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Q&A with Allison Walton of Symantec and Laura Zubulake, Author of Zubulake’s e-Discovery: The Untold Story of my Quest for Justice

by Allison Walton on February 4th, 2013

The following is my Q&A with Laura Zubulake, Author of Zubulake’s e-Discovery: The Untold Story of my Quest for Justice.

Q: Given your case began in 2003, and the state of information governance today, do you believe that adoption to has been too slow? Do you think organizations in 2013, ten years later, have come far enough in managing their information?

A: From a technology standpoint, the advancements have been significant. The IT industry has come a long way with regard to the tools available to conduct eDiscovery. Alternatively, surveys indicate a significant percentage of organizations do not prioritize information management and have not established eDiscovery policies and procedures. This is disappointing. The fact that organizations apparently do not understand the value of proactively managing information only puts them at a competitive disadvantage and at increased risk.

 Q: Gartner predicts that the market will be $2.9 billion by 2017. Given this prediction, don’t you think eDiscovery is basically going to be absorbed as a business process and not something so distinct as to require outside 3rd party help? 

A: First, as a former financial executive those predictions, if realized, are reasonably attractive. Any business that can generate double-digit revenue growth until 2017, in this economy and interest rate environment, is worthy of note (assuming costs are controlled). Second, here I would like to distinguish between information governance and eDiscovery. I view eDiscovery as a subset of a broader information governance effort. My case while renowned for eDiscovery, at its essence, was about information. I insisted on searching for electronic documents because I understood the value and purpose of information. I could not make strategic decisions without, what I refer to as, “full” information. The Zubulake opinions were a result of my desire for information, not the other way around. I believe corporations will increasingly recognize the need to proactively manage information for business, cost, legal, and risk purposes. As such, I think information governance will become more of a business process, just like any management, operational, product, and finance process.

With regard to eDiscovery, I think there will continue to be a market for outside third-party assistance. eDiscovery requires specific skills and technologies. Companies lacking financial resources and expertise, and requiring assistance to address the volume of data will likely deem it economical to outsource eDiscovery efforts. As with any industry, eDiscovery will evolve.  The sector has grown quickly. There will be consolidation. Eventually, the fittest will survive.

Q: What do you think about the proposed changes to the FRCP regarding preservation? 

A: As a former plaintiff (non-attorney), eDiscovery was (to me) about preservation. Very simply, documents could not be collected, reviewed, and produced if they had not been preserved. Any effort to clarify preservation rules would benefit all parties—uncertainty created challenges. Of course, there needs to be a balance between overwhelming corporations with legal requirements and costs versus protecting a party’s rights to evidence. Apparently, the current proposals do not specifically pertain to preservation. They concern the scope of discovery and proportionality and thus indirectly address the issue of preservation. While this would be helpful, it is not ideal. Scope is, in part, a function of relevance – a frequently debated concept. What was relevant to me might not have been relevant to others. Regarding proportionality, my concern is perspective.  Too often I find discussions about proportionality, stem from the defendant’s perspective. Rarely, do I hear the viewpoint of the plaintiff represented. Although not all plaintiffs are individuals, often the plaintiff is the relatively under-resourced party. Deciding whether the burden of proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefits is not a science. As I wrote in my book:

Imagine if the Court were to have agreed with [the Defendant’s] argument and determined the burden of expense of the proposed discovery in my case outweighed its likely benefit. Not only would the Zubulake opinions not have come to fruition, but also I would have been denied my opportunity to prove my claims. 

Q: Lastly, what other trends are you see in in the area of eDiscovery and what predictions do you have for the market in 2013? 

A: eDiscovery Morphs. Organizations will realize that eDiscovery should be part of a broader information governance effort. Information governance will become a division within a corporation with separate accountable management from which operations, legal, IT, and HR professionals can source and utilize information to achieve goals. Financial markets will increasingly reward companies (with higher multiples) who proactively manage information.

Reorganization. Organizations will recognize while information is their most valuable asset it is fearless— crossing functions, divisions, borders and not caring if it overwhelms an entity with volume, costs, and risks. Organizational structures will need to adapt and accommodate the ubiquitous nature of information. A systems thinking framework (understanding how processes influence one another within a whole) will increasingly replace a business silo structure. Information and communication managed proactively and globally, will improve efficiency, enhance profitability, reduces costs, increase compliance, and mitigate risks.

Search. Algorithms become an accepted search tool. Although keyword, concept, cluster, etc. searches will still play a role. For years, law enforcement, government, and Wall Street have used algorithms—the concept is not new and not without peril (significant market corrections were the result of algorithms gone wrong). Parties confronted with volumes of data and limited resources will have no choice but to agree to computer assistance. However, negative perceptions and concerns about algorithms will only change when there is a case where the parties initiate and voluntarily agree to their use.

Education. Within information governance efforts, organizations will increasingly establish training for employees. Employees need to be educated about the origination, maintenance, use, disposal, risks, rules, and regulations associated with ESI. A goal should be to lessen the growth of data and encourage smart and efficient communications. Education is a cost-control and risk-mitigating effort.

BYOD Reconsidered. Thinking a BYOD to work policy is cost-effective will be questioned and should be evaluated on a risk-adjusted basis. When companies analyze the costs (cash outlay) of providing employees with devices versus the unquantifiable costs associated with the lack of control, disorganization, and increased risks – it will become clear BYOD has the potential to be very expensive.

Government Focus. I had the privilege of addressing the Dept. of Justice’s Civil E-Discovery training program. It was evident to me that eDiscovery is one of the department’s focuses. With recent headlines concerning emails uncovering evidence (e.g. Fast and Furious), government entities (state and federal) will increasingly adopt rules, procedures, and training to address ESI. This brings me back to your first question—have organizations come far enough in managing their information? Government efforts to focus on eDiscovery will incentivize more corporations to (finally) address eDiscovery and information governance challenges.

Stay tuned for more breaking news coverage with industry luminaries.

2 Responses to “Q&A with Allison Walton of Symantec and Laura Zubulake, Author of Zubulake’s e-Discovery: The Untold Story of my Quest for Justice”

  1. Information Governance Reshaping eDiscovery Landscape: A Major Theme at Legal Tech 2013 | Parity Research Says:

    [...] Clearwell’s interview with ediscovery crusader, author and luminary Laura Zubulake is filled with IG predictions and insights including, “I view ediscovery as a subset of a broader [...]

  2. An Overview Of eDiscovery From A Lady : Stephen E. Arnold @ Beyond Search Says:

    [...] The practice of e-Discovery is currently blossoming in the legal system. It provides important insights in litigation and evidence for cases, but what does the future have in store for e-Discovery? Laura Zubulake was a plaintiff in a case that changed the legal system and how it uses technology. She was recently interviewed for Clearwell Systems e-Discovery 2.0 blog in the post, “Q&A With Allison Walton Of Symantec And Laura Zubulake, Author Of Zubulake’s e-Discovery: The … [...]

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