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Archive for the ‘spoliation’ Category

The eDiscovery Trinity: Spoliation Sanctions, Keywords and Predictive Coding

Monday, May 20th, 2013

The world of eDiscovery appears to be revolving around a trifecta of issues that are important to both clients and counsel. A discovery-focused conversation with litigants and lawyers in 2013 will almost invariably turn to some combination of this eDiscovery trinity: Spoliation sanctions, keyword searches and predictive coding. This should not come as a surprise since all three of these issues can have a strong impact on the cost, duration and disposition of a lawsuit. Indeed, the near universal desire among parties to minimize discovery costs and thereby further the resolution of cases on the merits has driven the Civil Rules Advisory Committee to explore ways to address the eDiscovery trinity in draft amendments to the Federal Rules.

While the proposed amendments may or may not succeed in reducing discovery expenses, the examples of how the eDiscovery trinity is playing out in litigation are instructive. These cases – bereft of the additional guidance being developed by the Advisory Committee – provide valuable insight on how courts, counsel and clients are handling the convergence of these issues. One such example is a recent decision from the DuPont v. Kolon Industries case.

Spoliation, Keywords and a $4.5 Million Sanction

In DuPont, the court awarded the plaintiff manufacturer $4.5 million in fees and costs that it incurred as part of its effort to address Kolon’s spoliation of ESI. In an attempt to stave off the award, Kolon argued that DuPont’s fees were not justified due to “inefficiencies” associated with DuPont’s review of Kolon’s document productions. In particular, Kolon complained about the extensive list of search terms that DuPont developed to comb through the ESI Kolon produced. According to Kolon, DuPont’s search methodology was “recklessly inefficient”:

DuPont’s forensic experts ran a list of almost 350 “keywords,” which yielded thousands of “false positives” that nevertheless had to be translated, analyzed, and briefed. Of the nearly 18,000 “hits,” only 1,955 (roughly 10 percent) were determined to be even “potentially relevant.” Thus, to state the obvious, 90 percent of the results were wholly irrelevant to the issue, but DuPont still seeks to tax Kolon for having the bulk of those documents translated and analyzed.

Kolon then asserted that the “reckless inefficiency” of the search methodology was “fairly attributable to the fact that DuPont ran insipid keywords like ‘other,’ ‘news,’ and ‘mail.’” Had DuPont been more precise with its keywords searches, argued Kolon, it “would have saved vast amounts of time and money.”

Before addressing the merits of Kolon’s arguments, the court observed how important search terms had become in discovery:

Of course, in the current world of litigation, where so many documents are stored and, hence, produced, electronically, the selection of search terms is an important decision because it, in turn, drives the subsequent document discovery, production and review.

After doing so, the court rejected Kolon’s arguments, finding instead that DuPont’s search methodology was reasonable under the circumstances. The court based its decision on the source of those search terms (derived from Kolon documents suggesting that ESI had been deleted), the “considerable volume” of Kolon’s productions and the nature of DuPont’s search (an investigation for deleted evidence).

The Impact of Predictive Coding on DuPont’s Search Efficiency

While DuPont considered the issues of spoliation and keywords in connection with the imposition of attorney fees and costs, it was silent on the impact that predictive coding might have had on the fee award. Indeed, neither the court’s order, nor the parties’ briefing considered whether the proper application of machine learning technology could have raised the success rate of DuPont’s searches for documents relevant to Kolon’s spoliation above the ten percent (10%) figure cited by Kolon.

On the one hand, many eDiscovery cognoscenti would likely assert that a properly applied predictive coding solution could have produced the same corpus of relevant documents at a fraction of the cost and effort. Others, however, might argue that predictive coding perhaps would not yield the results that DuPont obtained through keyword searches given that DuPont was looking for evidence of deleted ESI. Still others would contend that the issue is moot since DuPont was fully within its right to determine how it should conduct the search of Kolon’s document productions.

Whether predictive coding could have made a difference in DuPont is entirely speculative. Regardless, the debate over keyword searches versus machine learning technology will likely continue unabated. As it stands, the DuPont case, together with the recent decision from Apple v. Samsung, confirm that keywords may be an acceptable method for conducting searches for relevant ESI. The issue, as the DuPont court observed, turns on “the selection of the search terms.”

Nevertheless, the promise of predictive coding cannot be ignored, particularly if the technology that is used could ultimately reduce the costs and duration of discovery. Given that this debate is far from settled, these issues, along with spoliation sanctions, will likely continue to dominate the eDiscovery airwaves for the foreseeable future.

ADR Offers Unique Solutions to Address Common eDiscovery Challenges

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Much of the writing in the eDiscovery community focuses on the consequences of a party failing to adequately accomplish one of the nine boxes of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model. Breaking news posts frequently report on how spoliation and sanctions are typically issued for failure to suspend auto-deletion or to properly circulate a written litigation hold notices. This begs the question, aside from becoming perfectly adept in all nine boxes of the EDRM, how else can an organization protect themselves from discovery wars and sanctions?

One way is explore the possibilities Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has to offer. While there is no substitute for the proper implementation of information governance processes, technology, and the people who manage them; there are alternative and creative ways to minimize exposure. This is not to say that ESI is less discoverable in ADR, but it is to say with the proper agreements in place, the way ESI is handled in the event of a dispute can be addressed proactively.  That is because although parties are free to use the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in ADR proceedings, they are not constricted by them. In other words, ADR proceedings can provide parties with the flexibility to negotiate and tailor their own discovery rules to address the specific matter and issues at hand.

Arbitration is a practical and preferred way to resolve disputes because it is quick, relatively inexpensive and commonly binding. With enough foresight, parties can preemptively limit the scope of discovery in their agreements to ensure the just and speedy resolution of a matter. Practitioners who are well versed in electronic discovery will be the best positioned to counsel clients in the formation of their agreements upfront, obviating protracted discovery. While a similar type of agreement can be reached and protection can be achieved with the Meet and Confer Conference in civil litigation, ADR offers a more private forum giving the parties more contractual power and less unwanted surprises.

For example, JAMS includes this phrase in one of their model recommendations:

JAMS recognizes that there is significant potential for dealing with time and other limitations on discovery in the arbitration clauses of commercial contracts. An advantage of such drafting is that it is much easier for parties to agree on such limitations before a dispute has arisen. A drawback, however, is the difficulty of rationally providing for how best to arbitrate a dispute that has not yet surfaced. Thus, the use of such clauses may be most productive in circumstances in which parties have a good idea from the outset as to the nature and scope of disputes that might thereafter arise.

Thus, arbitration is an attractive option for symmetrical litigation where the merits of the case are high stakes and neither party wants to delve into a discovery war. A fair amount of early case assessment would be necessary as well, so parties have a full appreciation about what they are agreeing to include or not include in the way of ESI.  Absent a provision to use specific rules (American Arbitration Association or Federal Arbitration Act), the agreement between parties is the determining factor as to how extensive the scope of discovery will be.

In Mitsubishi Motors v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 473 U.S. 614, 625 (1985), the U.S. Supreme Court has explained that the “liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements’…is at bottom a policy guaranteeing the enforcement of private contractual agreements. As such, assuming an equal bargaining position or, at least an informed judgment, courts will enforce stipulations regarding discovery, given the policy of enforcing arbitration agreements by their terms.” Please also see an excellent explanation of Discovery in Arbitration by Joseph L. Forstadt for more information.

Cooperation amongst litigants in discovery has long been a principle of the revered Sedona Conference. ADR practitioners facing complex discovery questions are looking to Sedona’s Cooperation Proclamation for guidance with an eye toward negotiation by educating themselves on ways to further minimize distractions and costs in discovery.  An example of one such event is at The Center for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution at UC Hastings, where they are conducting a mock Meet and Confer on May 16, 2013. The event highlights the need for all practitioners, whether it be the 26 (f) conference for litigation or the preliminary hearing in the case of arbitration, to assess electronic discovery issues with the same weight they do claims and damages early on in the dispute.

It is also very important that arbitrators, especially given the power they have over a matter, to understand the consequences of their rulings. Discovery is typically under the sole control of the arbitrator in a dispute, and only in very select circumstances can relief be granted by the court. An arbitrator that knows nothing about eDiscovery could miss something material and affect the entire outcome adversely. For parties that have identified and addressed these issues proactively, there is more protection and certainty in arbitration. Typically, the primary focus of an arbitrator is enforcing the contract between parties, not to be an eDiscovery expert.

It is also important to caution against revoking rights to discovery by entering into mutual agreements to unreasonably limit discovery.  This approach is somewhat reminiscent of the days when lawyers would agree not to conduct discovery, because neither knew how. Now, while efficiency and cost savings are a priority, we must guard against a potential similar paradigm emerging as we may know too much about how to shield relevant ESI.

As we look to the future, especially for serial litigants, one can imagine a perfect world in arbitration for predictive coding. In the Federal courts, we have seen over the past two years or so an emergence of the use of predictive coding technologies. However, even when the parties agree, which they don’t always, they still struggle with achieving a meeting of the minds on the protocol. These disputes have at times overshadowed the advantage of using predictive coding because discovery disputes and attorney’s fees have overtaken any savings. In ADR there is a real opportunity for similarly situated parties to agree via contract, upfront on tools, methodologies and scope. Once these contracts are in place, both parties are bound to the same rules and a just and speedy resolution of a matter can take place.

Breaking News: Bad Faith Retention Policy Leads to Terminating Sanctions

Friday, January 4th, 2013

The patent infringement litigation involving chipmaker Rambus took another twist this week as the court in Micron Technology v. Rambus declared several Rambus patents to be unenforceable as an eDiscovery sanction for its destruction of evidence. In a crushing blow to Rambus’ dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips litigation strategy, the court reasoned that such a “dispositive sanction” was the only remedy that could address the chipmaker’s “bad faith” spoliation of email backup tapes, paper documents and other ESI.

At the heart of the Micron court’s sanctions order was its finding that Rambus implemented its information retention policy in bad faith. While acknowledging that retention policies may be “employed for legitimate business reasons such as general house-keeping,” the court found that the policies at issue were designed to deprive the chipmaker’s litigation adversaries of evidence that could impugn its patents. Furthermore, Rambus deviated from its policies to ensure that evidence favorable to its claims would be preserved. For example, after ordering the destruction of 1,270 email back-up tapes pursuant to its retention schedule, the chipmaker intervened to save a lone back-up tape after determining that “it contained data that could be used … to establish a conception date for an invention.” Such selective use of its retention policies belied Rambus’ contention that the policies were neutral and conclusively showed that the policies were tactically deployed to “seek an advantage in litigation.”

While the Micron court’s sanctions order will likely set up another round of appeals before the Federal Circuit, the lesson to be learned by organizations is the importance of developing a reasonable information retention policy. Indeed, had Rambus followed good faith business procedures within the parameters recently delineated by the Federal Circuit, it is unlikely that the destruction would have been seen as spoliation. The Micron ruling should not affect the current judicial trend that absent a preservation duty or other exceptional circumstances, organizations may use document retention protocols to destroy stockpiles of data that have no meaningful business value.

Breaking News: Court Issues 20-Year Product Injunction in Trade Secret Theft/eDiscovery Sanctions Case

Friday, August 31st, 2012

The court in E.I. du Pont de Nemours v. Kolon Industries returned a stunning, 20-year worldwide product injunction yesterday in a trade secret theft case involving Kevlar®. Almost a year after a jury returned a $919 million verdict for DuPont, the court found that defendant Kolon Industries’ actions merited a permanent injunction. Not only is Kolon barred from competing with DuPont’s Kevlar® product for the next 20 years, it must also give a court-appointed expert access to its computer files to confirm that it has swept out and returned all of the stolen trade secrets.

Remarkably enough, Kolon’s troubles are still not over. While Kolon has moved to stay the injunction pending its appeal, it must still wait for the court’s attorney fee order that will likely result in a substantial award for DuPont. It is worth noting that a significant portion of that award will encompass the fees and costs that DuPont incurred to address Kolon’s eDiscovery spoliation, which culminated in the game-changing adverse inference instruction the court read to the jury.

Given that the DuPont trial proceedings are essentially over, it is worth analyzing whether the results for the parties might have been different absent the eDiscovery sanctions. Had Kolon been able to prevent the key evidence from being destroyed, perhaps it could have mitigated the disastrous results with a smaller jury verdict or perhaps even a settlement. While perhaps nothing more than speculation, it is clear that an information governance strategy would have helped Kolon with its preservation duties and efforts to obtain an early assessment of the likely outcome. Such results would certainly have been an improvement over the game-ending jury instruction stemming from Kolon’s eDiscovery and information retention deficiencies.

Following the Yellow Brick Road: Archiving and eDiscovery for the Government in OZ

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Our Australian colleagues refer to their country as OZ, and there is no doubt that the employees of the government agency CenITex wish they could click their heels like Dorothy and not be front-page news anymore. The recent Freedom of Information request dispute with The Age newspaper suggests that the Victorian government is in dire need of archiving and eDiscovery technologies. On August 20, ITPro reported that CenITex (the government’s Centre for Information Technology Excellence) would need to spend over $1 million AUSD to comply with recent FOI requests made by The Age. To add insult to injury, the process is projected to take a whopping 24 years!

Matters regarding FOI requests are adjudicated by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, and so far, the tribunal has been less than impressed with the testimony of FOI Officer Ross Gilmour. He claimed that there was no separate archive for emails and other relevant documents that relate to The Age’s requests.  These FOI scenarios are a universal problem; typically, the government will always argue the request is “overly broad and burdensome” and the civilian will argue their “statutory right” and for the responsive documents to be produced.

Ironically, this dispute involves the CenITex and their inability to comply with FOI requests. It seems impossible that an agency dedicated to government IT advancement could be the furthest behind on the eDiscovery continuum, particularly because FOI requests are not uncommon in Australia. An article written by ITPro indicates that the government agencies in Victoria typically do have readily searchable archives for email and that this is an exceptional circumstance.

The yellow brick road (successfully deployed archiving and eDiscovery tools) has been paved in the US by the private sector’s example and the government is slowly but surely following, although there is much work left to do. This road was also built in the litigious environment of the US where there are ever-present fears of spoliation claims and sanctions. However, in Australia, because the environment is less litigious, the catalyst for change will likely be driven by FOI requests and Royal Commissions, more than traditional litigation. Global companies, especially those doing business in the US, are the exception to this reality. It has been predicted that government transparency would be a primary driver for archiving and eDiscovery in Australia, and the evidence is mounting to support this hypothesis with FOI conflicts like the present one with CenITex.

In previous blogs focusing on the eDiscovery climates of other common law countries, the rules governing electronically stored information (ESI) have been addressed for Australia and the United Kingdom. We have also had extensive coverage on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in the United States, as well as the equivalents in Australia and New Zealand. While governments in general are behind the private sector on the eDiscovery maturity curve, many have come up to speed in recent years. Australia is presently in the midst of this change – and will need to stay on the yellow brick road.

It is true there have been some landmark eDiscovery events in Australia that put fear into organisations about their information governance plans, but they are initiated in a quasi-governmental or entirely governmental manner. For example, the 2009 Royal Commission on the Bushfires expended a tremendous amount of time and money to complete their investigation. No expense was spared, including massive eDiscovery costs. Typically, when there is a national tragedy that needs to be investigated, these commissions are formed and they are extensive. An analogy in the US could be responding to a HSR Act request, but in the reverse. In Australia the government has to produce to the commissions, whereas private litigants are responding to the US government in a second request.

The public sector in Australia is forging ahead in all areas on the eDiscovery front with conferences like the Public Sector Litigation and Dispute Management Forum in Canberra on September 11 and 12, 2012. All areas of the government will be represented. Nigel Carson (from KordaMentha) and I will tackle this CenITex example in our presentation. We will use this exisiting example as a way to frame how organisations can avoid the lengthy collection, review and production periods that make compliance with FOI untimely. Our presentation will cover information governance, eDiscovery and best practices.

In The Wizard of Oz, the yellow brick road symbolizes the “the gold standard.” There is an established gold standard for archiving and eDiscovery that is scalable and cost effective. The proactive information management components that archiving enables are undeniable.  In-house eDiscovery capabilities are ideal as well, but secondary to an archive for an organization in the beginning stages of information governance implementation. Unless others in OZ wish to be vulnerable to FOI requests without a searchable archive, they must start their journey on the yellow brick road.

Conducting eDiscovery in Glass Houses: Are You Prepared for the Next Stone?

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Electronic discovery has been called many names over the years. “Expensive,” “burdensome” and “endless” are just a few of the adjectives that, rightly or wrongly, characterize this relatively new process. Yet a more fitting description may be that of a glass house since the rights and responsibilities of eDiscovery inure to all parties involved in litigation. Indeed, like those who live in glass houses, organizations must be prepared for eDiscovery stones that will undoubtedly be thrown their way during litigation. This potential reciprocity is especially looming for those parties who “cast the first stone” with accusations of spoliation and sanctions motions. If their own eDiscovery house is not in order, organizations may find their home loaded with the glass shards of increased litigation costs and negative publicity.

Such was the case in the blockbuster patent dispute involving technology titans Apple and Samsung Electronics. In Apple, the court first issued an adverse inference instruction against Samsung to address spoliation charges brought by Apple. In particular, the court faulted Samsung for failing to circulate a comprehensive litigation hold instruction when it first anticipated litigation. This eventually culminated in the loss of emails from several key Samsung custodians, inviting the court’s adverse inference sanction.

However, while Apple was raising the specter of spoliation, it had failed to prepare its own eDiscovery glass house from the inevitable stones that Samsung would throw. Indeed, Samsung raised the very same issues that Apple had leveled against Samsung, i.e., that Apple had neglected to implement a timely and comprehensive litigation hold to prevent wholesale destruction of relevant email. Just like Samsung, Apple failed to distribute a hold instruction until several months after litigation was reasonably foreseeable:

As this Court has already determined, this litigation was reasonably foreseeable as of August 2010, and thus Apple’s duty to preserve, like Samsung’s, arose in August 2010. . . . Notwithstanding this duty, Apple did not issue any litigation hold notices until after filing its complaint in April 2011.

Moreover, Apple additionally failed to issue hold notices to several designers and inventors on the patents at issue until many months after the critical August date. These shortcomings, coupled with evidence suggesting that Apple employees were “encouraged to keep the size of their email accounts below certain limits,” ultimately led the court to conclude that Apple destroyed documents after its preservation duty ripened. To address Apple’s spoliation, the court issued an adverse inference identical to the instruction it levied on Samsung.[1]

While there are many lessons learned from the Apple case, perhaps none stands out more than the “glass house” rule: an organization that calls the other side’s preservation and production efforts into doubt must have its own house prepared for reciprocal allegations. Such preparations include following the golden rules of eDiscovery and integrating upstream information retention protocols into downstream eDiscovery processes. By making such preparations, organizations can reinforce their glass eDiscovery house with the structural steel of information governance, lessening the risk of sanctions and other negative consequences.



[1] The district court modified and softened the magistrate’s original instruction issued against Samsung given the minor prejudice that Apple suffered as a result of Samsung’s spoliation. The revised instruction against Samsung, along with the matching instruction against Apple, were ultimately never read to the jury given their offsetting nature.

The Changing Landscape for National eDiscovery Standards as Pension Committee Erodes

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

It is remarkable to observe the legal world chip away at the landmark opinion of Pension Committee of the University of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of America Securities, 685 F.Supp.2d 456 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). When it was first issued in 2010, Pension Committee was at once heralded as the electronic discovery gold standard for legal hold best practices. Following the Zubulake cases, Pension Committee established bright line rules on data retention, litigation response efforts and sanctions. Such rules, in turn, strengthened the call for corresponding national eDiscovery standards regarding document preservation and spoliation sanctions, which were not addressed by the 2006 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP).

Despite the impact of Pension Committee on eDiscovery practice and jurisprudence, subsequent case law reveals that the decision was far from universally embraced. Instead, many courts declined to follow the Pension Committee rubric, especially as it relates to litigation holds. In particular, courts have disagreed with Pension Committee’s unambiguous rule that a litigant’s failure to issue a written hold constitutes gross negligence. Some of these cases, detailed below – including the Chin v. Port Authority of New York & New Jersey decision issued this month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit – likewise illustrate the difficulty in crafting national eDiscovery standards.

For example, in Steuben Foods v. Country Gourmet Foods, the court refused to sanction the plaintiff despite its failure to issue a written litigation hold. Relying on Pension Committee, defendants argued that plaintiff’s oral hold instruction was inadequate and grounds for terminating sanctions. The court rejected that argument, explaining that an oral hold instruction was sufficient given the limited number of players involved and that plaintiff was a small enterprise. Pension Committee was therefore found to be inapposite.

This same theme was emphasized in Surowiec v. Capital Title Agency when an Arizona district court declined to follow Pension Committee’s rigid written hold rule. The Surowiec court reasoned that “per se rules” were often too inflexible to address the factual complexities surrounding eDiscovery sanctions motions. Though it refused to follow the Pension Committee rule, the court nonetheless issued an adverse inference jury instruction to address what it characterized as a grossly negligent litigation response effort. Such a sanction was warranted since defendants failed to implement any hold until six months after the duty to preserve attached, causing the destruction of key emails.

Even in its court of origin, the Pension Committee hold rule has not been followed. In GenOn Mid-Atlantic v. Stone & Webster, the Manhattan based federal court declined to sanction plaintiffs whose consultant had not preserved certain electronically stored information (ESI). While the plaintiffs did not require the consultant to issue a written litigation hold to its employees, the ensuing destruction of ESI did not prejudice the defendant. Given that lack of prejudice and that “certain courts have questioned the bright-line culpability rules that Judge Scheindlin promulgated in Pension Committee,” the GenOn court declined to sanction the plaintiffs for failing to issue a written hold instruction.

Picking up on this same rationale, the Second Circuit delivered a crushing blow to the Pension Committee strict written hold rule in its Chin decision issued July 10, 2012. In Chin, the Second Circuit held that a lower court had properly declined to issue an adverse inference instruction despite the defendant’s failure to issue a litigation hold over certain documents. In doing so, the Chin court singled out its disapproval of the Pension Committee hold rule: “We reject the notion that a failure to institute a ‘litigation hold’ constitutes gross negligence per se.” In addition, the Chin court went on to discard the concept that an adverse inference sanction must necessarily follow a finding of gross negligence. Rather than apply rigid rules to factual intensive matters, the Second Circuit urged that courts adopt a “case-by-case approach to the failure to produce relevant evidence.”

These decisions represent a substantial number of cases that have criticized the Pension Committee rules as simply being too inflexible to address the factual nuances of eDiscovery. More than just diluting the effect of Pension Committee, this quartet of cases makes clear the difficulty of establishing national standards to address the factual complexities of many eDiscovery issues. Indeed, the Discovery Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, which continues to deliberate on various proposals to amend the FRCP, has yet to find a clear path toward national standards regarding preservation and sanctions. Given the strong differences of opinion that exist on the issues, it is questionable whether such a path will emerge any time soon. Until such a path emerges, organizations with significant preservation pains will need to develop an information governance strategy that fits within the existing legal framework. Such a strategy, anchored by effective, enabling technologies, may be the best bet for organizations groping for greater certainty surrounding eDiscovery.

Morton’s Fork, Oil Filters the Nexus with Information Governance

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Those old enough to have watched TV in the early eighties will undoubtedly remember the FRAM oil slogan where the mechanic utters his iconic catchphrase: “You can pay me now, or pay me later.”  The gist of the vintage ad was that the customer could either pay a small sum now for the replacement of oil filter, or a far greater sum later for the replacement of the car’s entire engine.

This choice between two unpleasant alternatives is sometimes called a Morton’s Fork (but typically only when both choices are equal in difficulty).  The saying (not to be confused with the equally colorful Hobson’s Choice) apparently originated with the collection of taxes by John Morton (the Archbishop of Canterbury) in the late 15th century.  Morton was apparently fond of saying that a man living modestly must be saving money and could therefore afford to pay taxes, whereas if he was living extravagantly then he was obviously rich and could still afford them.[i]

This “pay me now/pay me later” scenario perplexes many of today’s organizations as they try to effectively govern (i.e., understand, discover and retain) electronically stored information (ESI).  The challenge is similar to the oil filter conundrum, in that companies can often make rather modest up-front retention/deletion decisions that help prevent monumental, downstream eDiscovery charges.

This exponential gap has been illustrated recently by a number of surveys contrasting the cost of storage with the cost of conducting basic eDiscovery tasks (such as preservation, collection, processing, review and production).  In a recent AIIM webcast it was noted that “it costs about 20¢/day to buy 1GB of storage, but it costs around $3,500 to review that same gigabyte of storage.” And, it turns out that the $3,500 review estimate (which sounds prohibitively expensive, particularly at scale) may actually be on the conservative side.  While the review phase is roughly 70 percent of the total eDiscovery costs – there is the other 30% that includes upstream costs for preservation, collection and processing.

Similarly, in a recent Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) paper the authors noted that eDiscovery costs range anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 per gigabyte, citing the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology.  This $30,000 figure is also roughly in line with other per-gigabyte eDiscovery costs, according to a recent survey by the RAND Corporation.  In an article entitled “Where the Money Goes — Understanding Litigant Expenditures for Producing Electronic Discovery” authors Nicholas M. Pace and Laura Zakaras conducted an extensive analysis and concluded that “… the total costs per gigabyte reviewed were generally around $18,000, with the first and third quartiles in the 35 cases with complete information at $12,000 and $30,000, respectively.”

Given these range of estimates, the $18,000 per gigabyte metric is probably a good midpoint figure that advocates of information governance can use to contrast with the exponentially lower baseline costs of buying and maintaining storage.  It is this stark (and startling) gap between pure information costs and the expenses of eDiscovery that shows how important it is to calculate latent “information risk.”  If you also add in the risks for sanctions due to spoliation, the true (albeit still murky) information risk portrait comes into focus.  It is this calculation that is missing when legal goes to bat to argue about the necessity of information governance solutions, particularly when faced with the host of typical objections (“storage is cheap” … “keep everything” … “there’s no ROI for proactive information governance programs”).

The good news is that as the eDiscovery market continues to evolve, practitioners (legal and IT alike) will come to a better and more holistic understanding of the latent information risk costs that the unchecked proliferation of data causes.  It will be this increased level of transparency that permits the budding information governance trend to become a dominant umbrella concept that unites Legal and IT.



[i] Insert your own current political joke here…

Email Archive Saves the Day, Prevents eDiscovery Sanctions

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

The recent case of Danny Lynn Electrical v. Veolia Es Solid Waste (2012 WL 786843, March 9, 2012) showcases the value of an information archive from a compliance and eDiscovery perspective. In Danny Lynn Electrical the plaintiff sought sanctions against the defendant for the spoliation of electronic evidence, including the usual blend of monetary sanctions, adverse evidentiary inferences and the striking of affirmative defenses. Plaintiff argued that the defendant “blatantly disregarded their duty to preserve electronic information” by failing to implement an effective legal hold policy and deleting email after litigation began. In rejecting plaintiff’s claims, the court concluded that sanctions on the basis of spoliation of evidence were not warranted.

The court, in a harbinger of good things to come for the defendant, questioned “whether any spoliation of electronic evidence has actually occurred.” In finding that there wasn’t any spoliation, the court relied heavily on the fact that the defendant had recently deployed an email archive:

“[T]here is no evidence that any of the alleged emails, with the exception of the few that were accidentally deleted due to a computer virus or other unforseen [sic] circumstance, were permanently deleted from the defendants’ computer system. … VESNA began using a new software system which archives all emails on the VESNA network. Therefore, it is clear to the court that the defendant preserved email from its custodians in a backup or archive system.”

In combination with the deployed archive, the court also noted that plaintiff’s arguments were devoid of substantive evidence to support their spoliation claims:

“In order to impose sanctions against the defendants, this court ‘would have to substitute Plaintiffs’ speculation for actual proof that critical evidence was in fact lost or destroyed.”

The rejection of plaintiff’s spoliation claims in Danny Lynn Electrical reinforces the long held notion that information archives[i] have tremendous utility beyond the data management/minimization benefits that were the early drivers of archive adoption. This prophylactic, information governance benefit is particularly useful when the archive goes beyond email to additionally capture loose files, social media and other unstructured content.

As we said in 2011, organizations are already finding that other sources of electronically stored information (ESI) like documents/files and unstructured data are rivaling email in importance for eDiscovery requests, and this trend shows no signs of abating, particularly for regulated industries. This increasingly heterogeneous mix of ESI certainly results in challenges for many organizations, with some unlucky ones getting sanctioned (unlike the defendant Danny Lynn Electrical ) because they ignored these emerging data types.

The good news is that modern day archives have the ability to manage (preserve, categorize, defensibly delete, etc.) ESI from a wide range of sources beyond just email. Given cases like Danny Lynn Electrical it’s increasingly a layup to build the business case for an archive project (assuming your organization doesn’t have one deployed already). Further pushing the archiving play to the top of the stack is the ability to deploy in the cloud context, in addition to traditional on premise deployments.

The Danny Lynn Electrical case also shows how an upstream, proactive information governance program can have an impact in the downstream, reactive eDiscovery context. It is the linking of the yin and yang of the proactive and reactive concepts where an end to end paradigm starts to fulfill the long anticipated destiny of true information governance. As the explosion of data continues to mushroom unabated, it’s only this type of holistic information management regime that will keep eDiscovery chaos at bay.



[i] In the interests of full disclosure, Symantec offers both on-premise archiving and cloud archiving solutions. They are not the solutions referenced in the Danny Lynn Electrical case.

2012: Year of the Dragon – and Predictive Coding. Will the eDiscovery Landscape Be Forever Changed?

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

2012 is the Year of the Dragon – which is fitting, since no other Chinese Zodiac sign represents the promise, challenge, and evolution of predictive coding technology more than the Dragon.  The few who have embraced predictive coding technology exemplify symbolic traits of the Dragon that include being unafraid of challenges and willing to take risks.  In the legal profession, taking risks typically isn’t in a lawyer’s DNA, which might explain why predictive coding technology has seen lackluster adoption among lawyers despite the hype.  This blog explores the promise of predictive coding technology, why predictive coding has not been widely adopted in eDiscovery, and explains why 2012 is likely to be remembered as the year of predictive coding.

What is predictive coding?

Predictive coding refers to machine learning technology that can be used to automatically predict how documents should be classified based on limited human input.  In litigation, predictive coding technology can be used to rank and then “code” or “tag” electronic documents based on criteria such as “relevance” and “privilege” so organizations can reduce the amount of time and money spent on traditional page by page attorney document review during discovery.

Generally, the technology works by prioritizing the most important documents for review by ranking them.  In addition to helping attorneys find important documents faster, this prioritization and ranking of documents can even eliminate the need to review documents with the lowest rankings in certain situations. Additionally, since computers don’t get tired or day dream, many believe computers can even predict document relevance better than their human counterparts.

Why hasn’t predictive coding gone mainstream yet?

Given the promise of faster and less expensive document review, combined with higher accuracy rates, many are perplexed as to why predictive coding technology hasn’t been widely adopted in eDiscovery.  The answer really boils down to one simple concept – a lack of transparency.

Difficult to Use

First, early predictive coding tools attempt to apply a complicated new technological approach to a document review process that has traditionally been very simple.  Instead of relying on attorneys to read each and every document to determine relevance, the success of today’s predictive coding technology typically depends on review decisions input into a computer by one or more experienced senior attorneys.  The process commonly involves a complex series of steps that include sampling, testing, reviewing, and measuring results in order to fine tune an algorithm that will eventually be used to predict the relevancy of the remaining documents.

The problem with early predictive coding technologies is that the majority of these complex steps are done in a ‘black box’.  In other words, the methodology and results are not always clear, which increases the risk of human error and makes the integrity of the electronic discovery process difficult to defend.  For example, the methodology for selecting a statistically relevant sample is not always intuitive to the end user.  This fundamental problem could result in improper sampling techniques that could taint the accuracy of the entire process.  Similarly, the process must often be repeated several times in order to improve accuracy rates.  Even if accuracy is improved, it may be difficult or impossible to explain how accuracy thresholds were determined or to explain why coding decisions were applied to some documents and not others.

Accuracy Concerns

Early predictive coding tools also tend to lack transparency in the way the technology evaluates the language contained in each document.  Instead of evaluating both the text and metadata fields within a document, some technologies actually ignore document metadata.  This omission means a privileged email sent by a client to her attorney, Larry Lawyer, might be overlooked by the computer if the name “Larry Lawyer” is only part of the “recipient” metadata field of the document and isn’t part of the document text.  The obvious risk is that this situation could lead to privilege waiver if it is inadvertently produced to the opposing party.

Another practical concern is that some technologies do not allow reviewers to make a distinction between relevant and non-relevant language contained within individual documents.  For example, early predictive coding technologies are not intelligent enough to know that only the second paragraph on page 95 of a 100-page document contains relevant language.  The inability to discern what language  led to the determination that the document is relevant could skew results when the computer tries to identify other documents with the same characteristics.  This lack of precision increases the likelihood that the computer will retrieve an over-inclusive number of irrelevant documents.  This problem is generally referred to as ‘excessive recall,’ and it is important because this lack of precision increases the number of documents requiring manual review which directly impacts eDiscovery cost.

Waiver & Defensibility

Perhaps the biggest concern with early predictive coding technology is the risk of waiver and concerns about defensibility.  Notably, there have been no known judicial decisions that specifically address the defensibility of these new technology tools even though some in the judiciary, including U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck, have opined that this kind of technology should be used in certain cases.

The problem is that today’s predictive coding tools are difficult to use, complicated for the average attorney, and the way they work simply isn’t transparent.  All these limitations increase the risk of human error.  Introducing human error increases the risk of overlooking important documents or unwittingly producing privileged documents.  Similarly, it is difficult to defend a technological process that isn’t always clear in an era where many lawyers are still uncomfortable with keyword searches.  In short, using black box technology that is difficult to use and understand is perceived as risky, and many attorneys have taken a wait-and-see approach because they are unwilling to be the guinea pig.

Why is 2012 likely to be the year of predictive coding?

The word transparency may seem like a vague term, but it is the critical element missing from today’s predictive coding technology offerings.  2012 is likely to be the year of predictive coding because improvements in transparency will shine a light into the black box of predictive coding technology that hasn’t existed until now.  In simple terms, increasing transparency will simplify the user experience and improve accuracy which will reduce longstanding concerns about defensibility and privilege waiver.

Ease of Use

First, transparent predictive coding technology will help minimize the risk of human error by incorporating an intuitive user interface into a complicated solution.  New interfaces will include easy-to-use workflow management consoles to guide the reviewer through a step-by-step process for selecting, reviewing, and testing data samples in a way that minimizes guesswork and confusion.  By automating the sampling and testing process, the risk of human error can be minimized which decreases the risk of waiver or discovery sanctions that could result if documents are improperly coded.  Similarly, automated reporting capabilities make it easier for producing parties to evaluate and understand how key decisions were made throughout the process, thereby making it easier for them to defend the reasonableness of their approach.

Intuitive reports also help the producing party measure and evaluate confidence levels throughout the testing process until appropriate confidence levels are achieved.  Since confidence levels can actually be measured as a percentage, attorneys and judges are in a position to negotiate and debate the desired level of confidence for a production set rather than relying exclusively on the representations or decisions of a single party.  This added transparency allows the type of cooperation between parties called for in the Sedona Cooperation Proclamation and gives judges an objective tool for evaluating each party’s behavior.

Accuracy & Efficiency

2012 is also likely to be the year of transparent predictive coding technology because technical limitations that have impacted the accuracy and efficiency of earlier tools will be addressed.  For example, new technology will analyze both document text and metadata to avoid the risk that responsive or privileged documents are overlooked.  Similarly, smart tagging features will enable reviewers to highlight specific language in documents to determine a document’s relevance or non-relevance so that coding predictions will be more accurate and fewer non-relevant documents will be recalled for review.

Conclusion - Transparency Provides Defensibility

The bottom line is that predictive coding technology has not enjoyed widespread adoption in the eDiscovery process due to concerns about simplicity and accuracy that breed larger concerns about defensibility.  Defending the use of black box technology that is difficult to use and understand is a risk that many attorneys simply are not willing to take, and these concerns have deterred widespread adoption of early predictive coding technology tools.  In 2012, next generation transparent predictive coding technology will usher in a new era of computer-assisted document review that is easy to use, more accurate, and easier to defend. Given these exciting technological advancements, I predict that 2012 will not only be the year of the dragon, it will also be the year of predictive coding.