Recent transcripts reveal that 7th Circuit Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan has urged the parties in Kleen Products, LLC, et. al. v. Packaging Corporation of America, et. al. to focus on developing a mutually agreeable keyword search strategy for eDiscovery instead of debating whether other search and review methodologies would yield better results. This is big news for litigators and others in the electronic discovery space because many perceived Kleen Products as potentially putting keyword search technology on trial, compared to newer technology like predictive coding. Considering keyword search technology is still widely used in eDiscovery, a ruling by Judge Nolan requiring defendants to redo part of their production using technology other than keyword searches would sound alarm bells for many litigators.
The controversy surrounding Kleen Products relates both to Plaintiffs’ position, as well as the status of discovery in the case. Plaintiffs initially asked Judge Nolan to order Defendants to redo their previous productions and all future productions using alternative technology. The request was surprising to many observers because some Defendants had already spent thousands of hours reviewing and producing in excess of one million documents. That number has since surpassed three million documents. Among other things, Plaintiffs claim that if Defendants had used “Content Based Advanced Analytics” tools (a term they did not define) such as predictive coding technology, then their production would have been more thorough. Notably, Plaintiffs do not appear to point to any instances of specific documents missing from Defendants’ productions.
In response, Defendants countered that their use of keyword search technology and their eDiscovery methodology in general was extremely rigorous and thorough. More specifically, they highlight their use of advanced culling and analysis tools (such as domain filtering and email threading) in addition to keyword search tools. Plaintiffs also claim they cooperated with Defendants by allowing them to participate in the selection of keywords used to search for relevant documents. Perhaps going above and beyond the eDiscovery norm, the Defendants even instituted a detailed document sampling approach designed to measure the quality of their document productions.
Following two full days of expert witness testimony regarding the adequacy of Plaintiffs’ initial productions, Judge Nolan finally asked the parties to try and reach compromise on the “Boolean” keyword approach. She apparently reasoned that having the parties work out a mutually agreeable approach based on what Defendants had already implemented was preferable to scheduling yet another full day of expert testimony — even though additional expert testimony is still an option.
In a nod to the Sedona Principles, she further explained her rationale on March 28, 2012, at the conclusion of the second day of testimony:
“the defendants had done a lot of work, the defendant under Sedona 6 has the right to pick the [eDiscovery] method. Now, we all know, every court in the country has used Boolean search, I mean, this is not like some freak thing that they [Defendants] picked out…”
Judge Nolan’s reliance on the Sedona Best Practices Recommendations & Principles for Addressing Electronic Document Production reveals how she would likely rule if Plaintiffs renew their position that Defendants should have used predictive coding or some other kind of technology in lieu of keyword searches. Sedona Principle 6 states that:
“[r]esponding parties are best situated to evaluate the procedures, methodologies, and technologies appropriate for preserving and producing their own electronically stored information.”
In other words, Judge Nolan confirmed that in her court, opposing parties typically may not dictate what technology solutions their opponents must use without some indication that the technology or process used failed to yield accurate results. Judge Nolan also observed that quality and accuracy are key guideposts regardless of the technology utilized during the eDiscovery process:
“what I was learning from the two days, and this is something no other court in the country has really done too, is how important it is to have quality search. I mean, if we want to use the term “quality” or “accurate,” but we all want this…– how do you verify the work that you have done already, is the way I put it.”
Although Plaintiffs have reserved their right to reintroduce their technology arguments, recent transcripts suggest that Defendants will not be required to use different technology. Plaintiffs continue to meet and confer with individual Defendants to agree on keyword searches, as well as the types of data sources that must be included in the collection. The parties and Judge also appear to agree that they would like to continue making progress with 30(b)(6) depositions and other eDiscovery issues before Judge Nolan retires in a few months, rather than begin a third day of expert hearings regarding technology related issues. This appears to be good news for the Judge and the parties since the eDiscovery issues now seem to be headed in the right direction as a result of mutual cooperation between the parties and some nudging by Judge Nolan.
There is also good news for outside observers in that Judge Nolan has provided some sage guidance to help future litigants before she steps down from the bench. For example, it is clear that Judge Nolan and other judges continue to emphasize the importance of cooperation in today’s complex new world of technology. Parties should be prepared to cooperate and be more transparent during discovery given the judiciary’s increased reliance on the Sedona Cooperation Proclamation. Second, Kleen Products illustrates that keyword search is not dead. Instead, keyword search should be viewed as one of many tools in the Litigator’s Toolbelt™ that can be used with other tools such as email threading, advanced filtering technology, and even predictive coding tools. Finally, litigators should take note that regardless of the tools they select, they must be prepared to defend their process and use of those tools or risk the scrutiny of judges and opposing parties.