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Posts Tagged ‘preservation’

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.

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.

Would Rule Changes Alleviate eDiscovery Burdens?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

You have heard this one before. Changes to the Federal Rules are in the works that could alleviate the eDiscovery burdens of organizations. Greeting this news with skepticism would probably be justified. After all, many feel that the last set of amendments failed to meet the hype of streamlining the discovery process to make litigation costs more reasonable. Others, while not declaring the revised Rules a failure, nonetheless believe that the amendments have been doomed by the lack of adherence among counsel and the courts. Regardless of the differing perspectives, there seems to be agreement on both sides that the Rules have spawned more collateral disputes than ever before about the preservation and collection of ESI.

What is different this time is that the latest set of proposed amendments could offer a genuine opportunity for organizations to slash the costs of document preservation and collection. Chief among these changes would be a revised Rule 37(e). The current iteration of this rule is designed to protect companies from court sanctions when the programmed operation of their computer systems automatically destroys ESI. Nevertheless, the rule has largely proved ineffective as a national standard because it did not apply to pre-litigation information destruction activities. As a result, courts often bypassed the rule’s protections to punish companies who negligently, though not nefariously, destroyed documents before a lawsuit was filed.

The current proposal to amend Rule 37(e) (see page 127) would substantially broaden the existing protection against sanctions. The proposal would shield an organization’s pre-litigation destruction of information from sanctions except where that destruction was “willful or in bad faith and caused substantial prejudice in the litigation” or “irreparably deprived a party of any meaningful opportunity to present a claim or defense.”

In making a determination on this issue, courts would be forced to examine the enterprise’s information retention protocols through more than just the lens of litigation. Instead, they would have to consider the nature and motives behind a company’s decision-making process. Such factors include:

  •  The extent to which the party was on notice that litigation was likely
  • The reasonableness and proportionality of the party’s efforts to preserve the information
  • The nature and scope of any request received to preserve information
  • Whether the party sought timely judicial guidance regarding any preservation disputes

By seeking to punish only nefarious conduct and by ensuring that the analysis includes a broad range of considerations, organizations could finally have a fighting chance to reduce the costs and risks of preservation.

Despite the promise this proposal holds, there is concern among some of the eDiscovery cognoscenti that provisions in the draft proposal to amend Rule 37(e) could water down its intended protections. Robert Owen, a partner at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP and a leading eDiscovery thought leader, has recently authored an insightful articlethat spotlights some of these issues. Among other things, Owen points out that the “irreparably deprived” provision could end up diluting the “bad faith” standard. This could ultimately provide activist jurists with an opportunity to re-introduce a negligence standard through the backdoor, which would be a troubling development for clients, counsel and the courts.

These issues and others confirm the difficulty of establishing national standards to address the factual complexities of many eDiscovery issues. They also point to the difficult path that the Civil Rules Advisory Committee still must travel before a draft of Rule 37(e) can be finalized for public comment. Even assuming that stage can be reached after the next rules committee meeting in April 2013, additional changes could still be forthcoming to address the concerns of other constituencies. Stay tuned; the debate over revisions to Rule 37(e) and its impact on organizations’ defensible deletion efforts is far from over.

Spotlighting the Top Electronic Discovery Cases from 2012

Friday, December 14th, 2012

With the New Year quickly approaching, it is worth reflecting on some of the key eDiscovery developments that have occurred during 2012. While legislative, regulatory and rulemaking bodies have undoubtedly impacted eDiscovery, the judiciary has once again played the most dramatic role.  There are several lessons from the top 2012 court cases that, if followed, will likely help organizations reduce the costs and risks associated with eDiscovery. These cases also spotlight the expectations that courts will likely have for organizations in 2013 and beyond.

Implementing a Defensible Deletion Strategy

Case: Brigham Young University v. Pfizer, 282 F.R.D. 566 (D. Utah 2012)

In Brigham Young, the plaintiff university had pressed for sanctions as a result of Pfizer’s destruction of key documents pursuant to its information retention policies. The court rejected that argument because such a position failed to appreciate the basic workings of a valid corporate retention schedule. As the court reasoned, “[e]vidence may simply be discarded as a result of good faith business procedures.” When those procedures operate to inadvertently destroy evidence before the duty to preserve is triggered, the court held that sanctions should not issue: “The Federal Rules protect from sanctions those who lack control over the requested materials or who have discarded them as a result of good faith business procedures.”

Summary: The Brigham Young case is significant since it emphasizes that organizations should implement a defensible deletion strategy to rid themselves of data stockpiles. Absent a preservation duty or other exceptional circumstances, organizations that pare back ESI pursuant to “good faith business procedures” (such as a neutral retention policy) will be protected from sanctions.

**Another Must-Read Case: Danny Lynn Elec. v. Veolia Es Solid Waste (M.D. Ala. Mar. 9, 2012)

Issuing a Timely and Comprehensive Litigation Hold

Case: Apple, Inc. v. Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd, — F. Supp. 2d. — (N.D. Cal. 2012)

Summary: 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.

Ironically, however, Apple was subsequently sanctioned for failing to issue a proper hold notice. Just like Samsung, Apple failed to distribute a hold until several months after litigation was reasonably foreseeable. The tardy hold instruction, 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.

The Lesson for 2013: The Apple case underscores the importance of issuing a timely and comprehensive litigation hold notice. For organizations, this likely means identifying the key players and data sources that may have relevant information and then distributing an intelligible hold instruction. It may also require suspending aspects of information retention policies to preserve relevant ESI. By following these best practices, organizations can better avoid the sanctions bogeyman that haunts so many litigants in eDiscovery.

**Another Must-Read Case: Chin v. Port Authority of New York, 685 F.3d 135 (2nd Cir. 2012)

Judicial Approval of Predictive Coding

Case: Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe, — F.R.D. — (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2012)

Summary: The court entered an order that turned out to be the first of its kind: approving the use of predictive coding technology in the discovery phase of litigation. That order was entered pursuant to the parties’ stipulation, which provided that defendant MSL Group could use predictive coding in connection with its obligation to produce relevant documents. Pursuant to that order, the parties methodically (yet at times acrimoniously) worked over several months to fine tune the originally developed protocol to better ensure the production of relevant documents by defendant MSL.

The Lesson for 2013: The court declared in its order that predictive coding “is an acceptable way to search for relevant ESI in appropriate cases.” Nevertheless, the court also made clear that this technology is not the exclusive method now for conducting document review. Instead, predictive coding should be viewed as one of many different types of tools that often can and should be used together.

**Another Must-Read Case: In Re: Actos (Pioglitazone) Prods. Liab. Litig. (W.D. La. July 10, 2012)

Proportionality and Cooperation are Inextricably Intertwined

Case: Pippins v. KPMG LLP, 279 F.R.D. 245 (S.D.N.Y. 2012)

Summary: The court ordered the defendant accounting firm (KPMG) to preserve thousands of employee hard drives. The firm had argued that the high cost of preserving the drives was disproportionate to the value of the ESI stored on the drives. Instead of preserving all of the drives, the firm hoped to maintain a reduced sample, asserting that the ESI on the sample drives would satisfy the evidentiary demands of the plaintiffs’ class action claims.

The court rejected the proportionality argument primarily because the firm refused to permit plaintiffs or the court to analyze the ESI found on the drives. Without any transparency into the contents of the drives, the court could not weigh the benefits of the discovery against the alleged burdens of preservation. The court was thus left to speculate about the nature of the ESI on the drives, reasoning that it went to the heart of plaintiffs’ class action claims. As the district court observed, the firm may very well have obtained the relief it requested had it engaged in “good faith negotiations” with the plaintiffs over the preservation of the drives.

The Lesson for 2013: The Pippins decision reinforces a common refrain that parties seeking the protection of proportionality principles must engage in reasonable, cooperative discovery conduct. Staking out uncooperative positions in the name of zealous advocacy stands in sharp contrast to proportionality standards and the cost cutting mandate of Rule 1. Moreover, such a tactic may very well foreclose proportionality considerations, just as it did in Pippins.

**Another Must-Read Case: Kleen Products LLC v. Packaging Corp. of America (N.D. Ill. Sept. 28, 2012)

Conclusion

There were any number of other significant cases from 2012 that could have made this list.  We invite you to share your favorites in the comments section or contact us directly with your feedback.

New Gartner Report Spotlights Significance of Email Archiving for Defensible Deletion

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Gartner recently released a report that spotlights the importance of using email archiving as part of an organization’s defensible deletion strategy. The report – Best Practices for Using Email Archiving to Eliminate PST and Mailbox Quota Headaches (Alan Dayley, September 21, 2012) – specifically focuses on the information retention and eDiscovery challenges associated with email storage on Microsoft Exchange and how email archiving software can help address these issues. As Gartner makes clear in its report, an archiving solution can provide genuine opportunities to reduce the costs and risks of email hoarding.

The Problem: PST Files

The primary challenge that many organizations are experiencing with Microsoft Exchange email is the unchecked growth of messages stored in portable storage tablet (PST) files. Used to bypass storage quotas on Exchange, PST files are problematic because they increase the costs and risks of eDiscovery while circumventing information retention policies.

That the unrestrained growth of PST files could create problems downstream for organizations should come as no surprise. Various court decisions have addressed this issue, with the DuPont v. Kolon Industries litigation foremost among them. In the DuPont case, a $919 million verdict and 20 year product injunction largely stemmed from the defendant’s inability to prevent the destruction of thousands pages of email formerly stored in PST files. That spoliation resulted in a negative inference instruction to the jury and the ensuing verdict against the defendant.

The Solution: Eradicate PSTs with the Help of Archiving Software and Retention Policies

To address the PST problem, Gartner suggests following a three-step process to help manage and then eradicate PSTs from the organization. This includes educating end users regarding both the perils of PSTs and the ease of access to email through archiving software. It also involves disabling the creation of new PSTs, a process that should ultimately culminate with the elimination of existing PSTs.

In connection with this process, Gartner suggests deployment of archiving software with a “PST management tool” to facilitate the eradication process. With the assistance of the archiving tool, existing PSTs can be discovered and migrated into the archive’s central data repository. Once there, email retention policies can begin to expire stale, useless and even harmful messages that were formerly outside the company’s information retention framework.

With respect to the development of retention policies, organizations should consider engaging in a cooperative internal process involving IT, compliance, legal and business units. These key stakeholders must be engaged and collaborate if a workable policies are to be created. The actual retention periods should take into account the types of email generated and received by an organization, along with the enterprise’s business, industry and litigation profile.

To ensure successful implementation of such retention policies and also address the problem of PSTs, an organization should explore whether an on premise or cloud archiving solution is a better fit for its environment. While each method has its advantages, Gartner advises organizations to consider whether certain key features are included with a particular offering:

Email classification. The archiving tool should allow your organization to classify and tag the emails in accordance with your retention policy definitions, including user-selected, user/group, or key-word tagging.

User access to archived email. The tool must also give end users appropriate and user-friendly access to their archived email, thus eliminating concerns over their inability to manage their email storage with PSTs.

Legal and information discovery capabilities. The search, indexing, and e-discovery capabilities of the archiving tool should also match your needs or enable integration into corporate e-discovery systems.

While perhaps not a panacea for the storage and eDiscovery problems associated with email, on premise or cloud archiving software should provide various benefits to organizations. Indeed, such technologies have the potential to help organizations store, manage and discover their email efficiently, cost effectively and in a defensible manner. Where properly deployed and fully implemented, organizations should be able to reduce the nettlesome costs and risks connected with email.

Federal Directive Hits Two Birds (RIM and eDiscovery) with One Stone

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

The eagerly awaited Directive from The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was released at the end of August. In an attempt to go behind the scenes, we’ve asked the Project Management Office (PMO) and the Chief Records Officer for the NARA to respond to a few key questions. 

We know that the Presidential Mandate was the impetus for the agency self-assessments that were submitted to NARA. Now that NARA and the OMB have distilled those reports, what are the biggest challenges on a go forward basis for the government regarding record keeping, information governance and eDiscovery?

“In each of those areas, the biggest challenge that can be identified is the rapid emergence and deployment of technology. Technology has changed the way Federal agencies carry out their missions and create the records required to document that activity. It has also changed the dynamics in records management. In the past, agencies would maintain central file rooms where records were stored and managed. Now, with distributed computing networks, records are likely to be in a multitude of electronic formats, on a variety of servers, and exist as multiple copies. Records management practices need to move forward to solve that challenge. If done right, good records management (especially of electronic records) can also be of great help in providing a solid foundation for applying best practices in other areas, including in eDiscovery, FOIA, as well as in all aspects of information governance.”    

What is the biggest action item from the Directive for agencies to take away?

“The Directive creates a framework for records management in the 21st century that emphasizes the primacy of electronic information and directs agencies to being transforming their current process to identify and capture electronic records. One milestone is that by 2016, agencies must be managing their email in an electronically accessible format (with tools that make this possible, not printing out emails to paper). Agencies should begin planning for the transition, where appropriate, from paper-based records management process to those that preserve records in an electronic format.

The Directive also calls on agencies to designate a Senior Agency Official (SAO) for Records Management by November 15, 2012. The SAO is intended to raise the profile of records management in an agency to ensure that each agency commits the resources necessary to carry out the rest of the goals in the Directive. A meeting of SAOs is to be held at the National Archives with the Archivist of the United States convening the meeting by the end of this year. Details about that meeting will be distributed by NARA soon.”

Does the Directive holistically address information governance for the agencies, or is it likely that agencies will continue to deploy different technology even within their own departments?

“In general, as long as agencies are properly managing their records, it does not matter what technologies they are using. However, one of the drivers behind the issuance of the Memorandum and the Directive was identifying ways in which agencies can reduce costs while still meeting all of their records management requirements. The Directive specifies actions (see A3, A4, A5, and B2) in which NARA and agencies can work together to identify effective solutions that can be shared.”

Finally, although FOIA requests have increased and the backlog has decreased, how will litigation and FOIA intersecting in the next say 5 years?  We know from the retracted decision in NDLON that metadata still remains an issue for the government…are we getting to a point where records created electronically will be able to be produced electronically as a matter of course for FOIA litigation/requests?

“In general, an important feature of the Directive is that the Federal government’s record information – most of which is in electronic format – stays in electronic format. Therefore, all of the inherent benefits will remain as well – i.e., metadata being retained, easier and speedier searches to locate records, and efficiencies in compilation, reproduction, transmission, and reduction in the cost of producing the requested information. This all would be expected to have an impact in improving the ability of federal agencies to respond to FOIA requests by producing records in electronic formats.”

Fun Fact- Is NARA really saving every tweet produced?

“Actually, the Library of Congress is the agency that is preserving Twitter. NARA is interested in only preserving those tweets that a) were made or received in the course of government business and b) appraised to have permanent value. We talked about this on our Records Express blog.”

“We think President Barack Obama said it best when he made the following comment on November 28, 2011:

“The current federal records management system is based on an outdated approach involving paper and filing cabinets. Today’s action will move the process into the digital age so the American public can have access to clear and accurate information about the decisions and actions of the Federal Government.” Paul Wester, Chief Records Officer at the National Archives, has stated that this Directive is very exciting for the Federal Records Management community.  In our lifetime none of us has experienced the attention to the challenges that we encounter every day in managing our records management programs like we are now. These are very exciting times to be a records manager in the Federal government. Full implementation of the Directive by the end of this decade will take a lot of hard work, but the government will be better off for doing this and we will be better able to serve the public.”

Special thanks to NARA for the ongoing dialogue that is key to transparent government and the effective practice of eDiscovery, Freedom Of Information Act requests, records management and thought leadership in the government sector. Stay tuned as we continue to cover these crucial issues for the government as they wrestle with important information governance challenges. 

 

Defensible Deletion: The Cornerstone of Intelligent Information Governance

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

The struggle to stay above the rising tide of information is a constant battle for organizations. Not only are the costs and logistics associated with data storage more troubling than ever, but so are the potential legal consequences. Indeed, the news headlines are constantly filled with horror stories of jury verdicts, court judgments and unreasonable settlements involving organizations that failed to effectively address their data stockpiles.

While there are no quick or easy solutions to these problems, an ever increasing method for effectively dealing with these issues is through an organizational strategy referred to as defensible deletion. A defensible deletion strategy could refer to many items. But at its core, 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 (ESI). 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 first step to implementing a defensible deletion strategy is for organizations to ensure that they have a top-down plan for addressing data retention. This typically requires that their information governance principals – legal and IT – are cooperating with each other. These departments must also work jointly with records managers and business units to decide what data must be kept and for what length of time. All such stakeholders in information retention must be engaged and collaborate if the organization is to create a workable defensible deletion strategy.

Cooperation between legal and IT naturally leads the organization to establish records retention policies, which carry out the key players’ decisions on data preservation. Such policies should address the particular needs of an organization while balancing them against litigation requirements. Not only will that enable a company to reduce its costs by decreasing data proliferation, it will minimize a company’s litigation risks by allowing it to limit the amount of potentially relevant information available for current and follow-on litigation.

In like manner, legal should work with IT to develop a process for how the organization will address document preservation during litigation. This will likely involve the designation of officials who are responsible for issuing a timely and comprehensive litigation hold to custodians and data sources. This will ultimately help an organization avoid the mistakes that often plague document management during litigation.

The Role of Technology in Defensible Deletion

In the digital age, an essential aspect of a defensible deletion strategy is technology. Indeed, without innovations such as archiving software and automated legal hold acknowledgements, it will be difficult for an organization to achieve its defensible deletion objectives.

On the information management side of defensible deletion, archiving software can help enforce organization retention policies and thereby reduce data volume and related storage costs. This can be accomplished with classification tools, which intelligently analyze and tag data content as it is ingested into the archive. By so doing, organizations may retain information that is significant or that otherwise must be kept for business, legal or regulatory purposes – and nothing else.

An archiving solution can also reduce costs through efficient data storage. By expiring data in accordance with organization retention policies and by using single instance storage to eliminate ESI duplicates, archiving software frees up space on company servers for the retention of other materials and ultimately leads to decreased storage costs. Moreover, it also lessens litigation risks as it removes data available for future litigation.

On the eDiscovery side of defensible deletion, an eDiscovery platform with the latest in legal hold technology is often essential for enabling a workable litigation hold process. Effective platforms enable automated legal hold acknowledgements on various custodians across multiple cases. This allows organizations to confidently place data on hold through a single user action and eliminates concerns that ESI may slip through the proverbial cracks of manual hold practices.

Organizations are experiencing every day the costly mistakes of delaying implementation of a defensible deletion program. This trend can be reversed through a common sense defensible deletion strategy which, when powered by effective, enabling technologies, can help organizations decrease the costs and risks associated with the information explosion.

Responsible Data Citizens Embrace Old World Archiving With New Data Sources

Monday, October 8th, 2012

The times are changing rapidly as data explosion mushrooms, but the more things change the more they stay the same. In the archiving and eDiscovery world, organizations are increasingly pushing content from multiple data sources into information archives. Email was the first data source to take the plunge into the archive, but other data sources are following quickly as we increase the amount of data we create (volume) along with the types of data sources (variety). While email is still a paramount data source for litigation, internal/external investigations and compliance – other data sources, namely social media and SharePoint, are quickly catching up.  

This transformation is happening for multiple reasons. The main reason for this expansive push of different data varieties into the archive is because centralizing an organization’s data is paramount to healthy information governance. For organizations that have deployed archiving and eDiscovery technologies, the ability to archive multiple data sources is the Shangri-La they have been looking for to increase efficiency, as well as create a more holistic and defensible workflow.

Organizations can now deploy document retention policies across multiple content types within one archive and can identify, preserve and collect from the same, singular repository. No longer do separate retention policies need to apply to data that originated in different repositories. The increased ability to archive more data sources into a centralized archive provides for unparalleled storage, deduplication, document retention, defensible deletion and discovery benefits in an increasingly complex data environment.

Prior to this capability, SharePoint was another data source in the wild that needed disparate treatment. This meant that legal hold in-place, as well as insight into the corpus of data, was not as clear as it was for email. This lack of transparency within the organization’s data environment for early case assessment led to unnecessary outsourcing, over collection and disparate time consuming workflows. All of the aforementioned detractors cost organizations money, resources and time that can be better utilized elsewhere.

Bringing data sources like SharePoint into an information archive increases the ability for an organization to comply with necessary document retention schedules, legal hold requirements, and the ability to reap the benefits of a comprehensive information governance program. If SharePoint is where an organization’s employees are storing documents that are valuable to the business, order needs to be brought to the repository.

Additionally, many projects are abandoned and left to die on the vine in SharePoint. These projects need to be expired and that capacity must be recycled for a higher business purpose. Archives currently enable document libraries, wikis, discussion boards, custom lists, “My Sites” and SharePoint social content for increased storage optimization, retention/expiration of content and eDiscovery. As a result, organizations can better manage complex projects such as migrations, versioning, site consolidations and expiration with SharePoint archiving.  

Data can be analogized to a currency, where the archive is the bank. In treating data as a currency, organizations must ask themselves: why are companies valued the way they are on Wall Street? For companies that perform service or services in combination with products, they are valued many times on customer lists, data to be repurposed about consumers (Facebook), and various other databases. A recent Forbes article discusses people, value and brand as predominant indicators of value.

While these valuation metrics are sound, the valuation stops short of measuring the quality of the actual data within an organization, examining if it is organized and protected. The valuation also does not consider the risks of and benefits of how the data is stored, protected and whether or not it is searchable. The value of the data inside a company is what supports all three of the aforementioned valuations without exception. Without managing the data in an organization, not only are eDiscovery and storage costs a legal and financial risk, the aforementioned three are compromised.

If employee data is not managed/monitored appropriately, if the brand is compromised due to lack of social media monitoring/response, or if litigation ensues without the proper information governance plan, then value is lost because value has not been assessed and managed. Ultimately, an organization is only as good as its data, and this means there’s a new asset on Wall Street – data.

It’s not a new concept to archive email,  and in turn it isn’t novel that data is an asset. It has just been a less understood asset because even though massive amounts of data are created each day in organizations, storage has become cheap. SharePoint is becoming more archivable because more critical data is being stored there, including business records, contracts and social media content. Organizations cannot fear what they cannot see until they are forced by an event to go back and collect, analyze and review that data. Costs associated with this reactive eDiscovery process can range from $3,000-30,000 a gigabyte, compared to the 20 cents per gigabyte for storage. The downstream eDiscovery costs are obviously costly, especially as organizations begin to deal in terabytes and zettabytes. 

Hence, plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose and we will see this trend continue as organizations push more valuable data into the archive and expire data that has no value. Multiple data sources have been collection sources for some time, but the ease of pulling everything into an archive is allowing for economies of scale and increased defensibility regarding data management. This will decrease the risks associated with litigation and compliance, as well as boost the value of companies.

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.

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.