing users to easily meet deadlines while reducing their overall hardware costs.

This flexibility allows our customers to maximize the use of their hardware resources while providing infinite review, export and production scalability.

3. Streamlined management of exports and productions

Clearwell provides powerful export options, and while our customers use them extensively for creating a variety of different production formats, they typically standardize on a few. Clearwell’s new case export and production templates provide a quick and easy way for case administrators to define the export format once and use it across multiple cases. When exporting documents, users can simply select a template from the list of visible templates in that case. This capability significantly reduces the overhead associated with managing export formats and allows our customers to produce documents in a consistent format across multiple matters.

Additionally, new production pre-mediation reports automatically identify problem documents and group them by issue type for quick resolution. This enables users to preemptively identify and resolve document production issues without delaying entire productions.

Says Wendy Butler Curtis, chair of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe’s eDiscovery Working Group, “Legal review is one of the most challenging phases of the eDiscovery process. As electronic data volumes continue to grow, it is increasingly important to leverage technologies that can streamline and improve legal review, ensure defensibility and reduce costs. Solutions like the Clearwell eDiscovery Platform enable legal teams to create an iterative eDiscovery workflow that allows for more efficient and effective large-scale review.”

We will be showcasing the new features at ILTA (Booth 816) this week in Nashville, so come see us and let us know what you think.

(Chitrang Shah is a Principal Product Manager at Clearwell Systems, now a part of Symantec, and the lead Product Manager for Clearwell’s Processing & Analysis and Review & Production Modules)

Addressing the Regulatory and eDiscovery Challenges of Social Media

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Is your organization among those that have jumped with both feet into the world of social media?

Recent survey results confirm that social media use is on the rise for almost all organizations across the globe.  This is particularly the case in the financial services industry.  A recent industry survey confirms that nearly two-thirds of all asset managers are actively using social media for marketing purposes.

Despite its increasing popularity and ubiquity, the securities industry is experiencing growing pains with social media.  Just like other industries, financial services providers are struggling with applying notions of information governance to these non-traditional forms of communication.  Indeed, with social media becoming an increasingly important data source for both business and legal purposes, it behooves enterprises to develop an information governance strategy with respect to this data.  The best practices being followed in this regard by financial services companies should be paradigmatic for organizations across the board.

Social Media Challenges for Financial Services Companies

Many financial services companies are experiencing difficulty supervising or retaining social media communications as required by FINRA Regulatory Notice 10-06.  A landmark regulation, FINRA 10-06 was promulgated last year to protect investors from false or misleading claims made on social networking sites.  To comply with this regulation, securities firms must develop protocols that enable them to supervise and retain social media content and ensure conformity by their representatives.

It is no secret that social media communications continue to bedevil securities firms.  Indeed, 63% of surveyed asset managers reported that “regulatory recordkeeping” remains their greatest challenge with respect to social media.  And as more firms move toward social media marketing, the number of financial services companies experiencing difficulty with retention is also likely to increase.

The challenges firms are experiencing with social media are not limited to retention.  They also include the need to properly supervise social media communications.  This was acknowledged by FINRA chairman and chief executive Richard Ketchum at an industry event this past June.  Among other social media issues, Ketchum explained that firms have questioned how they can most effectively supervise their employees’ use of smart phones and tablet computers that can access company sites.  In response to these matters, FINRA just issued Regulatory Notice 11-39 to help clarify several lingering questions regarding retention and supervision.

Best Practices for Addressing the Challenges of Social Media

Given the complexity of these issues, regulated enterprises need to know what best practices can be followed to ensure compliance with pertinent FINRA and SEC regulations.  While there are perhaps many steps that could be implemented, three stand out as indispensable for firms.

The first is that firms should develop a global plan for how they will engage in social media marketing.  This initial step is particularly important for groups that are just now exploring the use of social media to communicate with investors.  Having a plan in place that maps out investor contact and communication strategy, provides for required supervision of firm representatives, and accounts for compliance with regulatory requirements is essential for securities firms.  Failing to take these steps could result in fines, suspensions or worse.

The next step involves educating and training employees regarding the firm’s social media plan.  This should include instruction regarding what content may be posted to social networking sites and the internal process for doing so.  Policies that describe the consequences for deviating from the firm’s social media plan should also be clearly delineated.  Those policies should detail the legal repercussions – civil and criminal – for both the employee and the firm for social media missteps.

Third, firms can employ technology to ensure compliance with their social media plan.  Indeed, FINRA 10-06 specifically emphasizes the importance of deploying technological “systems” to facilitate conformity with the regulation’s “Recordkeeping Responsibilities” requirement.  Those “systems” include archiving software and other technology tools.  With the right tools in place, firms can perform a cost-effective supervisory review of content to help ensure compliance with corporate policy and regulatory bodies.  Moreover, an effective “system” will implement legal holds and efficiently retrieve archived social media content in response to legal and regulatory requests.  All of this enables a company to establish the reasonableness of its retention and eDiscovery processes and demonstrate compliance with relevant SEC and FINRA regulations.

By following these steps and other best practices, financial services companies can begin to reasonably address the challenges of social media.  Knowing that those challenges are being dealt with in an effective manner will enable firms to confidently engage in social media marketing – and reap the financial benefits of doing so.

Gibson Dunn’s Mid-Year eDiscovery Report Highlights Changes in Sanctions Landscape

Monday, August 15th, 2011

In past years we’ve covered Gibson Dunn’s Mid-Year E-Discovery Report which is always a good read, chock full of take-aways about the eDiscovery market.  In my mind, they do an excellent job of synthesizing the ever-expanding volume of case law and comparing those trends with historical averages.  This year’s report is no exception, and for those who don’t get to read all the cases, this is a stellar way to keep up on eDiscovery trends.  Without trying to summarize the entire 23 page document, there were a number of findings that stood out and should be perused by anyone with even a passing interest in the space.

Legal Holds/Preservation. As we all know, eDiscovery sanctions (at least here in the US) are critical business/legal drivers, particularly with regard to the legal hold area (which is the riskiest part of the EDRM).  As the Gibson report points out, the actual award of sanctions has remained relatively flat (56% in the first half of 2011 versus 55% for the full year in 2010) –  but, more important than this relatively stable metric, it’s very clear that the plaintiff’s bar has caught on to the ability to win cases by revealing shoddy (or just undocumented) legal hold procedures, even in some instances where data isn’t lost.  This is why the report notes a dramatic increase in the seeking of eDiscovery sanctions – 68 at mid-year 2011 versus 31 at mid-year 2010.  This doubling of attempts to pierce an entity’s legal hold regime should be a wake-up call to in-house practitioners and chief legal officers, since the attempt and success rates will likely only increase over time.

While there is still some considerable debate, at least for those following Judge Scheindlin’s Pension Committee logic, anything less than a formal, written legal hold policy is per se negligent.  Although it’s conceivable that  a reviewing court won’t use this rigorous standard, anything less formal will strike most organizations as simply too risky.  Ongoing compliance with the legal hold process is also another difficult task for many organizations, one which is considerably easier with an automated solution that is able to track acknowledgements and send reminders over time.  It’s all too easy for companies to think that once they’ve discharged their initial legal hold duty they’re in the clear – but as these obligations morph (with more custodians/data types) and elongate (from months to years) over time, keeping on top of the legal hold processes becomes that much more important.

Sanctions. The Gibson report also importantly points out that there’s currently a split in jurisdictions where some courts can levy sanctions for bad faith, while others can merely require proof of negligence.  Here, the important take-away is that a defendant entity doesn’t typically get to forum shop and therefore they can’t really tell which type of jurisdiction they’ll end up in as a litigant.  So, they need to build their eDiscovery processes to meet the high water (i.e., most rigorous) standard.  In most cases, it’s therefore prudent to be prepared to be sanctioned for merely negligent conduct – anything less can potentially be safe but that risk calculation needs to be considered carefully.

The other perilous part of the equation is that once sanctions are deemed warranted, the court has almost unlimited discretion to levy whatever blend of sanctions it thinks is appropriate.  In Green v. Blitz, for example, the court ordered a laundry list of sanctions, some of which were pretty unfathomable:

1. Defendant had to pay plaintiff $250,000

2. Defendant had to provide a copy of the court’s order to plaintiffs “in every lawsuit proceeding against it” for the past two years

3. Defendant had to file the court’s order in every case that it is involved in for the next 5 years

The bottom line is that sanctions, despite the fear factor, can be used to drive positive proactive conduct – namely in the shape of eDiscovery best practices.

Outside Counsel Duties. Here, the Gibson report notes that outside counsel’s Zubulake duties continue to increase over time, with a number of cases continuing the trend of holding attorneys responsible for ensuring that their clients properly implement legal holds, institute sound sampling protocols and conduct sufficient quality control steps.  This line of discussion can be useful when talking to outside counsel where we’re starting to see how their increasing responsibilities can lead to malpractice exposure, as seen in the recent McDermott case.

Search/Analysis. Lately there’s been a ton of buzz about predictive coding, but (despite the hype) it still doesn’t appear ready for prime time yet.  The Gibson report noted that there were no reported cases that addressed the use of predictive coding or other advanced search technologies.  My sense is that without some semblance of judicial approval or strong client backing, outside counsel (who are concerned about their malpractice exposure, per above) aren’t quickly going to be the first ones into the pool.  Unless an enterprise client demands that they use this type of technology, most will wait for judicial approval and that’s probably still a way off.  While next generation search technologies are more promise than reality right now, there is still a mandate to implement a defensible search methodology.  These are needed initially to demonstrate transparency in the eDiscovery process and to then withstand the challenges levied by counsel in the case of an inadvertent production.

In sum, the Gibson report shows the ongoing maturation of the eDiscovery space.  But, any niche market led by case law and/or attorneys deciding to adopt new technologies won’t be quick to change.  In many instances, therefore, the best practices will be decided a combination of standards bodies and vendors who are being pushed by their more forward thinking clients to get and stay on the cutting edge.

New eDiscovery Rules on the Horizon?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

The Advisory Committee on Civil Rules recently announced that a “mini-conference” has been scheduled to discuss potential amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) that could change the way preservation and sanction issues are handled throughout the federal court system today.  The mini-conference is scheduled for September 9th in Dallas, Texas and will be led by the Discovery Subcommittee – a committee appointed by the Advisory Committee.

The mini-conference is important because it is part of a seven step process that could ultimately lead to new rule amendments affecting all litigators and the organizations they represent.  Any new rule proposals developed by the subcommittee at the September mini-conference will be considered by the Advisory Committee this November in Washington D.C.   The proposals, in one form or another, could ultimately become law.  Both Supreme Court and Congressional approval are ultimately required, so don’t expect any rule changes to go into effect before 2013.

A key focus of the meeting is to investigate whether or not new preservation or sanctions amendments are necessary.  Some, including former US Magistrate Judge Ronald Hedges, feel that it’s too early to consider changing the rules on the heels of the 2006 amendments.  If the Subcommittee decides rule amendments are necessary to address current issues, then the question becomes what rule changes should be made.  Given the controversy surrounding the preservation of electronically stored information (ESI) and an increasing number of eDiscovery-related sanctions, the discussion is likely to create plenty of healthy debate about when the duty to preserve evidence should be triggered and when sanctions are warranted.

In the words of the Subcommittee, “anxiety bordering on anguish” has resulted from uncertainty related to the beginning, scope and duration of the duty to preserve evidence and the concomitant risk of sanctions for spoliation.  In other words, organizations routinely exposed to the possibility of sanctions are crying out for language that clarifies when the duty to preserve ESI is triggered, what must be preserved, and when the duty expires.  One challenge the Subcommittee faces if they decide to propose rule changes, is figuring out how to address these cries for more specific guidelines without sacrificing fairness.

For example, some may favor a rule amendment stating that the duty to preserve evidence is triggered only after a complaint has been served.  Although this bright line rule provides certainty in terms of when the duty to preserve evidence is triggered, it could certainly lead to unfair results where bad actors simply delete damaging evidence as soon as they anticipate being served.  This approach would also likely lead to a race to the courthouse and more lawsuits in an already heavily burdened court system, since filing a complaint would be required to trigger preservation requirements for opponents.

The inherent conflict between the desire for bright line rules and the need for flexibility in a fact-driven profession is likely to test the mettle of the Subcommittee in September.  To help frame the discussion, attendees have been asked to consider a number of questions related to the nature and scope of the problem, technology related issues, and possible solutions.  A complete list of attendees and the questions they have been asked to consider are contained in the Advisory Committee’s June 29, 2011 memorandum.  Some of the questions below provide a glimpse into the complexity of the issues to be discussed:

To what extent are you finding that preservation of ESI is a problem in your organization or practice?

Has technology helped you reduce review costs?  How?

What implications will cloud computing have for civil litigation?

How would a rule help reduce some of the costs you are incurring?

Although no formal rule amendments have been proposed, the mini-conference will consider three possible approaches crafted in April of this year.  Stay tuned for my next blog post discussing the differences between these proposals and what it means if they are adopted.

Two Surveys Confirm Social Media in eDiscovery Has Reached Tipping Point

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

As the saying goes, “I’ve seen the future and the future is now.”  This was my first reaction after analyzing two recent surveys regarding social media and eDiscovery.  The first one was from Clearwell (now a part of Symantec) and the Enterprise Strategy Group, entitled: “Trends in E-Discovery: Cloud and Collection.”  Beyond examining cloud issues it also queried respondents about the growing impact of social media on electronic discovery.  While many of the responses struck me as intuitive, I was taken by the fact that we seem to have crossed over the chasm of social media to the point that this content simply cannot be ignored any longer.  For ages, and perhaps some still today, email was the 800 pound gorilla in the eDiscovery context, often to the dangerous exclusion of other forms of electronically stored information (ESI).

But, in 2011 we’ve now reached the tipping point – with 58 percent of respondents of the ESG survey expecting to manage social media applications as part of eDiscovery, more than double the 27 percent who did so in 2010.  That’s not only a massive increase in one year, but it also moves social media from a fringe element to a mainstream source of ESI.  When asked what types of social media applications would be the most relevant for eDiscovery, 79 percent of survey respondents named Facebook, followed by Twitter (64 percent) and LinkedIn (55 percent).

Similarly (and coincidentally), Applied Research and Symantec (who just acquired Clearwell) queried 1,225 senior enterprise IT professionals around the world in a Social Media Flash Poll.  In one of the main findings, the Flash Poll found that social media is extremely ubiquitous in the enterprise environment, with 45 percent of respondents using it for personal uses and 42 percent using it for business reasons.  Rating highly were a number of disparate social media devices including blogs, multimedia sharing, business forums and, of course, social networking – both personal (e.g., Facebook) and business (e.g., LinkedIn).

The impact on eDiscovery, while somewhat obvious, is nevertheless a significant challenge for many enterprises.

Initially, the increased use of social media intrinsically means that email isn’t likely to be the sole source of responsive information pertaining to a lawsuit (or governmental inquiry).  While this hasn’t really been the case for a while, it’s time for the attorneys scoping eDiscovery matters to face facts and abandon old school notions that email axiomatically equals eDiscovery.  For good or ill, our world of potentially responsive ESI simply isn’t that homogenous.

The Flash Poll also honed in on how this increased use of social media is impacting IT professionals.  While information governance concepts (compliance with regulations and retention polices – both at 45 percent) rated higher on their risk index, the management of eDiscovery was still a significant (and growing) concern at 37 percent.  And, while IT folks are increasingly concerned, it’s safe to say that their attorney counterparts (who have a heightened sense of risk profiling) are even more worried about the impact of social media on the already complex eDiscovery process.

So, what can be done in the face of this changing eDiscovery landscape that used to be dominated by email?  First and foremost, it’s imperative to understand your unique regulatory and legal requirements.  This facilitates the mapping of new social media technologies and content to the requisite policies that address data mapping and the retention of social media content, either in a proactive sense (i.e., archiving) or in a reactive sense (i.e., litigation hold).

As Glenn Close frighteningly said in her 1987 thriller, Fatal Attraction, “I will not be ignored.”  That warning fits the entire social media genre as it relates to eDiscovery in 2011.  And, just like ignoring Glenn Close, failing to pay proper attention to social media is done at significant peril to both IT professionals and attorneys alike.