Archive for December, 2011

Q&A with William P. Butterfield on his Testimony Regarding the Costs and Burdens of eDiscovery Before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

William Butterfield is a partner at Hausfeld LLP with over 33 years of experience as a trial attorney and a track record of success.  In addition to serving as a leader in several legal think tanks and teaching law, Mr. Butterfield’s achievements include reaching multiple settlements in the neighborhood of $100 million in complex legal matters.  Last week Mr. Butterfield had the rare opportunity to testify before Congress regarding the Costs and Burdens of eDiscovery in Washington D.C.  The following dialogue captures his experiences and observations testifying before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution.

Matthew Nelson: What was it like testifying before Congress and why did you feel compelled to testify?

William P. Butterfield: It was my first time testifying before Congress, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.  But it was a positive experience for me, and I’m glad that I was asked to testify.  While there is an organized, and well-financed effort by some in the corporate community to make drastic revisions to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or civil rules, there is also a large segment of the bar (including many attorneys who are thought leaders in this area) who think that the types of “cures” under consideration will do more harm than good.  I think it’s important to give voice to that view, and that is why I testified.

Nelson: What were some of the key points you and other witnesses with different viewpoints made during the hearing?

Butterfield: Rebecca Kourlis, executive director of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), testified that the cost of litigation is in part responsible for fewer trials.  She said that IAALS supports a three-pronged approach to address the problem:  1) More effective judicial case management, 2) Increased cooperation and 3) Rules revisions.  Importantly, Justice Kourlis said that we should defer to the Standing Committee and the Civil Rules Advisory Committee of the Judicial Conference, which is addressing the issues.

William Hubbard, assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago, testified about the costs of preservation and eDiscovery, noting that the costs are relatively modest in most cases.  He testified that most of the high discovery costs are occurring in a very few (5%) cases.

Thomas Hill, associate general counsel at General Electric, testified that the current Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) result in American companies waste billions of dollars on unnecessary document preservation and production.  He indicated that part of the problem is that companies must preserve documents before a lawsuit is filed, and often they preserve where no lawsuit is ever filed.  He provided examples of occasions where GE spent more in preservation than the money at stake in the litigation.

My testimony focused on three things:  1) Our legal system depends on discovery and some of the proposals from those seeking drastic rules changes would undermine our goal of searching for the truth in litigation and resolving disputes on the merits; 2) The fear of sanctions that some companies claim are causing them to over-preserve is overblown, given that sanctions are sought in just 1/15th of 1% of federal court cases, and are granted in only about half of those cases; 3) A review of sanctions decisions demonstrates that parties are not getting sanctioned where they acted in good faith.  Rather, they are being sanctioned for egregious conduct.

Nelson: Did you sense a split among party lines or among certain members of Congress or some kind of overwhelming consensus on any issues?

Butterfield: Predictably, there appeared to be some differences between parties, although it is hard to say what reflects the views of Republicans on the committee, because only one of their members participated.  The Democrats expressed two general views:  1) Although eDiscovery presents challenges to litigants, it has been valuable in uncovering critical evidence and is very beneficial to the goals of discovery in general, 2) Congress should not interfere with the Rules Committee, which is carefully studying these issues.  The Republicans, represented by the Subcommittee Chair, Trent Franks, took the position that the current discovery rules do not promote the objectives of Rule 1, which provides that litigation should be just, speedy and inexpensive.  Franks said that the civil rules regarding preservation and spoliation sanctions are too vague, and parties are therefore required to preserve excessive amounts of information.  But despite those differences, I didn’t observe any member calling for congressional intervention at this time.

Nelson: What struck you as interesting or important and what do you expect will be the outcome or next steps for Congress?

Butterfield: What struck me as interesting (and surprising) was that only one member from the majority participated in the hearing.  Nothing during the hearing led me to believe that Congress would interfere with the Rules Committee’s work and process.

For those interested in hearing more, visit the United States Courts website to listen to a full recording of the hearing. To learn more about FRCP developments follow Matt Nelson on Twitter at @InfoGovlawer

New Utah Rule 26: A Blueprint for Proportionality in eDiscovery

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

The eDiscovery frenzy that has gripped the American legal system over the past decade has become increasingly expensive.  Particularly costly to both clients and courts is the process of preserving, collecting and producing documents.  This was supposed to change after the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) were amended in 2006.  After all, weren’t the amended rules designed to streamline discovery, allowing parties to focus on the merits while making discovery costs more reasonable?  Instead, it seems the rules have spawned more collateral discovery disputes than ever before about preservation, collection and production issues.

As a solution to these costs, the eDiscovery cognoscenti are emphasizing the concept of “proportionality.”  Proportionality typically requires that the benefits of discovery be commensurate with its corresponding burdens.  Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the directive that discovery be proportional is found in Rules 26(c), 26(b)(2)(C) and Rule 26(b)(2)(B).  Under Rule 26(c), courts may generally issue protective orders that limit or even proscribe discovery that causes “annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.”  More specifics are set forth in Rule 26(b)(2)(C), which enables courts to restrict discovery if the requests are unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, the discovery can be obtained from an alternative source that is less expensive or burdensome, or the burden or expense of the discovery outweighs its benefit.  In the specific context of electronic discovery, Rule 26(b)(2)(B) restricts the discovery of backup tapes and other electronically stored information that are “not reasonably accessible” due to “undue burden or cost.”

Despite the existence of these provisions, they are often bypassed.  The most recent and notable example of this trend is found in Pippins v. KPMG (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 7, 2011).  In Pippins, the court ordered the defendant accounting firm to continue preserving thousands of employee hard drives.  In so doing, the court sidestepped the firm’s proportionality argument, citing Orbit One v. Numerex (S.D.N.Y. 2010) for the premise that such a standard is “too amorphous” and therefore unworkable.  Regardless of cost or burden, the court reasoned that “prudence” required preservation of all relevant materials “until a more precise definition [of proportionality] is created by rule.”

The Pippins order and its associated costs for the firm – potentially into the millions of dollars – has given new fuel to the argument that an amended federal rule should be implemented to include a more express mandate regarding proportionality.  Surprisingly enough, a blueprint for such an amended rule is already in place in the State of Utah.  Effective November 1, 2011, Utah implemented sweeping changes to civil discovery practice through amended Civil Procedure Rule 26.  The new rule makes proportionality the standard now governing eDiscovery in Utah.

Proportionality Dictates the Scope of Permissible Discovery

Utah Rule 26 has changed the permissible scope of discovery to expressly condition that all discovery meet the standards of proportionality.  That means parties may seek discovery of relevant, non-privileged materials “if the discovery satisfies the standards of proportionality.”  This effectively shifts the burden of proof on proportionality from the responding party to the requesting party.  Indeed, Utah Rule 26(b)(3) specifically codifies this stunning change:  “The party seeking discovery always has the burden of showing proportionality and relevance.”  This stands in sharp contrast to Federal Rules 26(b)(2) and 26(c), which require the responding party to show the discovery is not proportional.

The “standards of proportionality” that have been read into Utah Rule 26 incorporate those found in Federal Rule 26(b)(2)(C).  In addition, Utah Rule 26 requires that discovery be “reasonable.”  Reasonableness is to be determined on the needs of a given case such as the amount in controversy, the parties’ resources, the complexity and importance of the issues, and the role of the discovery in addressing such issues.  Last but not least, discovery must expressly comply with the cost cutting mandate of Rule 1 and thereby “further the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of the case.”

Proportionality Limits the Amount of Discovery

To further address the burdens and costs of disproportionate discovery, Utah Rule 26(c) limits the amount of discovery that parties may conduct as a matter of right based on the specific amounts in controversy.  For those matters involving damages of $300,000 or more, parties may propound 20 interrogatories, document requests and requests for admissions.  Total fact deposition time is restricted to a mere 30 hours.  For matters between $50,000 and $300,000, those figures are halved.  And for matters under $50,000, only five document requests and requests for admissions are allotted to the parties.  Fact depositions are curtailed to three hours total per side, while interrogatories are eliminated.

If these limits are too restrictive, parties may request “extraordinary discovery” under Rule 26(c)(6).  However, any such request must demonstrate that the sought after discovery is “necessary and proportional” under the rules.  The parties must also certify that a budget for the discovery has been “reviewed and approved.”

A Potential Model for Federal Discovery Rule Amendments

Utah Rule 26 could perhaps serve as a model for amending the scope of permissible discovery under the Federal Rules.  Like Utah Rule 26, Federal Rule 26 could be amended to expressly condition discovery on meeting the principles of proportionality.  The Federal Rules could also be modified to ensure the propounding party always has the burden of demonstrating the fact specific good cause for its discovery.  Doing so would undoubtedly force counsel and client to be more precise with their requests and do away with the current regime of “promiscuous discovery.”  Calcor Space Facility, Inc. v. Superior Court, 53 Cal.App.4th 216, 223 (1997) (urging courts to “aggressively” curb discovery abuses which, “like a cancerous growth, can destroy a meritorious cause or defense”).

Tiering the amounts of permitted discovery based on alleged damages could also reduce the costs of discovery.  With limited deposition time and fewer document requests, discovery of necessity would likely focus on the merits instead of eDiscovery sideshows.  Coupling this with an “extraordinary discovery” provision would enable courts to exercise greater control over the process and ensure that genuinely complex matters are litigated efficiently.

If all of this seems like a radical departure from established discovery practice, consider that the new Model Order on E-Discovery in Patent Cases has also incorporated tiered and extraordinary discovery provisions.  See DCG Systems v. Checkpoint Technologies (N.D. Ca. Nov. 2, 2011) (adopting the model order and explaining the benefits of limiting eDiscovery in patent cases).

For those who are seeking a vision of how proportionality might be incorporated into the Federal Rules, new Utah Rule 26 could be a blueprint for doing so.

Q&A with The Sedona Conference’s John Rabiej on Chief Justice Roberts, Proposed FRCP Amendments, and Congress’ Interest in eDiscovery

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Few people on the planet know more about federal rulemaking than John Rabiej, The Sedona Conference’s Director for Judicial Outreach.  John’s experience is the result of serving as the Chief of the Rules Committee Support Office for nearly two decades, where he routinely worked with federal judges, including current Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts.  A key part of supporting the rulemaking process included building consensus among many different groups and individuals who sometimes held vastly different notions of whether and how rules should be changed.

In addition to his role with The Sedona Conference, John is an accomplished author who has written extensively on rules related issues.  His publications include contributions to Moore’s Federal Practice, the Federal Lawyer, and Weinsten’s Federal Evidence.  I’m pleased to provide John’s take on the increasingly public debate about whether or not the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) should be amended.

Nelson: You are recognized as one of the leading experts on the Federal Rule making process.  How did you gain that experience and notoriety?

Rabiej: I established the rules committee office within the Administrative Office of United States Courts nearly two decades ago to provide staff support to the Judicial Conference Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure and its five advisory rules committees.  In this capacity, I had the privilege and honor of working very closely with 31 federal circuit, district, and bankruptcy judges who chaired a rules committee. These chairs were personally selected by the Chief Justice and represented the very best of the federal judiciary.  I learned from each of them and put their wise counsel to good use when I, in turn, provided advice to their successors.  At the same time, I worked closely with the committee reporters, who are each stellar academics with national reputations for excellence.  Over the years, I built up an institutional knowledge of rule amendments based on first-hand experiences.

I soon realized that rulemaking is a transparent, formal, quasi-legislative process, which typically requires a great deal of information gathering, consultation with interested groups, and consensus building.  I played a unique role because I coordinated the rules work among the rules committees, other Judicial Conference committees, members of the Judicial Conference, Supreme Court staff, Congressional members and staff, Executive Branch officials, major bar organizations, academics, and interest groups.  Because the federal rules have the force of law, buy-in from all these various major actors was a critical component of success.  And many of my responsibilities were to ensure that the rules committees were advised of the concerns and different points of view of these various individuals and entities.

Nelson: Are there any interesting stories or life lessons you can share about working with any of the committee chairs and members?

Rabiej: Without exception, every rules committee chair in my experience has not only been exceptionally bright and intelligent, but also considerate and kind on a personal human level. They each displayed the highest level of judicial temperament.  A good example is Chief Justice (then Judge) John Roberts’ patience in handling a particularly difficult public hearing.  Several years ago, an elderly lawyer requested to testify on a proposed amendment to the Appellate Rules.  I was unable to persuade the lawyer to withdraw the request, even though his request was the only one.  Judge Roberts generously agreed to preside over the hearing by himself on the committee’s behalf.  Witnesses testifying at rules hearings typically are given 10 minutes to make their presentations.  With only Judge Roberts, a stenographer, and me in the hearing room, the lawyer made a 30-minute rambling presentation, which solely addressed a local incident allegedly involving criminal misconduct.  It had absolutely nothing to do with the procedural appellate rule proposal under consideration.  Judge Roberts never interrupted the lawyer.  He patiently listened, genuinely was interested in the lawyer’s story, and responded with courtesy to all the lawyer’s questions.  At the end, the lawyer was satisfied that he had his day in “court” and walked away content.  This is only one of many examples of my experiences with rules committee judges acting in the finest traditions of the federal judiciary.

Nelson: Who is lobbying for changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rules”) and why?

Rabiej: Most rule amendment proposals are not controversial and are supported by general consensus.  But a few have been especially contentious.  Though rules are designed to apply to all parties in a neutral fashion, they can and do affect parties differently.  When large amounts of money hang in the balance, parties and their representatives go to great pains to make sure that the rules committees take into consideration their concerns and points of view. The current debate on preservation and sanctions issues is the most recent example.  The rules committees welcome such attention and close scrutiny because it leads to better and more informed rulemaking and greater buy-in from the affected parties and interest groups.

A loose coalition of officers from large corporations, corporate counsel, lawyers from large law firms, and interest groups, including Lawyers for Civil Justice, representing corporate and business clientele, is forming to advocate bold changes to the scope of discovery, which would narrow a party’s preservation obligations and limit a party’s vulnerability to spoliation sanctions.  They argue that the cost of preservation is skyrocketing and that the vast bulk of information preserved is unnecessary and has little to do with the merits of a case. They contend that all too often they are compelled by law to preserve voluminous information even though a law suit will never be filed. Opposing them is a similarly loose coalition of plaintiffs’ lawyers, law firms, and interest groups, including the Association for American Justice, representing interests of plaintiff lawyers, who defend the rules’ status quo, contending that little, if any, change is necessary and that any narrowing of the preservation obligation or discovery scope would deny the rights of their clients.  They contend that corporations are obligated under many different sources of law and regulations to preserve records irrespective of litigation demands.  They also contend that any change to the rules would unnecessarily increase the risk of destruction of evidence that is critical to the merits of the case.

Nelson: Are there viable alternatives to changing the Rules?

Rabiej: Lawyers in many cases do not raise any preservation or spoliation sanction issues with the court.  It is unclear to me whether such inaction in an individual case is a consequence of the lawyers’ ignorance of potential eDiscovery issues or of the lawyers’ cooperation in addressing eDiscovery issues before they become problems, which The Sedona Conference® strongly advocates.  (See The Sedona Conference® Cooperation Proclamation).  In wrestling with preservation and spoliation sanction issues, the rules committees recognize that rules rarely provide the entire answer and, in fact, rules typically have only a very limited effect.  Instead, judicial education, training of the bar, and changes in litigation culture offer more promising and permanent solutions.   The rules committees are actively exploring each of these avenues with outside groups, including the Federal Judicial Center and The Sedona Conference® among others, to promote such solutions.

Though the Judicial Conference of the United States strongly opposes direct amendment of the rules by legislation, it recognizes the Congressional prerogative to do so.  Congress has rarely exercised its prerogative, however, giving due deference to the rulemaking process and recognizing that the rules produced under the process are the best.  At the same time, rules committees understand that the Rules Enabling Act limits their authority to promulgating only procedural rules, which do “not abridge, enlarge or modify any substantive right.”  Rules committees are very circumspect about their rulemaking authority.  They are justifiably reluctant to pursue rules proposals that might be viewed by some to exceed their authority and encroach on Congress’s domain.  This “Rules Enabling Act” issue has been raised regarding some aspects of the preservation proposals under consideration. So the rules committees are confronted with issues that raise several exquisitely delicate questions of policy and comity.

Nelson: You’ve been involved in a lot of discussions regarding Rule amendments throughout your career.  How does the current discussion rate in terms of importance?

Rabiej: The current debate on preservation and spoliation sanctions raises issues about the scope of discovery, a major litigation cost.  Because the preservation costs incurred in some cases can be extremely large, the extent of spoliation sanctions for failing to preserve relevant information can be damaging, and the destruction of potentially critical evidence devastating.  It is not surprising that representatives of both plaintiffs and defendants are so passionately pressing their positions before the rule committees.  In my experience, the level of interest in these issues equals the interest shown in only a very few past controversial amendments, including proposals affecting class actions, Daubert evidentiary procedures, and the earlier discovery scope amendments in 2000.   The keen degree of interest in the issues under consideration is reflected by the extent of Congressional participation.  Five House Judiciary Committee members of the minority and majority staffs attended the recent Civil Rules Committee meeting on preservation-related amendments in Washington DC in November.  A hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution on preservation costs was recently scheduled, but later postponed until December 13, 2012.  It is clear to me that Congress will take a hard look at preservation costs and burdens.  The rules committees are not blind to Congressional interest.  The rulemaking process is a responsibility shared with Congress and the Executive Branch, and the rules committees give the views of the other two Branches due respect in their deliberations.

John Rabiej is an attorney, The Sedona Conference’s Director for Judicial Outreach, and former Chief of the Rules Committee Support Office.  To learn more about FRCP developments email Matt Nelson at Matt_Nelson@Symantec.com or follow Matt on Twitter at @InfoGovlawer.

Backup Tapes and Archives Bursting at the Seams? The Seven Year Itch Has Technology to Answer the Scratch

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Just like Marilyn Monroe stopped traffic in her white dress in The Seven Year Itch, enterprises are being stopped dead in their tracks by the data explosion, lack of information governance policies and overstuffed IT infrastructures.  During the 2004-05 timeframe, a large number of enterprises began migrating to an archive, and this trend has kept steady pace since.  Archiving historically began with email, but has been recently extended to many other forms of information, including social media, unstructured data and cloud content.  This adoption was somewhat related to the historic Zubulake ruling, that required preservation to attach upon “reasonable anticipation of litigation.”  Another significant driver behind the archive need is the ability to comply with a range of statutes and regulations.  The reality is it is difficult to preserve efficiently and defensibly without an archive and other automatic classification technologies.  Some companies still complete the information management and eDiscovery processes manually, but not without peril.

Currently, there is a sudden upsurge in corporations finally starting to shrink the archives that they implemented to manage email, legal preservation requirements and regulatory compliance.  After roughly seven years, over which time there have been many advances in technology, a shift in thinking is taking place with regard to information governance and data retention.  Change has been borne out of necessity, as infrastructures are suffering with the amount of data they are retaining and the pains associated with searching that data.  This shift will enable companies to delete with confidence, clean up their backup tapes, shrink their archives, and manage/expire data on a go-forward basis effectively.  Collectively, this type of good information governance hygiene allows organizations to minimize the litigation risk that’s attendant with bloated information stores.

One reason many archives have become so bloated is because many enterprises purchased archiving software, but did not properly enable expiry procedures according to a  defensible document retention policy.  This resulted in saving everything for the past seven or so years.  Another reason for retaining all data in the archive was because enterprises were afraid to delete anything fearing being accused of spoliation and/or the inability to retrieve data that should have been on legal hold.  These two reasons combined have resulted in companies being forced to address the impact of having to search this massive amount of data in the archive each time a matter arises.  The resulting workflow for data collection is time consuming and expensive, especially for companies that still employ third party vendors for data collection.  For many organizations, the situation has become unsustainable from both a legal and IT perspective.

In recent years, backup has been given less attention as archives have become more common, storage has become more affordable, and most lawyers argue that tapes are “inaccessible” – making restoration less common.  However, there is still an area of concern with regard to over-retention of backup, especially when organizations do not have an archive.  They may be required to produce backup tapes as much of the relevant information to a matter could be contained therein.  This has led to saving large numbers of backup tapes with no real knowledge of what data is on the tapes and no one wanting to be accountable for pulling the trigger on deletion.  When forced to restore backup tapes it can be expensive and an eDiscovery nightmare.

For example, in Moore v. Gilead Sciences (N.D. Ca. Nov. 16, 2011), the plaintiff sought production of “all archived emails” that he sent or received during his five-year tenure with the defendant pharmaceutical company.  The company objected to the request as being unduly burdensome.  The company argued that:

  1. The emails were exclusively stored on its disaster recovery backup tapes;
  2. It would cost $360,000 to index those tapes, exclusive of processing and review costs;
  3. Many of the requested emails would not be retrieved since the company conducted its backups on monthly (not daily) intervals; and
  4. Over 25,000 pages of the plaintiff’s emails had already been produced in the litigation.

It is common for the inaccessibility and unduly burdensome arguments to be made with regard to backup tapes to combat indexing and restoration.  However, where a discovery dispute has merit, courts routinely reject projected cost estimates (such as the company’s $360,000 figure) as being unfounded/speculative and order production nevertheless.  [See Pippins v. KPMG and Escamilla v. SMS Holdings Corp.]  Had the judge gone the other way on restoration in Moore, the outcome could have easily been different, expensive and detrimental to the company.

What does this mean for organizations keeping seven years or more of legacy content?  Firstly, take inventory on where backup tapes reside and determine if they need to be saved or if they can be deleted.  Most corporations have amassed many tapes that are only a legal liability at this point.  Technology exists today that can index and search what is on the tapes, enabling educated decisions to then be made about whether to delete and/or transfer to the archive for legal hold.  Essentially, new technology can give sight to the blind.  Those decisions must be made according to a plan and documented.  Backup should only be for disaster recovery.

Secondly, purchase an archive if the company does not yet have one and configure the archive to expire data according to the document retention policy that can protect the company’s data decisions under Safe Harbor laws.

Is the company experiencing what many others are right now, which is an archive that is bursting at the seams? If the company does have an archive, check to see if expiry has been properly deployed according to the company’s policy.  If not, initiate a project to free up the archive from information retention that is unnecessary and that should not be subject to discovery.  Again, this must be documented.  Archives are for discovery and they need to be lean, efficient, and executing the information management lifecycle.

Avoid the request for backup tapes in litigation by having a sufficient archive and clearly stating that backup tapes are solely for disaster recovery. Delete tapes when possible by analyzing what is on them with appropriate technology and through a documented process that will eliminate the possibility of them being discoverable in litigation.

In sum, it is very helpful to examine the EDRM model and carve out what technologies and policies will apply to each aspect of the continuum.  For the challenges addressed in this blog, backup tapes fall under information management as does an archive all the way to the left of the model.  Backup tapes need search and expiry in order to retain only what is necessary for legal hold and should be ingested into an archive;  then, the company’s disaster recovery policies should be enforced on a go-forward basis.  Similarly, the archive needs search and expiration according to document retention policies so it does not become overgrown. From left to right, the model logically walks through the lifecycle of data, and many of the responsibilities associated with the data can be automated.  This project will require commitment, resources and time, but in light of the fact that data is only growing, there aren’t any other options.

Top Ten eDiscovery Predictions for 2012

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

As 2011 comes quickly to a close we’ve attempted, as in years past, to do our best Carnac impersonation and divine the future of eDiscovery.  Some of these predictions may happen more quickly than others, but it’s our sense that all will come to pass in the near future – it’s just a matter of timing.

  1. Technology Assisted Review (TAR) Gains Speed.  The area of Technology Assisted Review is very exciting since there are a host of emerging technologies that can help make the review process more efficient, ranging from email threading, concept search, clustering, predictive coding and the like.  There are two fundamental challenges however.  First, the technology doesn’t work in a vacuum, meaning that the workflows need to be properly designed and the users need to make accurate decisions because those judgment calls often are then magnified by the application.  Next, the defensibility of the given approach needs to be well vetted.  While it’s likely not necessary (or practical) to expect a judge to mandate the use of a specific technological approach, it is important for the applied technologies to be reasonable, transparent and auditable since the worst possible outcome would be to have a technology challenged and then find the producing party unable to adequately explain their methodology.
  2. The Custodian-Based Collection Model Comes Under Stress. Ever since the days of Zubulake, litigants have focused on “key players” as a proxy for finding relevant information during the eDiscovery process.  Early on, this model worked particularly well in an email-centric environment.  But, as discovery from cloud sources, collaborative worksites (like SharePoint) and other unstructured data repositories continues to become increasingly mainstream, the custodian-oriented collection model will become rapidly outmoded because it will fail to take into account topically-oriented searches.  This trend will be further amplified by the bench’s increasing distrust of manual, custodian-based data collection practices and the presence of better automated search methods, which are particularly valuable for certain types of litigation (e.g., patent disputes, product liability cases).
  3. The FRCP Amendment Debate Will Rage On – Unfortunately Without Much Near Term Progress. While it is clear that the eDiscovery preservation duty has become a more complex and risk laden process, it’s not clear that this “pain” is causally related to the FRCP.  In the notes from the Dallas mini-conference, a pending Sedona survey was quoted referencing the fact that preservation challenges were increasing dramatically.  Yet, there isn’t a consensus viewpoint regarding which changes, if any, would help improve the murky problem.  In the near term this means that organizations with significant preservation pains will need to better utilize the rules that are on the books and deploy enabling technologies where possible.
  4. Data Hoarding Increasingly Goes Out of Fashion. The war cry of many IT professionals that “storage is cheap” is starting to fall on deaf ears.  Organizations are realizing that the cost of storing information is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the litigation risk of having terabytes (and conceivably petabytes) of unstructured, uncategorized and unmanaged electronically stored information (ESI).  This tsunami of information will increasingly become an information liability for organizations that have never deleted a byte of information.  In 2012, more corporations will see the need to clean out their digital houses and will realize that such cleansing (where permitted) is a best practice moving forward.  This applies with equal force to the US government, which has recently mandated such an effort at President Obama’s behest.
  5. Information Governance Becomes a Viable Reality.  For several years there’s been an effort to combine the reactive (far right) side of the EDRM with the logically connected proactive (far left) side of the EDRM.  But now, a number of surveys have linked good information governance hygiene with better response times to eDiscovery requests and governmental inquires, as well as a corresponding lower chance of being sanctioned and the ability to turn over less responsive information.  In 2012, enterprises will realize that the litigation use case is just one way to leverage archival and eDiscovery tools, further accelerating adoption.
  6. Backup Tapes Will Be Increasingly Seen as a Liability.  Using backup tapes for disaster recovery/business continuity purposes remains a viable business strategy, although backing up to tape will become less prevalent as cloud backup increases.  However, if tapes are kept around longer than necessary (days versus months) then they become a ticking time bomb when a litigation or inquiry event crops up.
  7. International eDiscovery/eDisclosure Processes Will Continue to Mature. It’s easy to think of the US as dominating the eDiscovery landscape. While this is gospel for us here in the States, international markets are developing quickly and in many ways are ahead of the US, particularly with regulatory compliance-driven use cases, like the UK Bribery Act 2010.  This fact, coupled with the menagerie of international privacy laws, means we’ll be less Balkanized in our eDiscovery efforts moving forward since we do really need to be thinking and practicing globally.
  8. Email Becomes “So 2009” As Social Media Gains Traction. While email has been the eDiscovery darling for the past decade, it’s getting a little long in the tooth.  In the next year, new types of ESI (social media, structured data, loose files, cloud context, mobile device messages, etc.) will cause headaches for a number of enterprises that have been overly email-centric.  Already in 2011, organizations are finding that other sources of ESI like documents/files and structured data are rivaling email in importance for eDiscovery requests, and this trend shows no signs of abating, particularly for regulated industries. This heterogeneous mix of ESI will certainly result in challenges for many companies, with some unlucky ones getting sanctioned because they ignored these emerging data types.
  9. Cost Shifting Will Become More Prevalent – Impacting the “American Rule.” For ages, the American Rule held that producing parties had to pay for their production costs, with a few narrow exceptions.  Next year we’ll see even more courts award winning parties their eDiscovery costs under 28 U.S.C. §1920(4) and Rule 54(d)(1) FRCP. Courts are now beginning to consider the services of an eDiscovery vendor as “the 21st Century equivalent of making copies.”
  10. Risk Assessment Becomes a Critical Component of eDiscovery. Managing risk is a foundational underpinning for litigators generally, but its role in eDiscovery has been a bit obscure.  Now, with the tremendous statistical insights that are made possible by enabling software technologies, it will become increasingly important for counsel to manage risk by deciding what types of error/precision rates are possible.  This risk analysis is particularly critical for conducting any variety of technology assisted review process since precision, recall and f-measure statistics all require a delicate balance of risk and reward.

Accurately divining the future is difficult (some might say impossible), but in the electronic discovery arena many of these predictions can happen if enough practitioners decide they want them to happen.  So, the future is fortunately within reach.

Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG)’s Legal Trends Survey Reveals Alarming Inattention to eDiscovery Spending

Monday, December 5th, 2011

In their latest survey, entitled “E-Discovery Market Trends: A View from the Legal Department,” Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) analysts Brian Babineau and Katey Wood analyze a number of interesting statistics and provide a range of insightful conclusions.  By surveying general counsel from large, mid-market (500-999 employees) and enterprise-class organizations in North America they were able to dive into a range of eDiscovery topics, including pain points, operational expenses and prioritizations on a go-forward basis.  Some are more intuitive than others, but in either case the results serve as good calibration metrics for those who endeavor to understand the corporate eDiscovery state of the nation.

“Most corporations are not tracking e-discovery spending…” In what may be the most notable finding of this ESG report, 60% of survey respondents claim that they did not track annual eDiscovery spending in 2010.  The authors correctly note that the eDiscovery process, “which can be highly unpredictable due to its project-by-project nature to begin with, has historically been outsourced to service providers charging at variable rates and often billed back to companies via their law firms.”  Despite the significant challenges of tracking eDiscovery spending, it’s nevertheless irresponsible for organizations to keep their heads in the sand regarding such a significant operational expense.

As the old saw goes, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” so it’s almost inconceivable to think that so many organizations aren’t tracking such a significant expense category.  For organizations who want to create a repeatable business process, as opposed to the fire-drill chaos that is typically associated with eDiscovery, it’s vitally important to accurately capture core eDiscovery metrics.  For starters, it’s useful to understand basic collection parameters, such as of the typical numbers of key custodians, average data volumes per custodian, data expansion rates, de-duplication statistics, etc.  Once these metrics are in place, it then becomes possible to manage the process and reduce costs.

Katey went on to expound in an exclusive quote for EDD 2.0:

“E-discovery can be managed as a strategic business process with an understanding of costs, performance and outcomes. When there’s no basis for reporting or comparison, it’s pin the tail on the donkey.  Corporate litigants won’t ever know they’re getting their money’s worth if they don’t even know what they’re spending.”

“E-Discovery accuracy/efficiency isn’t being measured, in large part.” Similar to the failure to measure eDiscovery costs, a full two thirds of GCs (67%) aren’t tracking the “efficiency and/or accuracy of e-discovery document review.” Until corporate counsel can link expectations of competency/efficiency with oversight and performance metrics, outside law firms will likely avoid having their feet held to the fire.  This passive stance makes transparency and process improvement difficult at best.  Additionally, this model of having expectations for efficiency, with low or no accountability, doesn’t bode well for the quick adoption of enabling technologies like predictive coding, since the driver has to inherently be the need/desire for increased efficiency (which axiomatically equals lower law firm review bills).

“Corporate information governance and litigation readiness (especially defensible deletion) are a priority, but not yet a reality.” From an internal prioritization perspective, more than two thirds (69%) of respondents identified their desire to expire/delete data more consistently, “thereby limiting unnecessary data retention for future litigation requests.”  Savvy enterprises correctly recognized the “multi-prong threat of unregulated data retention: the large amounts of irrelevant data ultimately produced for legal review, the greater difficulty of hanging onto potentially litigious documents past their required retention periods.”

This finding is very encouraging, and it ties into the upward momentum the industry is seeing regarding information governance generally – particularly linking the reactive (right) side of the EDRM with the logically connected and proactive (left) side of the EDRM.  As a good first step it’s critical to see organizations now associating good information governance hygiene with lower costs and better eDiscovery response times.  The ESG finding also triangulates with results from the recent Information Retention and eDiscovery Survey, which found that companies having good information governance hygiene were often able to respond much faster and more successfully to an eDiscovery/investigation requests, often suffering fewer negative consequences.

The only downside to the positive information governance trend, as reported by the survey, was that,

“while there are great benefits to defensible deletion, internal initiatives for implementing it too often are stymied by difficulty in obtaining cross functional consensus and authorization, particularly as it touches so many other critical processes like regulatory compliance and legal hold.”

“Legal hold processes are still very manual.” Another similar question revealed that many companies are attempting to get their information governance house in order, but are still in the very early stages.  When asked about their  current legal hold notification and tracking process, a whopping 69% of organizations said that they are using a “manual process performed by internal staff using e-mail and spreadsheets, etc.”  And, another 6% said they either had no formal process or tracking mechanism.

Given the risks attendant to flaws in the preservation process this area is ripe for improvement.  The good news is that 54% of survey respondents are intending to improve their legal hold process, with 25% planning improvement within the next 12 months.  This is a healthy acknowledgement that there is risk, and with a modicum of investment (time, personnel, procedures, and technology) the legal hold area can be brought up to current best practices.

The ESG survey is a welcome temperature gauge into the state of corporate legal departments.  It notes, in conclusion, “with the staggering growth, diversity and dispersion of data, the pain e-discovery is currently causing large and serial litigants are only a symptom of the larger problem of unwieldy and under-developed information management affecting all businesses.”  With data insights from the ESG survey, it’s becoming clear that foundational information governance elements (like deploying auditable legal hold procedures, tracking eDiscovery spending, updating data maps, etc.) are desperately needed by the many organizations that want to turn eDiscovery into a repeatable business process.  The good news is that many of these organization have improvements in mind for the next 12 months, and the challenge will be to make sure these proactive projects maintain the same level of organizational urgency that it often present for more reactive tasks.

When Is A Draft Note Discoverable?

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

The legal battles during the discovery phase of the Oracle v. Google Java licensing and patent infringement complaint are now well documented. Just search for “Lindholm email” and you’ll find pages and pages of opinions and blog posts on the case. Why so much fuss over a piece of email? Well, as Judge Alsup aptly describes, this is the type of smoking gun email that has the potential to “turn the case on its head.”  More importantly, this inadvertent email never needed to happen, if the parties had better leveraged existing eDiscovery technologies.

The eDiscovery battle over admissibility of this email, as well as whether it can be a public record, is natural and to be expected, especially in such a high profile dispute. Google has already made five attempts to either claw back these documents or protect them under seal. Besides the question of whether privilege waiver is in fact granted simply by adding an “Attorney Work Product” annotation to email, which Judge Alsup has eloquently addressed in the filing here, there is another interesting question to be considered. In addition to the two email copies that had the above designation, there were nine other sequential drafts, created within a five minute period. These drafts were generated by the “auto save” capability of the email software, possibly as a way to prevent the author of the email from losing partial work. Don’t we all love that feature, since despite all the technological advances computers crash, networks fail, and software freezes, and in those times we’re thankful that our work was indeed automatically saved? However, if these are indeed present, are these drafts discoverable, especially if they have not been shared with anyone?

Although in this instance the intent of these drafts is made evident by the final email, which included the recipients, none of the nine drafts of the email have a TO:, CC: or BCC: address field filled in. So technically, the drafts in their “pre-final” form were never communicated to anyone else. If so, should they even be considered electronically stored information (ESI) that needs to be produced? Let’s say that these emails were never sent and merely existed as drafts, perhaps capturing a person’s train of thought. Are they discoverable?

Of course, determining whether such partial and non-evidentiary ESI exists among your millions and millions of documents to be examined for production becomes increasingly the purview of powerful search and analysis software. In this instance, Google and their legal team would have been well-served by email analytical software that can isolate drafts and offer them for removal from production. Also, using a capability such as Near Duplicate Identification would have identified these drafts as similar to the final ones that were marked as privileged. After all, if the legal team had known of their existence prior to production, they would not have been surprised by the opposing team producing them as key documents.

I invite your comments, especially on the notion that partially completed drafts are admissible as evidence.