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Posts Tagged ‘ESI’

The Need for a More Active Judiciary in eDiscovery

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Various theories have been advanced over the years to determine why the digital age has caused the discovery process to spiral out of control. Many believe that the sheer volume of ESI has led to the increased costs and delays that now characterize eDiscovery. Others place the blame on the quixotic advocacy of certain lawyers who seek “any and all documents” in their quest for the proverbial smoking gun. While these factors have undoubtedly contributed to the current eDiscovery frenzy, there is still another key reason that many cognoscenti believe has impacted discovery: a lack of judicial involvement. Indeed, in a recent article published by the University of Kansas Law Review, Professor Steven Gensler and Judge Lee Rosenthal argue that many of the eDiscovery challenges facing lawyers and litigants could be addressed in a more efficient and cost-effective manner through “active case management” by judges. According to Professor Gensler and Judge Rosenthal, a meaningful Rule 16 conference with counsel can enable “the court to ensure that the lawyers and parties have paid appropriate attention to planning for electronic discovery.”

To facilitate this vision of a more active judiciary in the discovery process, the Advisory Committee has proposed a series of changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Most of these changes are designed to improve the effectiveness of the Rule 26(f) discovery conference and to encourage courts to provide input on key discovery issues at the outset of a case.

Rules 26 and 34 – Improving the Effectiveness of the Rule 26(f) Discovery Conference

One way the Committee felt that it could enable greater judicial involvement in case management was to have the parties conduct a more meaningful Rule 26(f) discovery conference. Such a step is significant since courts generally believe that a successful conference is the lynchpin for conducting discovery in a proportional manner.

To enhance the usefulness of the conference, the Committee recommended that Rule 26(f) be amended to specifically require the parties to discuss any pertinent issues surrounding the preservation of ESI. This provision is calculated to get the parties thinking proactively about preservation problems that could arise later in discovery. It is also designed to work in conjunction with the proposed amendments to Rule 16(b)(3) and Rule 37(e). Changes to the former would expressly empower the court to issue a scheduling order addressing ESI preservation issues. Under the latter, the extent to which preservation issues were addressed at a discovery conference or in a scheduling order could very well affect any subsequent motion for sanctions relating to a failure to preserve relevant ESI.

Another amendment to Rule 26(f) would require the parties to discuss the need for a “clawback” order under Federal Rule of Evidence 502. Though underused, Rule 502(d) orders generally reduce the expense and hassle of litigating issues surrounding the inadvertent disclosure of ESI protected by the lawyer-client privilege. To ensure this overlooked provision receives attention from litigants, the Committee has drafted a corresponding amendment to Rule 16(b)(3) that would enable the court to weigh in on Rule 502 related issues in a scheduling order.

The final step the Committee has proposed for increasing the effectiveness of the Rule 26(f) conference is to amend Rule 26(d) and Rule 34(b)(2) to enable parties to serve Rule 34 document requests prior to that conference. These “early” requests, which are not deemed served until the conference, are “designed to facilitate focused discussion during the Rule 26(f) conference.” This, the Committee hopes, will enable the parties to subsequently prepare document requests that are more targeted and proportional to the issues in play.

Rule 16 – Greater Judicial Input on Key Discovery Issues

As mentioned above, the Committee has suggested adding provisions to Rule 16(b)(3) that track those in Rule 26(f) so as to provide the opportunity for greater judicial input on certain eDiscovery issues at the outset of a case. In addition to these changes, Rule 16(b)(3) would also allow a court to require that the parties caucus with the court before filing a discovery-related motion. The purpose of this provision is to encourage judges to informally resolve discovery disputes before the parties incur the expense of fully engaging in motion practice. According to the Committee, various courts have used similar arrangements under their local rules that have “proven highly effective in reducing cost and delay.”

Conclusion

Whether or not these changes are successful depends on how committed the courts are to using the proposed case management tools. Without more active involvement from the courts, the newly proposed initiatives regarding cooperation and proportionality may very well fall by the wayside and remain noble, but unmet expectations. Compliance with the draft rules is likely the only method to ensure that these amendments (if enacted) are to be successful.

The Proportionality Amendments to the Federal Rules Spotlight the Importance of Efficient, Cost-Effective eDiscovery

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

One of the most compelling objectives for amending the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to make civil discovery more efficient and cost effective. The proposed amendment to Federal Rule 1 – featured in our introductory post on this series that provides a comprehensive overview of the proposed amendments – is only one of several measures found in the amendment package that are designed to decrease the costs and delays associated with eDiscovery. Perhaps the most important of those measures are those that emphasize proportionality standards.

Proportionality standards, which require that the benefits of discovery be commensurate with its burdens, have been extant in the Federal Rules since 1983. Nevertheless, they have been invoked too infrequently over the past 30 years to address the problems of over-discovery and gamesmanship that permeate the discovery process. In an effort to spotlight this “highly valued” yet “missing in action” doctrine, the Civil Rules Advisory Committee has proposed numerous changes to the current Rules regime. Judicial Conference of the United States, Report of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules 4 (May 8, 2013) (Report). The most significant of these changes are found in Rules 26(b)(1) and 34(b).

Rule 26(b)(1) – Tightening the Scope of Permissible Discovery

The Committee has proposed that the permissible scope of discovery under Rule 26(b)(1) be modified to spotlight the limitations that proportionality imposes on discovery. Those limitations are presently found in Rule 26(b)(2)(C) and are not readily apparent to many lawyers or judges. The proposed modification (in italics) would address this problem by making clear that discovery must satisfy proportionality standards:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non privileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case considering the amount in controversy, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the parties’ resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.

Report, at 19-20. By moving the proportionality rule directly into the scope of discovery, counsel and the courts should gain a better understanding of the restraints that this concept places on discovery.

Rule 26(b)(1) has additionally been modified to enforce the notion that discovery is confined to those matters that are relevant to the claims or defenses at issue in a particular case. Even though discovery has been limited in this regard for many years, the Committee felt that this limitation was being “swallowed” by the “reasonably calculated” provision in Rule 26(b)(1). That provision currently provides for the discovery of relevant evidence that is inadmissible so long as it is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.” Despite the narrow purpose of this provision, the Committee found that many judges and lawyers unwittingly extrapolated the “reasonably calculated” wording to broaden discovery beyond the benchmark of relevance. To disabuse courts and counsel of this practice, the “reasonably calculated” phrase has been removed and replaced with the following sentence: “Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Report, at 11.

Similarly, the Committee has recommended eliminating the provision in Rule 26(b)(1) that presently allows the court – on a showing of good cause – to order “discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter.” In its proposed “Committee Note,” the Committee justified this suggested change by reiterating its mantra about the proper scope of discovery: “Proportional discovery relevant to any party’s claim or defense suffices.” Report, at 10-11.

Rule 34(b) – Eliminating Gamesmanship with Document Productions

The three key modifications the Committee has proposed for Rule 34 are designed to eliminate some of the gamesmanship associated with written discovery responses. The first such change is a requirement in Rule 34(b)(2)(B) that any objection made in response to a document request must be stated with specificity. This recommended change is supposed to do away with the assertion of general objections. While such objections have almost universally been rejected in federal discovery practice, they still appear in Rule 34 responses. By including an explicit requirement for specific objections and coupling it with the threat of sanctions for non-compliance under Rule 26(g), the Committee may finally eradicate this practice from discovery.

The second change is calculated to address another longstanding discovery dodge: making a party’s response “subject to” a particular set of objections. Whether such objections are specific or general, the Committee concluded that such a conditional response leaves the party who requested the materials unsure as to whether anything was withheld and if so, on what grounds. To remedy this practice, the Committee added the following provision to Rule 34(b)(2)(C): “An objection must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection.” Report, at 15-16. If enforced, such a requirement could make Rule 34 responses more straightforward and less evasive.

The third change is intended to clarify the uncertainty surrounding the responding party’s timeframe for producing documents. As it now stands, Rule 34 does not expressly mandate when the responding party must complete its production of documents. That omission has led to open-ended productions, which can unreasonably lengthen the discovery process and increase litigation expenses. To correct this oversight, the Committee proposed that the responding party complete its production “no later than the time for inspection stated in the request or [at] a later reasonable time stated in the response.” Report, at 26. For so-called “rolling productions,” the responding party “should specify the beginning and end dates of the production.” Id. Such a provision should ultimately provide greater clarity and increased understanding surrounding productions of ESI.

Other Changes – Cost Shifting in Rule 26(c), Reductions in Discovery under Rules 30, 31, 33, 36

There were several additional changes the Committee recommended that are grounded in the concept of proportionality. While space does not allow for a detailed review of all of these changes, practitioners should take note of the new cost shifting provision in Rule 26(c). That change would expressly enable courts to allocate the expenses of discovery among the parties. See Report, at 12, 20-21, 23.

The Committee has also suggested reductions in the number of depositions, interrogatories, and requests for admission. Under the draft amendments, the number of depositions is reduced from 10 to 5. Oral deposition time has also been cut from seven hours to six. As for written discovery, the number of interrogatories would decrease from 25 to 15 and a numerical limit of 25 has been introduced for requests for admission. That limit of 25, however, does not apply to requests that seek to ascertain the genuineness of a particular document. See Report, at 12-15.

The effect of these proportionality amendments on the eDiscovery process could be far-reaching, but their impact remains to be seen. If lawyers continue to ignore proportionality standards and should courts fail to counter such non-compliance with sanctions under Federal Rule 26(g), the depressing duo of unreasonable eDiscovery costs and delays will continue unabated. For those who truly wish to reverse this trend, strict enforcement of these proportionality standards must be the rule of the day.

A Comprehensive Look at the Newly Proposed eDiscovery Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

You have probably heard the news. Changes are in the works for the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that govern the discovery process. Approved for public comment last month by the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, the proposed amendments are generally designed to streamline discovery, encourage cooperative advocacy among litigants and eliminate gamesmanship. The amendments also try to tackle the continuing problems associated with the preservation of electronically stored information (ESI). As a result, a package of amendments has been developed that affects most aspects of federal discovery practice.

We will provide a comprehensive overview of the newly proposed amendments in a series of posts over the next few weeks. The posts will cover the changes that are designed to usher in a new era of cooperation, proportionality, and active judicial case management in discovery. We will also review the draft amendment to Federal Rule 37(e), which would create a uniform national standard for discovery sanctions stemming from failures to preserve evidence. This amendment has by far attracted the most interest, which is understandable given the far-reaching impact that such a change could have on organizations’ defensible deletion efforts. A final post will describe the timeline for moving the amendment package forward.

Cooperation

Drafted by the Civil Rules Advisory Committee, the proposed amendments are generally designed to facilitate the tripartite aims of Federal Rule 1 in the discovery process. To carry out Rule 1’s lofty yet important mandate of securing “the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination” of litigation, the Committee has proposed several modifications to advance the notions of cooperation and proportionality. Other changes focus on improving “early and effective judicial case management.” Judicial Conference of the United States, Report of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules 4 (May 8, 2013) (Report). Today’s post will provide an overview of the draft amendment to Rule 1, which is designed to spotlight the importance of cooperation. Posts covering the proportionality and judicial case management amendments will follow shortly.

The Proposed Amendment to Rule 1

To better emphasize the need for cooperative advocacy in discovery, the Committee has recommended that Rule 1 be amended to specify that clients share the responsibility with the court for achieving the rule’s objectives. The proposed revisions to the rule (in italics with deletions in strikethrough) read in pertinent part as follows:

[These rules] should be construed, and administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.

Report, at 17.

Even though this concept was already set forth in the Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 1, the Committee felt that an express reference in the rule itself would prompt litigants and their lawyers to engage in more cooperative conduct. Indeed, while acknowledging that such a rule change would not “cure all adversary excesses,” the Committee still felt the amended wording “will do some good.” Report, at 16-17.

Perhaps more importantly, this mandate is also designed to enable judges “to elicit better cooperation when the lawyers and parties fall short.” Report, at 16. Indeed, such a reference, when coupled with the “stop and think” certification requirement from Federal Rule 26(g), should give jurists more than enough procedural basis to remind counsel and clients of their duty to conduct discovery in a cooperative and cost effective manner.

Though difficult to gauge the actual impact that such an amendment might have, the decision to spotlight cooperation could be beneficial if litigants and lawyers ultimately decide to conduct discovery with laser-like precision instead of the sledgehammer approach of the current regime. If implemented and followed as contemplated by the Committee, the proposed amendment to Rule 1 could help decrease the costs and delays associated with discovery.

 

Push or Pull? Deciding How Much Oversight is Required of In-house Counsel in eDiscovery

Tuesday, June 18th, 2013

When Kolon Industries recently found itself on the wrong side of a $919 million verdict, the legal department for the South Korean-based manufacturer probably started to take inventory on what it might have done differently to have avoided such a fate. While that list could have included any number of entries, somewhere near the top had to be an action item to revamp its process for supervising the preservation and collection of electronically stored information (ESI) from company executives and employees. Breakdowns in that process led to the destruction of nearly 18,000 pages of ESI. This resulted in an instruction to the jury in E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. v. Kolon Industries, Inc. that Kolon had engaged in wholesale destruction of key evidence. All of which culminated in the devastating verdict against the manufacturer.

Most enterprises will likely never have to deal with the fallout from a nearly $1 billion verdict. Nevertheless, many companies still struggle with the same issues associated with document collection that ultimately tripped up Kolon Industries. Indeed, one of the most troubling issues facing in-house counsel is determining the degree of oversight that must be exercised in connection with document preservation and collection in eDiscovery. While this is an issue counsel has always grappled with, the degree of difficulty has substantially increased in the digital age. With the explosion of information, courts have raised their expectations for how organizations and their counsel address ESI in discovery. Now that the stakes have been raised, should counsel allow executives and employees to decide what is relevant and have them “push” the data for production? Or, should the team collect  (i.e., “pull”) the data and then cull and review for relevancy?

These issues were recently considered in an article published in May 2013 by the ACC Docket. Authored by Shawn Cheadle, General Counsel, Military Space, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, and me, the article describes how counsel can balance these countervailing factors to appropriately supervise the inextricably intertwined eDiscovery phases of ESI preservation and collection. In this article, we detail the elements in play, and discuss the leading court cases and their respective factual scenarios, with an eye toward helping in-house counsel understand the dynamics that are driving this trend. We also provide some suggestions for how counsel can meet the required degree of eDiscovery oversight without neglecting its other duties.

A copy of this article is available here for your reading pleasure.

The Gartner 2013 Magic Quadrant for eDiscovery Software is Out!

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

This week marks the release of the 3rd annual Gartner Magic Quadrant for e-Discovery Software report.  In the early days of eDiscovery, most companies outsourced almost every sizeable project to vendors and law firms so eDiscovery software was barely a blip on the radar screen for technology analysts. Fast forward a few years to an era of explosive information growth and rising eDiscovery costs and the landscape has changed significantly. Today, much of the outsourced eDiscovery “services” business has been replaced by eDiscovery software solutions that organizations bring in house to reduce risk and cost. As a result, the enterprise eDiscovery software market is forecast to grow from $1.4 billion in total software revenue worldwide in 2012 to $2.9 billion by 2017. (See Forecast:  Enterprise E-Discovery Software, Worldwide, 2012 – 2017, Tom Eid, December, 2012).

Not surprisingly, today’s rapidly growing eDiscovery software market has become significant enough to catch the attention of mainstream analysts like Gartner. This is good news for company lawyers who are used to delegating enterprise software decisions to IT departments and outside law firms. Because today those same company lawyers are involved in eDiscovery and other information management software purchasing decisions for their organizations. While these lawyers understand the company’s legal requirements, they do not necessarily understand how to choose the best technology to address those requirements. Conversely, IT representatives understand enterprise software, but they do not necessarily understand the law. Gartner bridges this information gap by providing in depth and independent analysis of the top eDiscovery software solutions in the form of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for e-Discovery Software.

Gartner’s methodology for preparing the annual Magic Quadrant report is rigorous. Providers must meet quantitative requirements such as revenue and significant market penetration to be included in the report. If these threshold requirements are met then Gartner probes deeper by meeting with company representatives, interviewing customers, and soliciting feedback to written questions. Providers that make the cut are evaluated across four Magic Quadrant categories as either “leaders, challengers, niche players, or visionaries.” Where each provider ends up on the quadrant is guided by an independent evaluation of each provider’s “ability to execute” and “completeness of vision.” Landing in the “leaders” quadrant is considered a top recognition.

The nine Leaders in this year’s Magic Quadrant have four primary characteristics (See figure 1 above).

The first is whether the provider has functionality that spans both sides of the electronic discovery reference model (EDRM) (left side – identification, preservation, litigation hold, collection, early case assessment (ECA) and processing and right-side – processing, review, analysis and production). “While Gartner recognizes that not all enterprises — or even the majority — will want to perform legal-review work in-house, more and more are dictating what review tools will be used by their outside counsel or legal-service providers. As practitioners become more sophisticated, they are demanding that data change hands as little as possible, to reduce cost and risk. This is a continuation of a trend we saw developing last year, and it has grown again in importance, as evidenced both by inquiries from Gartner clients and reports from vendors about the priorities of current and prospective customers.”

We see this as consistent with the theme that providers with archiving solutions designed to automate data retention and destruction policies generally fared better than those without archiving technology. The rationale is that part of a good end-to-end eDiscovery strategy includes proactively deleting data organizations do not have a legal or business need to keep. This approach decreases the amount of downstream electronically stored information (ESI) organizations must review on a case-by-case basis so the cost savings can be significant.

Not surprisingly, whether or not a provider offers technology assisted review or predictive coding capabilities was another factor in evaluating each provider’s end-to-end functionality. The industry has witnessed a surge in predictive coding case law since 2012 and judicial interest has helped drive this momentum. However, a key driver for implementing predictive coding technology is the ability to reduce the amount of ESI attorneys need to review on a case-by-case basis. Given the fact that attorney review is the most expensive phase of the eDiscovery process, many organizations are complementing their proactive information reduction (archiving) strategy with a case-by-case information reduction plan that also includes predictive coding.

The second characteristic Gartner considered was that Leaders’ business models clearly demonstrate that their focus is software development and sales, as opposed to the provision of services. Gartner acknowledged that the eDiscovery services market is strong, but explains that the purpose of the Magic Quadrant is to evaluate software, not services. The justification is that “[c]orporate buyers and even law firms are trending towards taking as much e-Discovery process in house as they can, for risk management and cost control reasons. In addition, the vendor landscape for services in this area is consolidating. A strong software offering, which can be exploited for growth and especially profitability, is what Gartner looked for and evaluated.”

Third, Gartner believes the solution provider market is shrinking and that corporations are becoming more involved in buying decisions instead of deferring technology decisions to their outside law firms. Therefore, those in the Leaders category were expected to illustrate a good mix of corporate and law firm buying centers. The rationale behind this category is that law firms often help influence corporate buying decisions so both are important players in the buying cycle. However, Gartner also highlighted that vendors who get the majority of their revenues from the “legal solution provider channel” or directly from “law firms” may soon face problems.

The final characteristic Gartner considered for the Leaders quadrant is related to financial performance and growth. In measuring this component, Gartner explained that a number of factors were considered. Primary among them is whether the Leaders are keeping pace with or even exceeding overall market growth. (See “Forecast:  Enterprise E-Discovery Software, Worldwide, 2012 – 2017,” Tom Eid, December, 2012).

Companies landing in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for eDiscovery Software have reason to celebrate their position in an increasingly competitive market. To review Gartner’s full report yourself, click here. In the meantime, please feel free to share your own comments below as the industry anxiously awaits next year’s Magic Quadrant Report.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Save the Date: Defensible Deletion Google + Hangout

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

As information volumes continue to explode, the need for a strategic information governance plan has never been more important. Organizations are struggling to reduce their electronically stored information (ESI) footprint, while at the same time ensuring they are prepared to satisfy eDiscovery requests and comply with retention requirements stemming from Dodd-Frank and FINRA 10-06.

This is where Defensible Deletion comes into play. Defensible Deletion is a comprehensive approach that companies implement to reduce the storage costs and legal risks associated with the retention of electronically stored information. Organizations that establish a systematic methodology for cutting down their information clutter have been successful in avoiding court sanctions and eliminating ESI that has little or no business value.

Please join the Symantec Archiving & eDiscovery team on Wednesday, June 19 at 9:30am PT for an On Air Google+ Hangout and learn techniques for reducing risk and storage costs through the implementation of a Defensible Deletion plan for both active and archived content: http://bit.ly/17by3e6.  Also, join the conversation at #SYMChangout.

Yet Another Victory: Court Rejects Sanctions for eDiscovery “Shortcomings”

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

The news surrounding the eDiscovery industry is trending positive for organizations. Instances where companies have been sanctioned for alleged failures to preserve or produce electronically stored information (ESI) seem to be dropping. This is confirmed by various court opinions from 2012, together with reports from key industry players. In addition, the Civil Rules Advisory Committee is close to releasing for public comment draft amendments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e) that might impact the sanctions equation. If enacted, the proposed changes could reduce the threat of sanctions relating to pre-litigation destruction of ESI.

Against this backdrop, organizations scored another sanctions victory this month as an Albany, New York-based federal court refused to impose sanctions on an enterprise for its so-called eDiscovery “shortcomings.” In Research Foundation of State University of New York v. Nektar Therapeutics, the defendant had sought an adverse inference instruction and monetary sanctions against the research foundation arm of the State University of New York for its alleged “grossly negligent” failure to preserve documents. The defendant argued that such punishment was justified given the foundation’s alleged failures to implement a timely litigation hold, to maintain “relevant backup-tape data” and to “suspend its auto-delete practices.”

The court, however, did not accept the defendant’s sweeping allegations of discovery misconduct. Instead, the court found that the foundation’s preservation efforts passed legal muster. Among other things, the foundation had issued timely hold instructions, preserved relevant backup tapes and acted to prevent the deletion of custodial data. Significantly, the court then explained that it would not get wrapped around the proverbial axel due to some isolated “shortcomings” with the foundation’s preservation efforts:

While there may have been some shortcomings in [the foundation’s] document retention protocol, it was, at most, negligent in its effort to preserve evidence related to this litigation.

Moreover, sanctions were not appropriate since the defendant had not established that relevant evidence had been destroyed. In what ultimately amounted to a “no-harm, no-foul” approach, the court observed that the “spoliation motion fails, then, on the ‘inability [of the defendant] to adduce evidence suggesting the existence, let alone destruction, of relevant documents.’”

The Research Foundation case is important for at least three reasons. First, the court’s reluctance to issue sanctions for mere preservation “shortcomings” is consistent with the general discovery principle that a party’s efforts need not be perfect. Instead of trying to reach a mythical benchmark of infallibility, Research Foundation confirms that a party’s preservation efforts need only satisfy the standards of reasonableness and proportionality.

The second lesson from Research Foundation flows naturally from the first: the misperception that courts acquiesce to knee-jerk sanctions motions. With the judiciary gaining a better understanding of the digital age nuances associated with the preservation and production of ESI, courts are less likely to go along with gotcha sanctions requests. This is particularly the case where sanctions are sought against companies that have an effective information governance plan in place.

This, in turn, gives rise to the third and final take-home from Research Foundation. Given the cooling judicial climate toward sanctions and the efforts being taken by the advisory committee to alleviate preservation burdens, the time is ripe for organizations to implement a defensible deletion strategy. Such a comprehensive approach, which aims to reduce the storage costs and legal risks associated with the retention of ESI, stands to benefit companies that can justify deletion decisions based on reasonable information retention practices. Like the foundation in Research Foundation, organizations that have done so have been successful in avoiding court sanctions while at the same time eliminating ESI that has little or no business value.

 

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.

Defensible Deletion and The A-Team: I Love It When An Information Governance Plan Comes Together

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

One of the clear eDiscovery trends that has taken root during the past year is defensible deletion. Indeed, there are any number of news stories reporting that more organizations are taking steps to eliminate electronically stored information (ESI) that has little to any business value. This is further confirmed by industry surveys whose empirical data suggests that a tipping point has been reached on the issue of defensible deletion. For example, in a recent survey conducted by the eDJ Group, over 96% of the respondents recognized that “defensible deletion of information is necessary in order to manage growing volumes of digital information.” The report accompanying the eDJ Group survey succinctly summarized the new-found urgency surrounding defensible deletion: “Deletion isn’t just a nice corporate “housekeeping” idea; it is now a necessity…”

Nevertheless, many organizations remain on the defensible deletion sidelines. While they see the potential value in getting rid of useless ESI, they are often hesitant to do so for a variety of reasons. As described in a recent Inside Counsel webinar, those reasons include any or some combination of the following:

  1. The Lack of an Organized Process
  2. Ineffective Technology
  3. Budget Constraints
  4. Fear of Repercussions Stemming from Data Destruction

While these reasons are understandable given the challenges associated with developing a defensible deletion strategy, they can be addressed with an effective information governance plan.

This fact was recently spotlighted by United States Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, Anne Kershaw, Founder and Principal of A.Kershaw, PC // Attorneys & Consultants, and Eric Lieber, the Director of Legal Technology at Toyota Motor Sales, at the Legal Tech conference in New York. What is most evident and important from the various video excerpts of their discussion is the panelists’ general agreement that the judiciary has recognized that companies may destroy ESI in many instances without adverse consequences. That the judiciary is leaving the door open for organizations to defensibly delete ESI in a reasonable fashion belies the myth that all data must be kept forever. This is consistent with other industry voices, which have observed that the risk of eDiscovery sanctions is dropping. And as the panelists confirmed, this risk could decrease even further if the proposed amendments to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e) are implemented.

With the threat of sanctions reduced, there are now fewer obstacles outside the organization to get in the way of developing an effective information governance plan. Such a plan, which includes an organized process with sufficient budget to engage necessary personnel and acquire effective technologies, is not mission impossible. Instead, companies whose personnel work cooperatively to find a solution that decreases the massive amounts of stored ESI will likely echo the sentiments of John “Hannibal” Smith from the 1980s television series the A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together!”

Breaking News: Court Orders Google to Produce eDiscovery Search Terms in Apple v. Samsung

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Apple obtained a narrow discovery victory yesterday in its long running legal battle against fellow technology titan Samsung. In Apple Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd, the court ordered non-party Google to turn over the search terms and custodians that it used to produce documents in response to an Apple subpoena.

According to the court’s order, Apple argued for the production of Google’s search terms and custodians in order “to know how Google created the universe from which it produced documents.” The court noted that Apple sought such information “to evaluate the adequacy of Google’s search, and if it finds that search wanting, it then will pursue other courses of action to obtain responsive discovery.”

Google countered that argument by defending the extent of its production and the burdens that Apple’s request would place on Google as a non-party to Apple’s dispute with Samsung. Google complained that Apple’s demands were essentially a gateway to additional discovery from Google, which would arguably be excessive given Google’s non-party status.

Sensitive to the concerns of both parties, the court struck a middle ground in its order. On the one hand, the court ordered Google to produce the search terms and custodians since that “will aid in uncovering the sufficiency of Google’s production and serves greater purposes of transparency in discovery.” But on the other hand, the court preserved Google’s right to object to any further discovery efforts by Apple: “The court notes that its order does not speak to the sufficiency of Google’s production nor to any arguments Google may make regarding undue burden in producing any further discovery.”

This latest opinion from the Apple v. Samsung series of lawsuits is noteworthy for two reasons. First, the decision is instructive regarding the eDiscovery burdens that non-parties must shoulder in litigation. While the disclosure of a non-party’s underlying search methodology (in this instance, search terms and custodians) may not be unduly burdensome, further efforts to obtain non-party documents could exceed the boundaries of reasonableness that courts have designed to protect non-parties from the vicissitudes of discovery. For as the court in this case observed, a non-party “should not be required to ‘subsidize’ litigation to which it is not a party.”

Second, the decision illustrates that the use of search terms remains a viable method for searching and producing responsive ESI. Despite the increasing popularity of predictive coding technology, it is noteworthy that neither the court nor Apple took issue with Google’s use of search terms in connection with its production process. Indeed, the intelligent use of keyword searches is still an acceptable eDiscovery approach for most courts, particularly where the parties agree on the terms. That other forms of technology assisted review, such as predictive coding, could arguably be more efficient and cost effective in identifying responsive documents does not impugn the use of keyword searches in eDiscovery. Only time will tell whether the use of keyword searches as the primary means for responding to document requests will give way to more flexible approaches that include the use of multiple technology tools.