Four Lessons Counsel can learn about Da Silva Moore and Predictive Coding

There’s good news in the world of electronic discovery. This February in New York, Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck and counsel for the parties in Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe gave us a magnificent e-discovery lesson and pushed open the door for the utilization of advanced search technologies -- namely predictive coding, an increasingly used methodology of computer-assisted review.

The Case

The plaintiff filed a Title VII class action gender discrimination claim against defendant Publicis Groupe, alleging she and other female employees at Publicis Groupe endured discriminatory terminations, demotions and job reassignments. The plaintiff (who had very little, if any, electronically stored information (ESI) of her own to produce) demanded that Publicis Groupe produce documents (including ESI) that related to whether Publicis Groupe:

  1. Compensated female employees less than comparably situated males through salaries, bonuses or perks.
     
  2. Precluded or delayed selection and promotion of females into higher-level jobs held by male employees.
     
  3. Disproportionately terminated or reassigned female employees when the company was reorganized in 2008.

Based on the records requested and the number of custodians, the parties anticipated the document pool would be around three million documents, which would have likely cost in excess of $1 million with traditional keyword search methods. Instead of going this route, the parties agreed to something bold: review the documents using what has come to be called predictive coding, a methodology of computer-assisted review. By using these methods, the parties hoped to reduce the number of manually-reviewed documents from 3 million to 20,000.

The implementation of predictive coding is not simple. Fortunately, Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe provides a lengthy guide on important topics such as methods to identify the initial seed set, iterative training rounds to refine the “predictive coding to assure reasonable recall” and methods of sampling to validate levels of confidence and confidence intervals.
 

What the Case Means for Your Business

Although discovery in Publicis Groupe is far from over, and the parties have each filed motions challenging portions of Judge Peck’s ruling, there are already lessons to be learned for how to effectively deploy computer-assisted review to reduce the cost of electronic discovery in your cases:

1. Have an expert, knowledgeable about the review tool you intend to use.  Judge Peck turned to the parties’ technical experts to explain the effect of the review protocol on the validity of the ultimate production. Surely judges less familiar with the technology could benefit from hearing from an expert in the field. Since experts tend to disagree (as they did in Publicis Groupe), it’s an absolute requirement to provide testimony about the operation and testing of the search tool chosen for the case.

2. Be willing to accept that you will not receive every potentially relevant document. Judge Peck put it best when he reminded counsel, “By the time you go to trial, even with six plaintiffs, if you have more than 100 trial exhibits it will be a miracle.” He also explained that, “The idea is not to make this perfect, it’s not going to be perfect. The idea is to make it significantly better than the alternative (human review) without nearly as much cost.”

Consequently, you have to be willing to risk that a computer will miss more documents than the recent law grad you would normally pay to sift through each page. Keep in mind that human review and key word search strings are far from perfect. Predictive coding when properly applied will likely enhance both recall and precision.

3. Cooperate with the opposition. The utilization of this technology requires engaged cooperation between the parties. Counsel must review and share the initial seed set with the opposition, and agree on statistical sampling techniques. Notwithstanding subsequent disputes, Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe illustrates competent counsel working closely on e-discovery to meet the interests of both the plaintiffs and the defendant. Keep in mind that both sides agreed to utilize this advanced technology in this case. Of course, the devil is in the details, where reasonable litigants can disagree.

4. Understand the technology.  Even with technology experts at the ready, counsel were still necessary to advocate for their client’s interest in balancing the cost of discovery against the completeness of the final set of documents produced. Predictive coding is not right for all cases. It is not inexpensive—counsel must expend considerable up-front fees identifying the seed set and fine tuning the technology.

Touted as a practical, cost-saving and revolutionary solution, computer-assisted review is finally getting its chance to show what it’s worth. The private bar is watching anxiously to see whether it lives up to its billing.
 

 

This article was originally published in Inside Counsel.

E-Discovery: What Increased Data Protection Means for the Global Economy

As our economy and companies become more digital and global, digital information outside the U.S becomes increasingly relevant to resolving civil disputes within our nation.

Digital information will be governed by a set of laws and values many U.S. companies and their lawyers are not familiar with, because the U.S. trades more heavily with nations outside the EU. While most industrialized (e.g., Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia) and newly industrializing (e.g., Singapore and South Africa) nations have developed laws compelling the transfer of relevant electronically stored information (ESI) in civil disputes, none have laws as liberal and far reaching as U.S. civil discovery procedures.

Many nations also impose restrictions on when ESI can be gathered, processed, used and transmitted beyond borders. Indeed, "In many non-U.S. jurisdictions, including the European Union member states, some Asian nations and a few Latin American nations, data privacy is viewed as a fundamental right and ‘personal data’ is afforded greater protections than we are accustomed in the U.S." (Gibson Dunn, "E-Discovery Basics: Cross-Border E-Discovery,” Vol. 1, No. 11). In addition, certain countries have privacy laws designed to protect information about their state-run companies (e.g., China) or even the identity of their banking clients (e.g., Switzerland).

Data protection hits the BRICS

Recently, the world's largest emerging economies, collectively known as "BRICS" (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), have become more protective of electronic data. Most U.S. litigators have some passing familiarity with the somewhat longstanding and oft-discussed EU Data Protection Directive 94/46/EC, which restricts the processing and transferring of "personal data" about EU member-state citizens. However, they are not generally familiar with the restrictions that emerging economies are placing on data transfer. As recently as July 2011, two BRICS members (Russia and China) passed laws strengthening data protection in their countries.

Every BRICS member nation has stricter data privacy laws than those of the U.S. and none officially authorizes the transfer of "private" data to the U.S. On July 25, 2011, Russia amended its data privacy laws to require written consent to transfer any "personal data" and to grant Russian officials the exclusive authority to determine which sovereignties may receive such data. China also strengthened its protection of "personal information" on July 27, 2011, when it amended the "Provisions on the Administration of Internet Information Services," preventing Internet service providers from collecting and using personal data without individual consent.

Far more important than the particular scope of any of the newly enacted privacy laws is what their enactments say about a growing international consensus on the cross-border transfer of electronic data. In addition to the BRICS and EU nations, Japan, Hong Kong, Argentina, Chile, South Korea, Columbia and Switzerland have data protection laws that are more restrictive than those in the U.S. Some countries have enacted blocking statutes that make it criminal to transfer protected information to the U.S. This, coupled with the fact that China, Russia and Mexico have strengthened their data privacy laws, suggests a trend toward more protection for ESI.

More international e-discovery disputes are likely

Global economic indicators predict that the U.S. will increase trade with emerging economies, including BRICS nations, in the next 10 years. As the U.S. relies more heavily on countries outside the EU to provide raw materials (e.g., Brazil and China), manufactured goods (e.g., China and Singapore), corporate call centers (e.g., India) and energy (e.g., Russia and Brazil), there is a greater potential that data critical to the resolution of a U.S. civil dispute will be housed in a country outside the EU. Because U.S. courts remain resolute in the conviction that they are authorized to compel production of foreign ESI, while much of the world seems to be bent on increased scrutiny of data requests, it's likely disputes over cross-border production of ESI will become more prevalent in the coming years.

As the U.S. increases trade with countries outside the EU and the United Kingdom, the variety and scope of data protection laws U.S. lawyers and their clients will have to contend to should increase substantially in the next decade. The EU Privacy Directive will not be the only data restriction companies will have to navigate and perhaps not even the most important. To best prepare for cross-border e-discovery disputes in EU and non-EU countries, companies should:

  • Determine whether their electronic data is stored in a jurisdiction that restricts their processing or transfer
  • Consult or retain counsel in the jurisdiction where their data or the data they would like to obtain is stored for advice on how the data should be handled

 

This article was originally published in Inside Counsel.

Florida Moving to Adopt Federally-Inspired E-Discovery Rules

Florida is hurdling toward the adoption of new civil procedure rules that address the discovery of electronically stored information (ESI) in the Florida state courts.

The Florida Civil Rules Electronic Discovery Sub-Committee, initially under the leadership of Lawrence Kolin and now Kevin Johnson, recommended rule changes addressing e-discovery after years of study. The full Rules Committee voted at The Bar’s Annual Meeting in June to accept the Sub-Committee's proposed rules with minor editorial changes sent the e-discovery rules to the Supreme Court on an expedited “out-of-cycle” track, which would avoid an additional two-year wait for the 2013 regular cycle rules changes. On July 29, 2011, The Bar’s Board of Governor’s accepted the recommendations, including expedited review and voted to have The Bar’s legal counsel submit the proposed rules to the Supreme Court.  After publication in The Bar News and the opportunity for comment, the Supreme Court will be able to consider the rules as early as this fall.

For the most part, the recommended rule changes track the federal 2006 rule changes with a few exceptions. The Sub-Committee’s wisdom in tracking the federal rules is important for a number of reasons.

  • First, the adoption of parallel e-discovery rules will provide Florida state courts with the abundant guidance found in federal case law. While the decisions of the federal courts interpreting the federal rules are not binding on Florida judges, federal decisions will have a dramatic persuasive impact on Florida cases. Practitioners will be able to refer to federal court case and cases in states where rules patterned on federal law have been enacted, which avoids re-inventing a substantial body of important case law.
  • Second, national corporations and businesses litigating disputes in Florida will now find consistency between federal and state court decision.
  • Third, the adoption of Florida e-discovery rules that closely track the federal rules will minimize forum shopping between federal and state courts, at least with respect to handling ESI. Soon Florida and federal courts will be aligned regarding, among other things, the principle of proportionality that has become critically important in managing electronic discovery. Litigants will no longer need to be concerned that the Florida concept of “undue burden” under Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(c) is less encompassing than the proportionality requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(B) and (C). The new Florida e-discovery rules will give Florida judges a clear directive to effectively manage the discovery of voluminous ESI that threatens to eclipse the value of any case whether or not the digital data is "reasonably accessible." Florida judges have principally resolved discovery objections on the basis of relevance: with few exceptions, if the information is “relevant” it must be produced if requested. Now, however, under the soon to be adopted Florida e- discovery rules, the sheer volume of relevant digital data relative to the “value” of a case may be a sufficient foundation to invoke e-discovery management tools such as staging, sampling and other methods that control the volume of digital data subject to preservation, search and review.

The proposed Florida e-discovery rules differ from the Federal rules in one important respect. The new proposed Florida rules will not require an early Federal Rule 26(f) type “meet and confer” conference regarding electronic discovery. Florida courts of general jurisdiction handle all sorts of matters –family, probate, landlord tenant, foreclosure—and the Sub-Committee reasoned that a mandatory Rule 26(f) conference may not be productive in all cases and could create a burden in low value cases or where routine procedures are already in place. However, what burden is it to place a call to the opposition and ask if electronic discovery will be part of the case?  Digital data will play some role in almost all cases—even the smallest—and a preliminary dialogue is the best method to avoid disputes, if not disasters, down the road. Fortunately, this “omission” is not as serious as it may seem. Circuit courts in three of Florida’s major urban areas have established “business courts” for more significant commercial cases. These courts in Miami, Orlando and Tampa have local rules already requiring early judicial conferences and meetings with counsel, and often clients, that can address e-discovery issues. See e.g. http://www.fljud13.org/JudicialDirectory/RichardANielsen/ProceduresPreferences.aspx

Additionally, in cases deemed "complex", Florida has a special rule that mandates Rule 26(f) type conferences. Fla. R.Civ. P. 1.201. And finally the Sub-Committee noted that any party in any case can make a motion and request a preliminary e-discovery conference with the Court and the opposition. In sum, the Sub-Committee wisely decided to recommend the important rule changes where agreement could be reached rather than derailing the entire process due a lack support from all Bar segments. The new Florida e-discovery rules are a significant advance that will catapult Florida in to the ranks of those states with progressive e-discovery rules.

Beyond “meet and confer” differences, litigators should also be forewarned of claims of significant differences regarding preservation in Florida and Federal courts. The idea that preservation is not mandated in Florida when litigation is reasonably anticipated derives from some Florida decisions that broadly recite, mostly in dicta, that preservation is only required when mandated by contract, statute, or a request for production. In this regard, Florida e-discovery preservation jurisprudence appears to lag behind Federal courts and other state courts. See e.g. Gayer v. Rind Line Construction & Electric, Inc., 970 So.2d, 424,426 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007); Royal Sunalliance v. Lauderdale Marine Center, 877 So.2nd 843 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004). However, reliance on this general and fact specific precedent to conclude that a duty to preserve only arises in Florida from a contract, statute (e.g. medical records), or a request for production is ill-advised. In our recently published LexisNexis® Practice Guide Florida Electronic Discovery and Evidence, my co-author, former Florida state court judge Ralph Artigliere, and I argue this view is both mistaken and dangerous. Although Florida law has been slow to address the pre-litigation triggers requiring the preservation of electronically stored information, common law preservation duties are not absent in Florida. Traditional Florida spoliation remedies are in play when a party intentionally destroys relevant information to thwart the judicial process--whether before or during litigation. Further, we believe that as Florida case law slowly develops it will adopt what the Federal case law has established: the fragile and ephemeral name of digital data and the auto-deletion features of computer devices and computer networks require affirmative efforts to halt such deletion when litigation is reasonable anticipated. Just as Florida has come into alignment with Federal rules relating to proportionality, Florida courts will also align themselves with federal precedent on preservation.

In short:  any litigator in the Sunshine State advising clients that the deletion of relevant electronically stored need not be suspended when litigation is reasonably anticipated, is inviting the proverbial e-discovery train wreck. 

Ascending to the Cloud Creates Negligible E-discovery Risk

Cloud computing platforms (a set of pooled computing resources that are powered by software and delivered over the Web) have been generating quite a bit of press in the last year. Indeed, just recently computing giant Microsoft launched its Microsoft 365 cloud computing platform, designed to rival Google’s "mega-cloud" platform, which launched in May 2010. Since the release of the first commercial cloud computing platform by Amazon in 2006, cost-conscious companies have been racing to evaluate the pros and cons of moving their computing operations to “the cloud.” According to the Booz, Allen, Hamilton technology consulting firm, “Cloud computing may yield:

Life cycle costs that are 65 percent lower than current architectures

  • Benefit-cost ratios ranging from 5.7 to nearly 25
  • Payback on investments in three to four years."

Notably absent from that cost-benefit analysis, however, is the effect cloud computing may have on the costs and risks associated with conducting electronic discovery. Those engaged in such activities may well ask the question, “Will the savings companies expect from moving their data to the cloud be absorbed by the additional costs/risks created by conducting e-discovery in the cloud?”

The short answer is no. Although there are risks associated with conducting e-discovery from the cloud, they are remote, manageable and eclipsed by the savings companies should expect from cloud computing. Some of the riskiest aspects of conducting e-discovery in the cloud are:

  • The loss/alteration of data and associated metadata
  • The potential violation of international data privacy laws by illegally disclosing data in the jurisdiction in which the cloud is located
  • The unintentional waiver of the attorney-client privilege by co-mingling data or disclosing attorney client communications to third parties
  • The failure to properly and timely implement and monitor litigation holds

Fortunately, companies can easily manage the risk of altering metadata and the risk of violating international data privacy laws by insisting the service agreement with their cloud provider:

  • State that none of the company’s data may be stored outside the United States
  • Provide a detailed mechanism for how the cloud will implement litigation holds
  • Address how metadata will be created and stored in the cloud environment

Similarly, companies can minimize the risk of waiving the attorney-client privilege by including “no waiver” language in their cloud computing service agreements and establishing security protocols to prevent the inadvertent disclosure of communications to the administrators of the cloud or any other third party.

When the technology has improved and cloud computing administrators have developed expertise at responding to e-discovery requests, companies might even enjoy e-discovery cost savings by moving their data to the cloud. “If the cloud fulfills its promise and supplants the hodgepodge of local hard drives, LAN servers, and removable storage that now house our data, the cloud will emerge as the simpler, ‘one-stop shop’ for preservation and search in electronic discovery,” Craig Ball, an expert on trends in e-discovery, predicts.

In fact, that technology already has been developed and is in use for other applications. In late 2010, Facebook (currently the largest functioning equivalent to a cloud computing environment) added to its regular user interface a one-button preservation tool for capturing user content. Now, by simply clicking the “Download Your Information” button (and providing the appropriate password), Facebook users can request a neatly packaged zip file containing all of their videos, messages, wall posts, friend lists and other profile content — it doesn’t require a professional background in information systems to comprehend how similar technology can be applied to collect corporate data stored in the cloud.

Furthermore, cloud administrators saddled with the responsibility of responding to many subpoenas or production requests on behalf of myriad clients will, in time, develop an expertise in culling, processing and producing data. In turn, cloud users will undoubtedly benefit from advances in technology as well as the experience that cloud administrators have gained in responding to e-discovery requests.

The hope is that these efficiencies will translate directly to the end-user. At the end of the day, in-house counsel should be confident that (if managed properly) the benefit of moving a company’s data to the cloud outweighs the risks and costs associated with producing data from the cloud as part of a lawsuit.

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This article was originally published by Steven Hunter, a Quarles & Brady partner, in Inside Counsel.

The Search for Search Standards: The Hunt at DESI IV

What makes an e-discovery search legitimate and defensible?

While virtually every case involves a search for relevant electronically stored information ("ESI"), there is no industry-based definition or measure of a “legally defensible” search. Reminiscent of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart's famous quip, some think we know a good search “when we see it,” but the simple and embarrassing truth is that we do not have an operative definition of search acceptability. The lack of any such industry standard for searching and finding ESI in a case wreaks havoc in the field and leaves it to courts to determine, on a case by case basis, whether a particular search passes muster. Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 250 F.R.d. 251 (D. Md. 2008).

But while judicial officers are many things, they are not search experts. United States v. O’Keefe, 537 F. Supp. 2d. 14 (D.D.C. 2008); Equity Analytics, LLC v. Lundin, 248 F.R.D. 331(D.D.C. 2008). In fact, many judges were elevated to judgeship years or even decades before ESI became prevalent, and thus lack any practical experience in searching for, processing, or producing ESI. Putting the question to the courts will therefore result (and has resulted) in disparate answers that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending both on how the search issues are presented, and on the quality and quantity of resources each side brings to the court. Do we want an approach that may lead to different search standards, say, in a federal court in Chicago versus a state court in Los Angeles?

The risk is simply too great and the issues too pressing, to allow a generation or two of common law decisions across multiple jurisdictions to be cobbled together to shape an overarching definition of a "good" search that counsel and clients can rely upon -- one that will stand up to judicial scrutiny.  That's where "ICAIL," the International Conference of Artificial Intelligence and Law, and its Discovery of Electronically Stored Information (DESI) Workshop, comes in.

Actual search practice in litigation is a chaotic cacophony of divergent practices applied with more or less vigor and attentiveness. What is the best approach for any particular case? Much litigation is still stuck on the case-specific level of discussing and testing the application of Boolean search terms. As a result, the more general and overarching issues of search tools and other technologies involved --which form a large part of whether a search methodology passes muster as a whole -- often take a back seat.

The current lack of legally defensible search standards is especially paradoxical given the tremendous strides that we are making in searching as a general rule. The public release of the Enron (and other voluminous) digital data collections has allowed for search algorithm testing and development on genuine ESI collections, and unleashed exciting new search technologies and methodologies. See.e.g. http://www.edrm.net/resources/data-sets/enron-data-set-files  We now have our terra firma of a sufficient expanse, to conduct trial and error testing to find sustainable methods of searching. Moreover, an increasingly scientific approach to legal search is dispelling intuitive “the world is flat” biases -- such as the belief that the most reliable search (the so-called “gold standard”) is human, linear review of documents. See http://jolt.richmond.edu/v17i3/article11.pdf and http://trec.nist.gov/pubs/trec18/papers/LEGAL09.OVERVIEW.pdf. A purely linear approach is an invitation to cost and quality disasters, as the court implied in Multiven, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, 2010 WL 2813618 (N.D. Cal. July 9, 2010), and harkens back to Ken Withers' admonishment to move beyond the dark ages of "proto-digital" e-discovery. See also Kenneth J. Withers, "E-Discovery in the Next Decade: Finding a Way out of Purgatory," Keynote Address at Fifth Annual Advanced E-Discovery Institute (Nov. 20, 2009) and http://ediscovery.quarles.com/2010/08/articles/case-law/because-something-must-be-done-the-dangers-of-trying-to-save-ediscovery-costs-by-treating-data-like-paper/

As our search technologies and research advances, these capabilities will need to be incorporated into the definition of a “legally defensible search” that will give comfort to counsel and client, and that will not be second-guessed in the trenches of our adversarial litigation process. Because, ironically, while we struggle for precision in our searches, today we cannot precisely define a defensible search.

This is not to say there is no guidance at all. Federal magistrate judges have provided some invaluable guidance, and The Sedona Conference® as always has provided important thought leadership on general search technologies and approaches. See generally www.thesedonaconference.org and The Sedona Conference®, Commentary on Achieving Quality in E-Discovery. EDRM has produced excellent search commentaries. http://www.edrm.net/projects/search. And e-discovery blogs such as Ralph Losey’s “E-Discovery Team,” http://e-discoveryteam.com/2011/05/30/the-information-explosion-and-a-great-article-by-grossman-and-cormack-on-legal-search and John Tredennick's "E-Discovery Search Blog," http://www.catalystsecure.com/blog, have also advanced the dialogue. However, we are far from a definition of “legally defensible search” that judges can use to assess search efforts.

Into this vast and uncharted territory, rides the Discovery of Electronically Stored Information (DESI) Workshop of ICAIL, which held its fourth meeting this month at the University of Pittsburgh. http://www.umiacs.umd.edu/~oard/desi4/. The questions posed to the Workshop by Jason Baron and the DESI organizing steering committee composed of Jason Baron, Laura Ellsworth, Dave Lewis, Debra Logan, and Doug Oard to the 150 participants (vendor representatives, academicians, and lawyers) were:

(a) whether e-discovery search is capable of standardization, and

(b) if so what models might be suitable for the standard setting task.

In short, what would a defensible search standard look like? The day was divided between excellent presentations/discussions and small break-out groups working on discrete topics. We were honored and energized by an extended videoconference visit by Federal magistrate judge Paul Grimm http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/publications/JudgesBio/grimm.htm, who is well-known for issuing thoughtful opinions on the issue of e-discovery, who enthusiastically endorsed the committee's work and provided a penetrating critique of the impact of the lack of search standards from the perspective of the bench.

I am not the official reporter of the DESI IV meeting and the opinions here are my own, but I think it safe to say that a consensus emerged on a number of points, two in particular:

  • A cross-vendor search standard will not be a particular tool or methodology, but an institutionalized quality assurance process that is required in many industries but that that has not penetrated the legal industry generally, much less e-discovery in particular. For example, manufacturers and retailers refuse to accept supplier products and services that are not “produced” subject to ISO standards. Legal processes should not be an exception. The ISO 9001 certification standard will require quality controls, precision and recall metrics, a proper mix of automated process and human direction and iteration, sampling parameters, exception reporting, refinement, auditing, and a senior management, institutional process commitment to on-going, enhanced measureable and verifiable quality. Clients, lawyers, and courts may ultimately, and perhaps soon, require ISO certifications before accepting search results.

ICAIL’s DESI IV Workshop has launched a long overdue undertaking. There will be little justice without e-discovery and little meaningful ESI without good, defensible search in our exploding digital data ecosphere. See Baron and Losey,"E-Discovery: Did You Know? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWbJWcsPp1M.  

At stake is the legitimacy and integrity of our judicial processes. In trying to pave roads through a near-barren landscape, DESI deserves our unwavering support.
 

The Litigator's Guide to E-Discovery Sanctions: Who Pays the Piper When ESI "Disappears"?

As interest in e-Discovery continues to grow, there's no question what's the driving force that grabs the headlines. Sanctions, of course.   It is the water cooler of the ESI world.  Sanctions capture clients' interest, and motivates unwitting attorneys to pay attention to the growing field that is e-discovery. And while it may be known that significant sanctions have recently been imposed for e-discovery violations, what is missing is perspective. How often are sanctions requested? When will they be imposed? How severe will the punishment be? What did the client and/or attorney do wrong?

A recent study by three King & Spalding attorneys that was published in the Duke Law Journal, attempts to provide some of this perspective. A full copy of the article can be found here. They identified 401 e-discovery cases where sanctions were sought dating back to the early 1980's and through January 1, 2010. Of those cases, sanctions were awarded in 230 cases.

How many cases are there today? Likely many more. It should be no surprise that the number of e-discovery sanction cases has been growing in recent years -- and exponentially.  As recently as 2003, there were only seven e-discovery sanction cases. In 2009? That number spiked to 111. To put this in perspective, these 111 cases outnumber the total for all of the years prior to 2005 combined, and accounted for over 25% of the all cases ever reported.

So sanctions are being sought and awarded on average in over fifty percent of the cases (401/230).  But how severe are the penalties?  Courts awarded in excess of $5 million in five of the cases identified, and in excess of $1 million in four of the cases. Courts also terminated the action, either by dismissal or default judgment, in thirty-six of the identified cases.

Note, however, that the above cases involved extreme misconduct. Of the thirty-six cases that courts terminated, thirty-four involved willful misconduct or bad faith behavior. Only two involved gross negligence, and none involved negligence. Moreover, these extreme examples are the minority. They only account for ten percent of the e-discovery sanction cases, and twenty percent of the cases where sanctions were awarded.

The study also revealed that defendants were sanctioned three times more often than plaintiffs. This makes sense because for defendants are more likely to hold ESI relevant to the lawsuit and to face broad discovery demands from plaintiffs. The most common misconduct was failure to preserve ESI followed by failure to produce and failure to produce in a timely fashion.

Judicial sanctions of counse -- whether through money or orders to attend certain legal education classes -- are also increasing, though this is still considered a drastic remedy. The study identified thirty cases where counsel was sanctioned, including seven instances in 2009 alone. The vast majority of these cases involved a pattern of misconduct as opposed to isolated incidents. The predominant sanction was an award of attorneys' fees and costs, which ranged from $500 to $500,000.

The bottom line:  sanctions for e-discovery are on the rise and they can be exorbitant. Clients and practitioners can take some solace, however, in two facts:  (a) the most severe sanctions only result from the most egregious misconduct; and (b) while sanctions may be growing, they still remain relatively small in number and infrequent.

For additional thoughts on this topic and the Duke Law Journal article, please visit the excellent article in the ABA Journal by Debra Cassens Weiss or the report from the Catalyst E-Discovery Blog.
 

"Friends" in High Places: Social Networks, Lawsuits and Friending Judges

 

"You ain't never had a friend like me." Lyric by Howard Ashman from Disney’s Aladdin,© 1992

     Wanna be friends with a judge? Well, he might end up “friending” you on Facebook as part of an in-camera review of your page, if something you post may be relevant to a lawsuit.

     Imagine that you are a middle management corporate employee who has finally (urged on by your kids) joined the 21st century and launched a personal Facebook page.  And then you friended a bunch of people, including some neighbors, family, and some of your fellow employees and supervisors. Why not?  After all, you have a pretty good relationship with them.

     Over the next few months, the following occurs:

  • You post that your supervisor is an idiot who doesn’t pay any attention to what’s going on in the office.  The next day some receivables go missing, and now the boss suspects you. How did he find out?  Perhaps you friended him and simply forgot; perhaps you friended another employee who is friends with your boss.  Or perhaps you simply forgot to change your privacy settings.
     
  • You are sued by an employee who you friended a while back.  Why? You fired him two weeks ago because the employee’s Facebook page showed him skiing on the day he called in sick.
     
  • You posted derogatory comments about your horrible neighbors.  A week later someone vandalized their house, and now they are blaming you.

     According to an article in the DRI Defense Bar by Michael Goodfried and Martha Dawson, Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”) contained on a party's social networking site can be subject to discovery if it relates to the issues in the litigation. In EEOC v. Simply Storage Mgmt., No. 1:09-cv-1223-WTL-DM, 2010 WL 3446105, at *3, (S.D. Ind. May 11, 2010), the court stated that discovery of social networking sites "requires the application of basic discovery principles in a novel context", and that the challenge is to "define appropriately broad limits . . . on the discoverability of social communications."

     Once it’s been determined that the content on the social networking site is subject to discovery, the next element is to determine which particular content is discoverable, based on the court’s consideration of the relevance of the requests within the scope of Rule 26 - or whether the requesting party is on a fishing expedition. “The court may choose to order the user to provide access to their entire profile, or it may order access to a limited portion of the content, such as wall postings available to all of the user's contacts, or messaging with particular individuals. In at least one instance, the court has offered to provide an in camera review by becoming "friends" with the user in order to review the private content for relevancy, before making a decision as to whether the other side could see it. Barnes v. CUS Nashville, No. 3:09-cv-00764, 2010 WL 2265668, at *1 (M.D. Tenn. June 3, 2010).”

    Shazzam! Instant friendship with a judge!

     Courts may also examine the privacy policies of the social networking sites themselves. Many of these sites explicitly state that they do not guarantee the privacy of user content. For example, Facebook's privacy policy, as of October 5, 2010, states that "some of the content you share and the actions you take will show up on your friends' home pages and other pages they visit" and that Facebook may "disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other requests (including criminal and civil matters) if we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law." See Facebook's Privacy Policy. In Romano v. Steelcase, 907 N.Y.S. 2d 650, 655 (2010), the court went so far as to state that the plaintiff has no reasonable expectation of privacy "notwithstanding her privacy settings" because Facebook and MySpace did not guarantee "complete privacy."

     So before you post that your assistant is a moron and get sued for defamation, consider whether you really want to friend a judge.

     The Social Network…coming soon to an in-camera review in a courtroom near you.

Compliance Officer Found Liable for Failing to Preserve Data

A recent ruling of the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) should serve as a yet another reminder of the importance of adequately preserving electronically stored data.

On July 2, 2010, the SEC ruled that vFinance Investments Inc., a Florida based broker dealer, violated securities laws by failing to preserve and produce electronic communications requested by the SEC as required by Section 17(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. In re vFinance Investments Inc., SEC, Admin. Proc. File No. 3-12918, 7/2/10.

 

In addition, as another example of the growing trend of blaming corporate executives for e-discovery failures, the SEC held that the firm’s former chief compliance officer, Richard Campanella, was liable for willfully aiding and abetting vFinance’s violations. The SEC sustained an administrative law judge’s decision censuring the Campanella and assessing penalties of $100,000 and $30,000 against the firm and Campanella, respectively. The SEC also barred Campanella from the industry for two years.

 

The penalties stemmed from vFinance’s failure to preserve and produce electronic communications of a branch manager at one of the firm’s offices. In July of 2005, the Enforcement Division of the SEC contacted Campanella to alert him regarding a forthcoming document request regarding Lexington Resources, Inc. -- the branch manager acted as a market maker for its stock. Although it was obvious to Campanella that the branch manager would not produce the requested documents, he waited almost six months after the division’s request to threaten to fire the branch manager for not doing so. In spite of the manager’s noncompliance, Campanella never followed through on the termination threat, giving the branch manager time to destroy the documents sought by the Enforcement Division. In addition, while Campanella was aware that the branch manager was sending and receiving email relating to Lexington Resources from a personal email account, he never implemented a system to preserve such email.  Because Campanella failed to act when he had a duty to do so, the SEC found him liable for aiding and abetting vFinance’s violations.  

 

Campanella was found liable for aiding and abetting vFinance’s violations even though he did not have actual knowledge that his failure to act constituted a violation. At oral argument before the SEC, Campanella’s counsel argued that in order to ensure certainty in the law, the standard for aiding and abetting in SEC administrative actions should be the same as in federal district courts, where actual knowledge is required. The SEC disagreed, holding that “recklessness is sufficient to establish aiding and abetting liability, and here we find Campanella’s conduct was variously knowing and extremely reckless.” 

 

There are two important implications here:  (1) corporate executives are not immune from e-discovery sanctions by virtue of being a few corporate steps removed from the process; and (2) the standard for liability in SEC actions is lower than in district courts -- recklessness rather than actual knowledge.

 

Polly Want An Email?

 Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.

                                                                              -- Will Rogers

When reviewing and establishing a document retention policy for your business, it pays to pay attention to what constitutes gossip - or, as we call it, hearsay - in the electronic world.  Because sometimes, even e-hearsay can make it into the courtroom.

In a blog posted in WSJ Digits, Ethan Smith reported that thirteen record labels sued the on-line peer-to-peer music sharing program LimeWire for copyright infringement and related infractions. In May 2010, the Court faced Defendant's motion to suppress electronic evidence, such as exhibits of LimeWire's email chains, online exchanges and internet forum postings, on the grounds that it was inadmissable as hearsay.

The Court denied Defendant's motion . . .

Specifically, the Court held that:

  • A statement is not hearsay if it is offered against a party and is the party's own statement, in either an individual capacity or a representative capacity;
  • An admission made by a party's employee is admissible against the party if made during the course of the employee relationship and relates to a matter within the scope of the person's employment; and
  • Where a statement is deemed admissible as an admission by a party-opponent under Rule 801(d)(2), the surrounding statements providing essential context may also be considered.

In short, the Court ruled:

In this case, the Defendant challenged a number of exhibits containing email chains and internet forum postings that were written in whole or in part by LimeWire employees, during the course of their employment with LimeWire. The emails and posting pertained to infringement being committed by LimeWire users, and thus were related directly to matters within the scope of the employees' employment with LimeWire. The exhibits therefore constitute direct or vicarious admissions by Defendant, are therefore not hearsay, and are therefore admissible.

The Court went on to state that messages sent by third parties to defendants, were admissible to provide context for the email messages sent by defendants in response. Additionally, email chains and online exchanges were deemed admissible as non-hearsay on the ground that the messages were offered to establish defendants' knowledge and state of mind as to the activities of its software users.

The lesson here? Hearsay objections will not always work when it comes to electronic evidence -- whether of the e-mail, internet posting, social network, or other variety. 

The solution?  Train your employees to recognize that the e-cracker crumbs they leave in their wake -- their emails and internet postings -- are admissible discovery.  These items, in short, are their parrots.  Most importantly, don't wait until litigation arrives, but educate employees beforehand.  Once employees are clear as to the ramifications, you won't have to worry as much if the parrot has to make a guest appearance in the courtroom, as there won't be nearly as much gossip for him to share. 

Quarles & Brady Welcomes William Hamilton, Leading E-Discovery Expert, ACEDS Chairperson and A Founding Partner of Quarles & Brady's Tampa Office

Quarles & Brady recently welcomed attorney William ("Bill") Hamilton, a leading expert in the e-discovery field, into its ranks. Bill is a founding partner of the Firm's brand new Tampa, Florida office.

A seasoned litigator, Bill is Board Certified in Business Litigation and Intellectual Property Law by the Florida Bar. He is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida College of Law, teaching one of the nation's first full credit courses in electronic discovery and digital evidence. He teaches e-discovery at the Florida Advanced Judicial College and has participated in drafting e-discovery rules for state and federal courts. A featured speaker at American Arbitration Association University events on e-disclosure in the arbitral process, he is a frequent writer and speaker on electronic discovery, business litigation and evidence, and a member of both The Sedona Conference® Working Group 1 and the Electronic Discovery Reference Model.

Recently, Bill became the Chair of the Advisory Board for the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS), the member organization for professionals in the private and public sector who work in the field of e-discovery. ACEDS is working to build a community of specialists that will serve as a clearinghouse for the exchange of ideas, guidance and best practices while also providing training in the field. Its most important service will be a program that culminates in the awarding of the Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS) certification to qualified candidates -- both individuals and organizations -- who pass a rigorous examination. ACEDS's goal is to provide members with job tools and training and networking to help them meet e-discovery challenges, improve their job performance and effectiveness and advance their careers. ACEDS goal is to improve the collective competence of the legal system in matters of e-discovery, which will have the added benefit of streamlining the process, reducing the amount of discovery disputes and, especially, reducing the cost significantly for clients along the way.

Bill and ACEDS have teamed up with ALM, the leading provider of current legal news and information. As part of ALM's 22nd Annual General Counsel Conference on June 8-9th, 2010 at The New York Marriott Marquis, Bill introduced ACEDS and its mission to the audience. Among the many topics covered throughout the Conference was Reducing Cost from Electronic Discovery.

Bill looks forward to joining the E-Discovery Bytes blogging team and we look forward to his posts coming in the near future.
 

Digital Voicemail in E-Discovery -- or Dealing with Cerberus, the Three-Headed Dog from Hell

You have one new voice message. First message: Monday, 4:45pm --

I must have just missed you, Vice President Joe.
It's Mike van Dyke, your CEO.
Remember that complicated widget invention --
Our best-seller you copied from the Widget Convention?
The one in your job interview that you mentioned,
And stole from your last boss for withholding your pension?

Well, they've sued us for patent infringement and such,
And theft of trade secrets -- it's really too much.
So I need you to shred all the documentation:
The tech drawings you stole; design specifications.
And that memo you wrote, before everything,
Saying that they had a patent, worth copying.

And yes, it goes without saying, too, Joe --
Please immediately delete this voicemail also.

End of new messages.

A lawyer who finds a copy of this voicemail buried in the other side's electronic document production will immediately splurge on champagne and party hats. And who can blame him? But here's the question: would this message be captured in the net of responsive material, or would it slip through the cracks? The answer may depend less on the skill of document retrieval experts, and more on how your company (or client's) voicemail system works.

It's old news that voicemail systems have graduated from analog to digital. Now, while the self-contained answering machine is still around, the digital era has also ushered in various types of integrated systems. The most complex, like the famed mythological dog Cerberus guarding the gates of Hell to prevent the dead who cross the river Styx from escaping, have three heads: the company telephone system, e-mail system, and computer system. And while a message on a self-contained machine can be difficult for a company -- let's call it Hades, Inc. -- to track and easy for an individual employee to get rid of, life with Cerberus is akin to life in the underworld: there is no escape, and nowhere to hide.
 

There are four major types of digital voicemail systems, as discussed in a New York Law Journal article:

  1. The Stand-alone: Voicemail is stored only on a stand-alone voicemail server completely separate from the e-mail and computer servers.
     
  2. The Stand-alone with E-mail Notification: This is a stand-alone model with an e-mail alert that notifies users that they have received a voicemail. However, the alert says nothing substantive about the message, and the user cannot access, save or forward the message via computer or e-mail.
     
  3. The Stand-alone with E-mail Link: Here, the e-mail contains not just a notification but a "link" that allows the user to access the message by computer. While the message remains housed in the voicemail server, it is possible to copy it to the e-mail system as an audio (.WAV) file, and save or forward them as attachments.
     
  4. The Unified System -- "Cerberus": With Cerberus standing guard, users receive an e-mail containing the audio file, and can retrieve it on a computer or Blackberry-type device. The message is stored on the e-mail server (not the voicemail server), and is thus exposed to the search protocols undertaken on the company's computer and e-mail systems. A user can also easily save the message or forward it to others, creating multiple copies in different locations and making it more likely that the message will be found. Such messages are also fully subject to Hades Inc's e-mail protocols with regard to back-ups and auto-deletion, which usually call for a greater retention period than a voicemail server.

As the systems move further and further Cerberus-ward down the river Styx, a number of things happen: (1) the amount of control a company has over the deletion and dissemination of voicemails declines; (2) the number of e-crumbs left by the voicemail increases, magnifying the risk of messages such as Vice President Joe's being found and produced to the opposition; and (3) the costs of voicemail-related e-discovery increases.

On the stand-alone end of the spectrum, Hades, Inc. will retain the most control over voicemails, and the risk of eventual production is the lowest. There is only one copy, and it resides on a stand-alone server. It cannot be replicated, forwarded, saved onto a computer or disseminated in any other way. Because of that, the single copy is at the mercy of the user's decision to delete it, or Hades, Inc's auto-deletion policy that spirits messages to the underworld permanently once a specific amount of time has passed. Once deleted, that message is gone, lost in Hades without a trace.

Even if there is no auto-deletion and Vice President Joe accidentally forgets (oops!) to erase the message, the message and others like it may still very well not be found during discovery. The voicemail server is not be connected to Hades, Inc.'s computer or e-mail servers, which are searched much more extensively during litigation (courts are reluctant to order expansive searches of voicemail alone). So the only reason such messages would be found and produced is if voicemails are included in document requests and if the recipient, such as our Vice President Joe, were singled out as one of the key custodians whose collection of data and documents are being searched for responsive materials.

In the case of a stand-alone system with a simple e-mail notification, Hades, Inc. is still in the lower-risk end of the production spectrum. The difference is that a trace of the voicemail remains, deleted or not. The e-mail notification will likely be retained as part of the litigation hold, and may even be produced if it engenders a "hit" during the search protocol. The odds of this are not high, as search terms related to the case will usually not appear in a simple notification e-mail, which does not contain any information about the message's sender or content. However, even if the message is deleted, a search and production of Hades, Inc. e-mails to the opposition may still reveal that Vice President Joe received a voicemail on Monday at 4:45pm on such-and-such a date, which opposing counsel will recognize was right after the complaint was served. Naturally, they will demand production of the voicemail. And if that voicemail has been deleted, there will be hell to pay, faster than Charon can row that ferry across the river Styx. The other side will likely make trouble, such as asking for sanctions, for a more detailed search of Hades, Inc. voicemails, or for an inference at trial that the e-mail must have contained something incriminating.

The third type of system is where it begins to become much more likely that Vice President Joe's voicemail and others like it will be found and produced, or at the least that its existence and subsequent deletion will be noticed. In this case the voicemail is still stored on the voicemail server, but the e-mail notification contains a link to the message. In some cases, the link can be converted into a file that can then be saved on the Hades, Inc. computer or forwarded through e-mail accounts -- say, vpjoe@hades.underworld.com. With all this data floating around with information on the sender and content of the message, production in one form or another becomes much more likely. Even if the original message has been deleted, it has left a trail of e-crumbs -- there are that many more e-mails and copies and files floating around that either contain the message itself, or that make it evident that a message used to be there.

Which leads us to Cerberus, our three-headed monster. Yes, dogs are a man's best friend, and Cerberus may well be the user's best friend, allowing the greatest degree of access to voicemail -- through computer, Blackberry or otherwise -- and the greatest degree of malleability in terms of saving, copying and forwarding the message. With Cerberus, however, the control Hades, Inc. has over these messages is extremely low. The voicemails leave an awful lot of e-crumbs, posing the greatest risk of production in litigation. The message itself will reside in the user's e-mail inbox, may be saved to person folders or hard drives, and can be copied and sent to others ad nauseam. The e-mails will also contain more easily-searchable information than links or e-mail notifications, such as the name of the sender, the originating phone number and the contents of the message. And courts are more likely to treat voicemails in these types of systems like e-mails -- subject to greater obligations insofar as identification, preservation and production. All of these facts will not only increase the cost of e-discovery substantially, but transform the odds of Vice President Joe and his voicemail going down in flames.

What does all this mean? For a company on the defensive side such as Hades, Inc., it is important to understand just what type of voicemail system is being used. While Cerberus is certainly the most technologically-savvy and user-convenient, he is also the messiest eater, leaving far more e-crumbs in his wake than, say, stand-alone voicemail servers. Companies who use Cerberus to guard the gates of voicemail should therefore educate their employees to treat messages more carefully on both the sender and recipient sides. Keep voicemails short and general, think before speaking as to whether the message being left could cause trouble in a litigation, and do not wax poetic (literally or figuratively) about litigation or other controversial matters like our foolish Hades, Inc. CEO Mike van Dyke. Another possibility is shortening the company voicemail retention period to the extent legally permissible, so that the backlog of saved voicemails is not as daunting and not as much of a field day for the other side.

On the offensive side, parties to a litigation should ensure that litigation hold notices, and instructions for document requests, specifically request responsive and relevant voicemail messages. They should also keep an eye out for e-mails produced in discovery that reveal the existence of relevant voicemails that were not produced.  Additionally, parties believing that voicemail will play a key role in the case should request early on in discovery, information as to what type of voicemail system their opponent maintains. That way, they can be more aware of how best to ensure that Vice President Joe's voicemail will escape the watchful eye of Cerberus, cross the river Styx, and get produced.
 

The Ringmaster or the Clown? Dealing with the E-Discovery Elephant in the Room

It is rare to find one of those shared tenets that defy all cultural, geographic, and chronological boundaries -- some fundamental underpinning of life found everywhere from the days of the caveman to the modern age. One we can all agree on, however, is that a professional's worth is and always has been commensurate with his or her experience. The senior dragon slayer of King Arthur's round table received a shinier suit of armor than the new guy. The master caveman's time and worth rose above the apprentice's. And in present day law firm culture, the value of the Associate is often dwarfed by that of the Senior Partner in the cozy corner office.

Electronic discovery, however, has turned this fundamental dynamic on its head. In most areas of the law, change is effected in small increments, opinion by opinion and statute by statute. Sage senior lawyers add to their existing knowledge by keeping up on recent developments -- no fundamental change in thinking is required. Electronic discovery, however, has forced a radical, qualitative change in almost every aspect of how discovery is conducted. Heck, an entire Federal Rule of Civil Procedure was rewritten to account for it. And the dreaded "it" -- that virtual elephant in the room -- is everywhere. As Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Southern District of New York observed in an interview, "We used to say there's e-discovery as if it was a subset of all discovery. But now there's no other discovery."

This ever-expanding nature of e-discovery is carving out a unique dynamic in the three-ring circus that is the Law Firm and the in-house legal department. In short, the problem is that the two parts of the equation needed to master e-discovery (expertise in discovery law and procedure, and expertise in electronic media) are currently located in two separate circus rings: the Ringmaster's and the Clown's.
 

  • The Ringmaster: In one outer ring you have the partner, our Ringmaster, an experienced and respected litigator so well-versed in discovery procedures and law that he or she can write interrogatories and respond to document requests while juggling oversized balls of Case Strategy, Knowledge and Experience for the client in the front row. It is true that there are Ringmasters who are also well-steeped in the art of e-discovery, who have taken the initiative to learn everything about it and keep up on the latest social networking arrivals. This article is not addressed to these Ringmasters. It is addressed to the more litigation-centric ones -- and there are many -- who view discovery as more of just another step on the way to the ultimate trial and motion practice, than a living entity in its own right. Ask such a Ringmaster for electronic search protocols and you will receive a list of terms that do not capture the depth and breadth of materials needed. Say "Twitter" and he or she will ask about your bird-watching hobby. E-mail them about Flickr and you'll get berated for spelling mistakes.
     
  • The Clown: In the other outer ring you have the young associate, our Clown, who is still on some level struggling to appreciate the distinction between general and specific objections to document requests. But at the same time, our Clown has a unique appreciation for electronic discovery that the Ringmaster often does not.  The Clown is intimately familiar with all potential bastions of electronic communication, from e-mail and iPhones to Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Facebook. He or she appreciates from personal experience that social networking sites are interactive and amorphous circus animals, such that the only thing unchanging about them is the fact that they change several times a day. Even coming up with electronic search protocols requires a working knowledge of computer technology nowadays. Judge Scheindlin observed that, "People think they've searched and they haven't looked in the right places, haven't communicated with the right people, they haven't used best technology to go through materials they do have." Younger associates know where and how to find the most obscure information online. They cut their e-teeth on Google. They have run countless word-searches on Westlaw, learning from experience how to best craft searches to obtain the results they need. They know what types of computer applications to find documents in. Microsoft is their friend.

There is no doubt that Ringmasters are more than capable of learning the basics through articles, lectures and other means. But there is a difference between knowing that and knowing how. For Clowns -- many of whom check Facebook and Twitter before they brush their teeth in the morning -- the intricacies of electronic communication are as intuitive as the art of humor. To expect many Ringmasters to extract secondhand a deep understanding of how these new innovations work and to obtain what he wants from them, is like asking a law student to fully comprehend the Federal Rules based on a first-year Civil Procedure class. Just as it takes practicing in a real courtroom for the isolated rules to "click", immersion into electronic communication is needed to truly appreciate its fine points. Plenty of Ringmasters can and have done this. But plenty more have not. As Judge Scheindlin observed, "Those of us who are a little older, shall I say modestly or immodestly, [ ] it's too late for us. We can't really change completely. But for these young people coming out the world will change with them."

And it is. Just a couple of weeks agok, the court in Chen v. Dougherty, 2009 WL 1938961 (W.D. Wash. July 7, 2009) implied what would happen in the e-discovery circus if, in a sequel to blockbuster flick I am Legend, a genetically-engineered cure to a devastating illness had the unintended side effect of wiping out the associate population -- and since Will Smith's character was snuffed out in the first movie, there was no one to create a cure. The answer: the partner may find himself balancing the trapeze without a safety net. The Chen court refused to award the prevailing plaintiff its attorneys' fees based on its attorney's normal hourly rate, for the time the attorney spent on e-discovery. Why? The attorney, a partner with twenty years of experience, almost certainly knew general discovery law inside and out. No matter:

"[The attorney's] inhibited ability to participate meaningfully in electronic discovery tells the Court that she has novice skills in this area and cannot command the rate of experienced counsel."

There is no doubt that this was a good lawyer -- she won the case, after all. And the defendants had to pay her regular fee for all other portions of the case. But the court ordered the attorney's rate to be reduced on e-discovery matters to $200 for, as an example, "failing to offer search terms for the delivery of relevant ESI." Given that some partners in Seattle bill out at over $400 an hour, it is possible that this attorney's e-discovery fees were halved. Ouch.

This divide between Ringmasters and Clowns will only widen as social networking expands. Niche social networking sites are emerging every day -- some recent new ones include Ning, Sodahead, Bebo, Fanpop, Imeen, and Eons. The British government has published a guide to help ministers understand how to use Twitter, with the aim of extending its news and corporate messages online. And major companies are now using these resources as networking and branding tools to communicate with consumers and offer an inside look at the company in more intimate, real-time fashion than a website. As noted in a recent U.S. News article, Victoria's Secret, Southwest Airlines, Mastercard, The Gap, and Starbucks are using Twitter and Facebook. And now smaller businesses are joining the Twitter fray. As Zappo CEO Tony Hsieh recognized via Twitter update, borrowing a phrase from the eminently-quotable Winnie-the-Pooh, "You can't stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You've got to go to them sometimes."

The resulting interactivity -- and the brazenness with which these social corporations are lifting the veil that separates individual consumers from company executives -- is astounding. And it foretells the inevitable legal tangles to come in all types of litigation, from false advertising to employment, patent, defamation, government investigations into off-label promotion practices of pharmaceutical companies, and many others. (A defamation lawsuit was just filed in Chicago against a woman for "twittering" that her management company was tolerant of moldy apartments.) Unfortunately, most of the legal issues posed by social networking have yet to see the inside of a courtroom. The area is new, and the old rules may not apply. Social networks such as Facebook change appearance by the minute, making it difficult to track down the specific version relevant to a litigation. On the other hand "Tweleted," a site that digs up deleted Twitter Posts from Twitter's search engines, is now taking the world by storm. Even more confusing, all social networks -- even any two Facebook accounts -- are not created equal. Whether their content is fair game for e-discovery may depend on individual privacy settings: whether an owner allows general access or access only by "friends."

Think of a social network like the typically elaborate circus car rolling into the Center Ring. A Ringmaster may see a car with a capacity for four or five occupants, each of which the Ringmaster will question thoroughly. The Clown will more often see a car in which an unlimited number of occupants can fit -- every friend, every follower, every update, post, blog, tweet and related "app". He or she will know that each of these occupants should be questioned, but will not be quite sure where to go from there. It is clear that one way or another, the Ringmasters in their circus ring of discovery knowledge and experience, and the Clowns with their technology expertise, need to come together in the Center Ring. This can be done any number of ways:

  • Encourage more Ringmasters-Clown Collaboration. Partner-associate interaction in e-discovery should resemble more of a shared collaboration than a senior person doing the higher-level work and delegating the lower-level tasks to a junior. Unlike many areas of the law, a young associate may have significant input to offer on e-discovery matters -- where to look, what to look for -- even if he or she does not recognize that at first glance due to lack of in-depth knowledge about discovery procedures.
     
  • Make Clowns the Ringmasters of the Center Ring.  Choose a small number of young associates and turn them into "one-stop shopping" experts by deepening their knowledge of discovery law and process to supplement their knowledge of electronic media. Send them to CLEs. Give them 50 non-billable hours for the year to read up on discovery issues. Have them present CLEs, or write law journal articles or blog entries applying the law and process to new social media. As e-discovery options and procedure expand, these younger associates will be best poised to recognize the issues.
     
  • Sole practitioners and small firms are in the hardest position.  The Chen attorney was a sole practitioner or close to it, with little to no associate knowledge to rely on. This is typically the case in very small firms. As the role of e-discovery and social media in litigation expands, these partner-shareholders will need to master these new e-media themselves -- mere knowledge of discovery in general will not be enough, and relying on non-legal e-discovery consultants who do not know the case, and/or are not attorneys, is risky. Alternatively, they should consult with younger attorneys on a part-time basis, who can provide some focus on what to look for, where, and how.
     
  • Graduates of Clown U.  Senior associates and junior partners are not yet Ringmasters, but have left their Clown days behind. They grew up in the tail end of the Paper Age and the beginning of the E-paper Age. E-mail emerged in junior high or high school, the World Wide Web in college or law school, and Westlaw a couple of years before or after they started law school. These lawyers are almost as savvy at the technology side of e-discovery as the Clowns. The difference is that (1) they do not take it for granted, because they spent formative years without it; and (2) it is not as intuitive for them; they have to work at it a little more, particularly the newer forms of e-communication. Facebooks and Twitters are divergences that they understand and even use, but without quite the same level of immersion. Their advantage, however, is that in being less fascinated with the bell-and-whistle details they are more apt to see the 'big picture' -- to view these tools as the latest but not greatest fads, and to be able to anticipate, given their knowledge of both law and the technology, what will come next. Yes, they have things to learn both from the Clown and the Ringmaster, and they (like Ringmasters) must make an effort to keep themselves fresh when it comes to each new wave of e-communication, something that comes more naturally to Clowns. If they do, their knowledge of both outer circus rings may propel them farther and faster than Ringmasters or Clowns.

These are not the only solutions. The point is, however, that now is the time for firms and corporations to position themselves for a future in which e-discovery will play an even larger role, by recognizing that the traditional bright-line Ringmaster-Clown, partner-associate dynamic cannot function in this area. If they fail to do so, they may find themselves in the middle of the circus, hanging from the trapeze with -- like the Chen attorney --only half a safety net below.
 

Litigation Holds Can Be "Tire"some, But Hang In There!

"It ain't over 'till it's over."  Yogi Berra was talking about baseball, but the quote applies just as well to lawsuits.  It is no secret that litigation can be a very protracted process, and, when a party is subject to a litigation hold, it seems that much longer. 

One question that lawyers get with some frequency is "how long do we have to maintain this hold?"  The answer is that it depends.  One touchstone, though, is that the hold should remain in effect until all deadlines for appeal or further review have expired.

In a recent Louisiana case, Pipes v. UPS, UPS was hit with a motion for sanctions due to alleged spoliation of evidence.  One of its drivers was involved in an accident.  After the accident, UPS fired the driver and he filed a grievance protesting his termination.  He argued that the accident was not his fault, but rather was caused by a faulty tire on his delivery van.  His grievance was denied at all stages, and his firing was upheld.  Following the end of the grievance process, van maintenance records were destroyed, and the allegedly faulty tire was released to a vendor.

However, the fired driver then sued both UPS (for firing him) and his union (for inadequate representation) in federal court.  When he discovered that the maintenance records and tire were gone, he brought a motion for sanctions.  UPS's managers testified that they thought they could put the matter behind them when the grievance was decided, and so had gotten rid of the evidence.  The court ultimately declined to sanction UPS because the driver's claim lacked merit, and the tire and maintenance records were ultimately only slightly relevant to his claims.

As demonstrated by this case, it is imperative that litigation holds remain in place until appeal or review opportunities have passed.  This is a tricky issue where, as here, the avenue for appeal may be novel (one of UPS's managers testified that he had never seen a grievance decision appealed).  It is important that the person managing the hold make sure that all key players are on the same page about when the hold may be released, and that attorneys keep their clients informed about the possible avenues and timelines for appeal.

The Governator Signs Electronic Discovery Act Into Law

Apparently taking a break from figuring out where the money will come from to run California, The Governator signed into law the Electronic Discovery Act (“EDA”) on June 29th, joining the ranks of approximately twenty other states in adopting specific rules designed to manage e-discovery. Like most of these other states, California’s EDA is substantially based on the 2006 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to Eric Sinrod, writing in The FindLaw Technology Blog, “The new California rules, which represent the culmination of several years of negotiations, appear to work a compromise between plaintiff trial attorneys who sought in depth access to electronic records and corporate defense counsel who desired safeguards for data that they believe is too burdensome and costly to produce.” 

A significant difference between the Federal Rules and the EDA is the inclusion in the EDA of a safe harbor that does not sanction a party or attorney who fails to produce electronically stored information that has been lost, damaged, altered or overwritten, if it was done as a result of the routine, good faith operation of an electronic system.


Additionally, according to Sinrod, the Act directs that “electronically stored information should be provided in the form ordinarily maintained or in a reasonably usable form; a party may object to the production of electronically stored information on burden or inaccessibility grounds, but that party bears the burden of proving that objection, and a court still may require production upon a showing of good cause by the demanding party; and the Act is applicable to third parties pursuant to subpoenas, although one can expect potentially less e-discovery burdens being placed on third parties as opposed to parties in a case.”

 

Based upon the current legislative trend, it should be anticipated that eventually all of the states will soon have similar laws in place to address the evolving issues associated with electronically stored information.

The Wi$dom of Collaborative E-Discovery (Especially in Smaller Cases)

Sometimes it seems like it all comes down to money, doesn't it?  Especially now, so many of us are looking for ways to work - and litigate - smarter, leaner, and cheaper.  Fortunately, some of the finest legal minds are hard at work on solutions to costly e-discovery conundrums, and, luckily, many valuable resources are just a (free!) mouse-click away.

So much of what we know about the outlines of E-Discovery law comes from multi-million dollar, bet-the-company litigation between corporate behemoths.  But what about the everyday family law or small business disputes that are the bread and butter for most attorneys across the country?  How do you get the information you need and protect your client from sanctions without spending more on e-discovery than the case is worth?

Sharon Nelson (who writes the clever E-Discovery Blawg "Ride the Lightning") and John Simek created this helpful podcast highlighting both the e-discovery opportunities and pitfalls for the practitioner in smaller litigation matters.  Key topics include finding a vendor for smaller cases, the dangers of using a company's own internal IT folks on e-discovery projects, how to preserve electronic evidence in a cost-effective manner, and calculating expert expenses. 

A particularly helpful pointer Nelson and Simek offer:  cooperating early and often with opposing counsel, especially in smaller cases, can get you what you need and save you money.  The Sedona Conference® agrees, and its Cooperation Proclamation invites lawyers to abandon the traditional adversarial mode and work more collaboratively during the discovery phase of litigation so that counsel and parties can devote more "time and attention (and money) . . . to litigating the merits of the dispute." 

Wow - cooperating with opposing counsel?  For many of us - whether in-house or outside counsel - that represents a huge cultural shift.  Then again, with a huge percentage of litigation costs devoted to discovery, supporters of the Proclamation argue that, far from abandoning the obligation to be zealous advocates for their clients, lawyers who take a collaborative approach to discovery issues save their clients money and can focus on the substantive legal and factual issues in dispute.  You can read more here and here

In these tough economic times, which have led companies large and small to cut their legal departments and litigation budgets, and with numerous jurisdictions starting to adopt rules encouraging cooperation and collaboration in discovery, collaborative discovery appears to be the wave of the future.  "Cooperative Discovery Bytes" has an interesting ring . . .

Coming Soon to a Wisconsin Courtroom Near You?

It looks like Wisconsin will soon join a number of states (roughly half of the country) who have amended or adopted rules of civil procedure to include specific provisions regarding discovery of electronically stored information. 

After considering the issue for several months, the Wisconsin Judicial Council filed a petition with the state Supreme Court proposing amendments to the state statutes that provide the rules of civil procedure. 

In general, the proposed amendments are consistent with, and based on the 2006 amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure regarding electronic discovery.  For example, the proposed amendments:

  1. Encourage the parties to discuss electronically stored information early in the discovery process;
  2. Address the format in which electronically stored information should be produced;
  3. Limit the information that must be produced to reasonably accessible information; and
  4. Contain a safe harbor provision to protect a party who destroys information in good faith according to a routine records retention policy.

Despite these general similarities, the proposed amendments differ from their federal counterparts in three important respects. Unlike their federal counterparts, the proposed amendments:

  1. Provide a definition for "electronically stored information" that is "intended to be broad enough to cover all current types of computer based information yet flexible enough to encompass future changes and technological developments." 
  2. Do not require the parties to discuss electronically stored information at a discovery conference because Wisconsin does not require a discovery conference.  Instead, the proposed amendments "encourage the courts to address the management of electronic discovery early by adding electronically stored information to the list of items that can be addressed by scheduling order, although it is not required."
  3. Do not contain a claw-back procedure to protect parties who inadvertently produce privileged or protected information. According to the Judicial Council, "waiver of privilege is more properly addressed under the rules of evidence, including the attorney client privilege and the work product doctrine, than in the discovery rules."  

The Supreme Court is expected to hear public comment on the proposed amendments soon, but the hearing date has not yet been scheduled.  Stay tuned!

Google to the (E-Discovery) Rescue?

Recently I came across a doubleclick.com digital marketing piece touting Google's latest search technology, Google Search Appliance 6.0. The inviting web ad promised:  "Google brings Findability to Enterprise Search".

The list of oohs and aahs includes:

  • Dynamic Scalability to thousands, millions, even billions of documents.
  • Linking multiple search engines (federated searches) separated across departments or geographies to provide a unified set of results.
  • Syndicated searches of up to 30 million documents.
  • Fine-tuning relevancy by using latest technologies in search algorithm and search result ranking.
  • Customizable security.
  • User-centric search enhancements such as "User-Added Results" and "Query Suggestions."

While the new Google Search Appliance (GSA) represents another hopeful step towards the Holy Grail of Search, it is also a potential antidote to the current state of e-discovery -- at least from a strategic perspective.  The cost of litigation appears to be at a breaking point where containment hinges on effective ESI searches and collaborative e-discovery maneuvers.  Although Google's search technology may be primarily designed for Intra/Extranet implementations, GSA could also serve to reduce litigation costs by helping lawyers cull through exabytes of electronically stored information.

Finding an efficient means for culling through those exabytes cannot happen a moment too soon.  Electronic discovery not only increases the costs of litigation, it also diminishes the legal profession. 

According to a 2008 American Judicature Society (AJS) report, discovery abuse in civil cases presents a significant problem.  Indeed, nearly half of survey respondents (45 percent) indicate they believe that discovery is abused in every civil case.  Moreover, 71 percent agree that attorneys use discovery as a tool to force settlement.  An astounding 81 percent of AJS report survey respondents stated that their firms turn away cases when it is not cost effective to handle them, and 83 percent said that litigation costs drive cases to settle that deserve to be tried on the merits. 

The end result is that some deserving cases are not brought, and some meritless cases are settled out of court -- not because of the strength of the parties’ claims, but instead because the cost of pursuing or defending those claims fails a rational cost-benefit analysis.  According to Ralph Losey, e-discovery has become a threat to the U.S. legal system.  And that threat is pernicious and spreading.

In his e-Discovery Team blog, Losey -- himself a trial lawyer -- asserts that trial lawyers wrongly blame runaway e-discovery costs on poor rules, laws, and judges.  According to Losey, the true cause of escalating e-discovery costs is the legal profession's failure to keep pace with the dizzying advances of new technologies.

In my opinion, there's plenty of blame to go around when it comes to e-discovery and the rising cost of litigation.  Among other things, there is lack of knowledge on e-discovery issues and technologies; poor planning, selection and application of appropriate technologies to initiate effective searches; failure to collaborate and communicate effectively among counsel and IT staff; and, in particularly eggregious situations, wholesale adoption of the ostrich head-in-sand approach to e-discovery.

One need not become a techie in order to be an effective 21st Century litigator.  But knowing when and where to seek help with respect to e-discovery issues could save you and your clients a lot of headaches and heartbreaks down the road. 

5 days of searching ESI - $250,000.
4 days of filtering search results - $150,000. 
10 rounds of sparring between parties - $300,000.
Google finding the right information - Priceless.

 

Logging Email Chains to Preserve Privilege

 

Lawyers regularly receive emails from clients that contain earlier email threads that are forwarded in the course of seeking legal advice. Sometimes these earlier threads appear as attachments. Other times, they are embedded beneath the content of the most recent thread. Regardless of the form of the threads, parties involved in litigation will often seek to withhold the entire chain from the opposing party. The problem lies in determining how to properly log an email chain to preserve the privilege that attaches to the earlier email threads when they are forwarded along with a privileged email.

In a recently published opinion from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the court found that each individual thread must be logged. Rhoads Industries, Inc. v. Building Materials Corp. of America, 254 F.R.D. 238, 241 (E.D. Penn. 2008). If an underlying email is not logged, any privilege that otherwise might have attached to it is waived.  

If it doesn’t make immediate sense to you why someone might not want to log each individual thread, consider that the underlying emails probably have to be produced in their original, non-forwarded format. By comparing the log with the emails that have been produced, the opposing party can determine what emails the client forwarded to the lawyer.  Because the opposing party has access to these emails in their original format, the opposing party might be able to determine what the lawyer and client knew and when they knew it, including key facts in any dispute. 

 

Rhoads made many bloggers “Year in Review” lists in December and January because the court, in an earlier opinion, engaged in a lengthy analysis of the factors to be considered under Federal Rule of Evidence 502 in determining whether Rhoads took reasonable steps to prevent inadvertent disclosure and to rectify the mistake upon discovering it. In that earlier opinion, the court decided that Rhoads had waived the privilege that might otherwise apply to several documents that its attorneys had failed to log.

The court was subsequently called upon to clarify whether or not Rhoads had waived the privilege with respect to email chains, some threads of which were logged, others of which were not.  Although the court noted that the attorney-client privilege may attach to an otherwise non-privileged email when the email is forwarded along with a privileged email, the court found that Rhoads had waived the privilege for any unlogged threads. The court ordered Rhoads to produce the email chains, but authorized Rhoads to redact any threads its lawyers had previously logged.

The moral?  If one email in a chain is privileged, counsel needs to take care in considering whether all of the emails in the chain are privileged and treat them accordingly.  If they are not all treated as privileged and logged as such, counsel risks waiving the privilege as to the entire email string. 

Watch the Data Mapping Webinar Here


The ESI Data Map - What Inside Counsel and Records Managers need to know

A recording of the March 24, 2009 encore presentation of the popular webinar The ESI Data Map -- What Inside Counsel and Records Managers Need to Know is available for viewing above.  Just click on the arrow on the lower left corner to play. We welcome your feedback on the presentation. 

 

Tee Up Your Document Retention Policy -or End Up in the Woods

In a widely reported anecdote, pop singer Christina Aguilera was once introduced to golfing superstar Tiger Woods, one of the most recognized people on Earth. “Christina, I love your music,” Woods declared. “I have all your CDs...” “Sorry, I don’t follow tennis,” Aguilera said, “so I don’t know much about you.”

 

Unfortunately, ignorance is no excuse when it comes to compliance with record-retention policies and apathy will result in serious trouble.   The legal and regulatory risks associated with noncompliance include costly penalties, court sanctions, and adverse judgments.  In addition to these compliance risks, companies must also consider potential financial and strategic risks. According to Rich Bailey in “Leveraging Enterprise Records Management” in the Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Journal, a recent survey found that “roughly 50 percent of respondents said they are less than confident that, if challenged in court, their organization could demonstrate that their electronic information is accurate, accessible, and trustworthy. Only now are organizations realizing the complexity and compliance requirements associated with e-records, including electronic documents, data, e-mail and instant messages. Another survey by CFO.com found more than one-third of top-level executives say their companies don’t have a disciplined way to deal with electronic discovery issues.”

 

ONE THIRD! That’s a lot of executives who are at serious risk of consequences due to their shortcomings in preparedness in dealing with electronic discovery issues. If your company has not already evaluated adopting a document retention policy, adopted a policy or, worse yet, is not following its existing document retention policy, get on the ball or you may end up being like another golfer, Harry Tofcano, who said, “I’m hitting the woods just great, but I’m having a terrible time getting out of them.”

Free Data Mapping Webinar -- March 11, 2009

Join us on Wednesday, March 11, 2009, for the first of a series of three webinars designed to offer practical advice to organizations attempting to get a handle on their ESI.  The first webinar in the series, titled The ESI Data Map:  What Inside Counsel and Records Managers Need to Know, will run for one hour and break down the benefits of creating a data map of your organization's IT infrastructure.  John Collins, the Vice President of Consulting for The Ingersoll Firm, will lead the webinar with commentary from yours truly, Kelly Twigger of Quarles' Records Retention and E-Discovery Team, and  Lisa Berry-Tayman of Kahn Consulting.  I will discuss the benefits of utilizing a data map in an over all strategy to prepare for preserving, collecting, reviewing and producing electronic information as a way to identify where ESI lives in an organization's infrastructure and how best to consider implementing changes to reduce costs in storage and producing ESI.   Lisa will offer insights into how a data map fits into an organization's records management program and the importance of communication among multiple groups within the organization for successful implementation of any records program.  The webinar is free.  Click here to register. 

Digital Medical Records: The Cure for What Ails?

The debates concerning President Obama’s plan to computerize medical records within 5 years have tended to focus on a few key issues. Those in favor of the plan suggest that it will create jobs, improve treatment, reduce errors, and reduce costs. Those opposed argue that it will be too costly and burdensome to implement and that it will be compromise the security of patients’ private information.  But what about the effect on e-discovery?

As Craig Ball notes on Law Technology News’ EDD Update blog, "medical records are evidence." They are often sought and produced by parties to all kinds of lawsuits, including cases involving malpractice, personal injury, insurance disputes, employment law issues and disability claims. Because medical records are evidence, digital medical records will be subject to the rules and procedures regarding electronic discovery.

If you don’t immediately catch the significance of the proposed change in terms of litigation expenses consider this: Assuming you knew what you were looking for, how long would it take you to read several boxes full of your doctor’s hand-written notes written on whatever form your doctor happened to be using at the time? Compare that to the amount of time it would take you to run a keyword search of a single field (e.g. “Prescriptions”) of several uniform digital forms. If you were billed for the time spent running the searches, for which would you rather pay?

 

In his post, Mr. Ball, a computer forensic expert and e-discovery consultant, correctly points out that currently, the fees associated with collecting, reviewing, cataloging and labeling hard-copy medical records can often represent a significant litigation expense. In part, the fees are high because the records are often incomplete, irregular and not readily-accessible. Mr. Ball sees the change to computerized records as an opportunity to fix these problems. He pleads with the Administration to adopt policies and procedures that require complete, uniform, readily-available records. 

Admittedly, electronic discovery is not cheap. And in the hypothetical suggested above, you would likely have to pay a vendor to process the digital forms or obtain software to run the proposed search. But, if computerized medical records are the wave of the future, as an associate who spends at least one day per week reviewing documents, I sincerely hope Mr. Ball gets what he’s asking for: a considered response to the e-discovery issues concerning digital medical records.

The Reality of Cost-Shifting

The reality of cost-shifting is that it is not always available to a responding party. In order to manage risk associated with the cost of electronic discovery, legal counsel should be aware of circumstances where responding parties have received the benefit of a cost-shifting analysis and conversely, where it has been denied. 

Courts do not want responding parties to pay for a plaintiff's fishing expedition. Therefore, courts may shift costs to the requesting party as an incentive to narrowly tailor the discovery request where there is a low likelihood that discovery will produce relevant evidence. Delta Financial Corp. v. Morrison, 13 Misc. 3d 604, 611-12, 819 N.Y.S.2d 908 (Sup 2006) (ordering requesting party to pay expenses of searching restored backup tapes for e-mail and electronic documents because the Court was "not entirely convinced that relevant and responsive documents would be found").

Courts employ cost shifting to protect the producing party from undue burden. Therefore, courts weigh the benefit of discovery versus the burden under the proportionality test of Rule 26(b)(2)(C). Thus, even where the plaintiff is not fishing and the evidence will be beneficial to disposing of the issues, courts may limit discovery or employ cost-shifting if the burden to produce the requested data is disproportionately higher than the benefit. Christian v. Central Record Service, 2007 WL 3094513 (W.D. Ark. 2007) (relevant evidence was precluded from discovery when the expense of discovery outweighed the benefit).       

Moreover, notwithstanding the legal analysis, responding parties have been denied the benefit of cost-shifting after engaging in deceptive practices. Wachtel v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 239 F.R.D. 376, 67 Fed. R. Serv. 3d 1 (D.N.J. 2006) (court rejected defendant's request to shift cost of restoring and producing e-mail from its backup tapes because of defendant's continued discovery misconduct).

Finally, legal counsel should remember that even if cost-shifting is permitted, only direct costs of restoration will be obtainable. Therefore, responding parties should consider the resources and costs required for restoration and production up front and plan accordingly. Semsroth v. City of Witchita, 239 F.R.D. 630 (court rejected the responding party's argument that additional time to review email after it is retrieved is subject to cost-shifting).

 

As a practical matter, it is only possible to obtain the benefit of a cost-shifting analysis by courts when records are considered to be inaccessible. Upon a finding of inaccessibility, courts will likely shift costs to the requesting party where it is unclear whether the requested data will be beneficial to resolving the issues. Moreover, even where there is a benefit, courts will protect the producing party from undue burden by shifting costs where the expense and burden of producing the data outweigh the benefit of the evidence. However, legal counsel should remember that even where the legal analysis militates in favor of the responding party, courts limit cost-shifting to the direct costs of discovery and deny recovery where responding parties use deceptive practices.

Keep Your Documents Close and Your Flash Drives Closer

In 1969, when Mario Puzo published his novel “The Godfather,” his line “A lawyer with his briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns” became highly quoted and recognized because of the innate truth it contained: it’s easier to rob a company through information than through violence.

He could not have imagined that, just forty years later, enough information to take over, bring down, or steal from a company could be contained on a device the size of a pack of gum. Flash drives have made it possible for corporate espionage to reach new heights, and for any disgruntled employee - from the receptionist to the president of the company - to succumb to temptation, download and walk away with the company’s data in a format so small that it can be hung on a keychain. If not accounted for in a document retention policy, flash drives present a significant risk of comprising the integrity and negating the purpose of a document retention plan. 

In a posting called “Deter the Use of Flash Drives to Avoid Corporate Espionage” by James Koopman on the DCIG website, Koopman says,

The portability and high capacity of flash drives is creating headaches for many companies. The Net is swarming with stories of the ill-use, illegal activities, and security concerns as more and more of these devices are lost and stolen or used to steal sensitive information.

The site links to reports on the theft or loss of flash drives containing information as diverse as military secrets, patient data, and confidential child welfare cases, all because the drives are convenient, easy to use, take up no space, are inexpensive and easily obtainable in any electronics store.

 

What all this means to legal departments, of course, is that flash drives have to be accounted for when complying with record retention policies, and in planning electronic document production for litigation purposes. In some environments - the Pentagon being a notable example ("Pentagon Bans Flash Drives"), flash drives have been outlawed entirely due to security concerns.  

But even if national security isn’t your bailiwick, record retention policies should take into account information stored on flash drives and all other e-document locations, as noted by Robert Miller, in The Why and How of Document Retention Programs,” e-files can be stored using an array of portable media such as microfilm, flash drives, CDs and DVDs; or on devices such as Blackberries, Palm Pilots, laptops or even iPods. Additionally, files can be housed on systems such as workstations, servers, corporate e-mail systems, shared network drives, or even the company’s voicemail system.  Clearly, the chore of locating and identifying all discoverable documents is a lot more complicated now than when they existed solely in a metal file cabinet!

 

It does not take a “stab” in the dark to create a sound document retention policy because specific document retention periods are set forth in several sources of law which include the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and other federal and state statutes. You can minimize the risk of unknowingly having a “smoking gun” document act as a “silencer” at a time when you least expect it by ensuring that your company has developed a document retention policy that covers the retention and disposition of physical records and all sources of electronic records. By doing so, you’ll certainly sleep easier - and you won’t wake up to a horse’s head in your bed.

"If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say..."

 

One of history’s most quotable women, Dorothy Parker, said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me.” She also said, “I don't care what is written about me, so long as it isn't true.”   

Unfortunately, few of us share Dorothy Parker’s sentiments, and with the advent of websites, blogs and other electronic storehouses of information, it has become increasingly easy to find ourselves anonymously defamed or knowingly or unknowingly defaming others. Lawsuits regarding defamation on the Internet are becoming increasingly common, and electronic discovery is critical to the prosecution and defense of such cyberspace abuse.

In one such case, Allcare Dental Management LLC v. Zrinyi, Greene, and John or Jane Does I-V, Unknown Persons, 2008 WL 4649131 (D. Idaho Oct. 20, 2008), a dental practice filed suit for defamatory statements made about their practice on a website called “Complaintsboard.com,” and also sought the identification of the anonymous posters of the statements. As part of the discovery process, they subpoenaed the provider, Cable One, seeking the identity of the Doe Defendants’ names and contact information. Since this information is protected under the Cable Communication Policy Act, disclosure of the requested information had to be requested pursuant to a court order.

In this case, the Court granted the Plaintiff’s Motion to serve their Rule 45 subpoena duces tecum on Cable One for the identity of anonymous persons who posted the alleged defamatory statements to the website, but for no other visitors to the site. The Court also required Cable One to preserve all electronically stored data responsive to the Rule 45 subpoena. Further, the Court required that a copy of its Order and the subpoena be served on all affected subscribers and/or account users, and those parties were given 14 days to file a motion to quash the subpoena. Imagine the chagrin of being served with that Order and subpoena and learning that your assumed “anonymity” is just an illusion!

The moral of this story is simple and two-fold: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it in cyberspace; and there’s no such thing as an “anonymous” posting. Or, to quote John Perry Barlow: “Relying on the government to protect your privacy is like asking a peeping tom to install your window blinds.” The illusion of online privacy is just that - an illusion.

No One Escapes E-Discovery Obligations

Two e-discovery articles this week highlight a theme to remember:  no one escapes document retention and e-discovery obligations.

You think you can't lose.  The facts are on your side.  The law is on your side.  You have a slam-dunk motion for summary judgment.  Or three slam-dunk motions.  You can coast through until you prevail on the merits, right?  WRONG  Leonard Deutchman in the Pennsylvania Law Weekly looks at two of the more-famous e-discovery cases from 2008 - Qualcomm, Inc. v. Broadcom Corp. and Keithley v. The Homestore.com, Inc. - both of which demonstrate that even when you prevail on the merits, only a fool disregards her document retention and e-discovery obligations. 

In Qualcomm, the appellate court reversed an adverse judgment on the merits in the underlying patent infringement case, but  upheld the lower court's findings and rulings as to spoliation and other e-discovery violations, including sanctions imposed on counsel.  In Keithley, although the court ruled for the defendants on the merits, it adopted the magistrate judge's sanctions recommendations for spoliation of evidence and late production of discovery.  The only bright spot for defendants on the e-discovery front was that the court denied the plaintiffs' motions for adverse inference instructions, solely on the grounds that defendants' victory on the merits mooted that issue. 

Even the leader of the free world isn't exempt from document retention and e-discovery obligations.  As this Associated Press article on findlaw.com reports, on January 15, Magistrate Judge John Facciola "tore into" the Bush White House, finding that the administration had failed to meet its obligations to preserve ESI, including millions of missing e-mails.  And Judge Facciola isn't the only one hitting the White House hard over its document retention obligations; just the day before, U.S. District Judge Henry Kennedy issued an order requiring the White House to search for emails created between March 2003 and October 2005.

Lessons learned?  No matter who you are - from the most powerful person in the world to the owner of a small company - and no matter how good your case, you ignore your document preservation and e-discovery obligations at your own peril.

Have you considered preparing a "Data Map?"

At the start or even the anticipation of litigation, in-house counsel are often under the gun to begin identifying the e-data that has been (or could potentially be) requested by opposing counsel. For many, this can be a messy process of identifying individual holders or "custodians" of potentially responsive documents and then further identifying  where and how this e-data has been stored. In a recent article in The Corporate Counselor, posted on In-House Counsel Online, Brett Tarr explored the practice of "Data Mapping" as a potential strategy to streamline and improve efficiency of an e-discovery response.

The concept of data mapping is relatively straightforward.  As Tarr explained, a data map:

"provides legal and IT departments with a guide to the employees, processes, technology, types of data, and business areas, along with the physical and virtual location of data throughout the company."

In other words, a properly constructed data map should allow in-house counsel to identify not only the location of potentially responsive e-data, but also its availability and format.  Those familiar with the onus of going through the e-discovery process are well-schooled in the difficulties that arise, firstly in the identification of relevant custodians of the e-data, and secondly, in determining the actual location of the data.  A properly constructed data map could significantly reduce the time spent in preparation for any outside vendors who may be required to actually extract the data.

Tarr provides four tips to create and maintain a data map:

  1. Involve other departments and managers early on;
  2. Develop logical, comprehensive practices for managing data;
  3. Create clear pathways of communication; and
  4. Don't just create, update

Central to any useful data map is a strong collaboration between the legal and IT departments, especially because of the differing vantage points each department may have with respect to e-data. By completing this process well in advance of any litigation, and as a matter of business practice, in-house counsel will have already eliminated one of the most time consuming aspects of responding to e-discovery requests, and also have readily available the information needed to determine (and potentially argue), the cost/burden of producing certain data versus the benefits of said production.

To read more about data mapping and details on Brett Tarr's tips, you can find his article at this link.

FRE 502: A Reasonable Step to Reduce Costs?

I’m sad to report that despite the political hype, FRE 502 is not likely to provide you with any substantial cost savings related to your electronically stored information ("ESI") and document productions. This is because FRE 502 does not eliminate the need for one of the largest discovery costs - namely, the dreaded page-by-page document review (not to mention the ensuing carpal tunnel of the finger). 

FRE 502 merely codifies the current law of the majority of federal courts on the inadvertent production of privileged material – i.e., there can be no waiver of privilege on inadvertently disclosed documents if you took reasonable steps to prevent and rectify the disclosure.  But what reasonable steps? Although omitted from the law itself, the FRE Advisory Committee informs us that: 

A party that uses advanced analytical software applications and linguistic tools in screening for privilege and work product may be found to have taken reasonable steps to prevent inadvertent disclosure.

And that may actually be helpful, but for the fact that the federal courts have long recognized that such screening comes with limitations and risks because the proper selection and implementation of such technology involves both legal and scientific knowledge.  Is it really a reasonable step to use methods judicially deemed "not foolproof?"

Moreover, cases interpreting the new FRE 502 reiterate and do not eliminate the need for attorneys to conduct a page-by-page privilege review:

Rhoads Industries, Inc. v. Building Materials Corp., No. 07-4756 (E.D. Penn. Nov. 14, 2008): upheld privilege only on inadvertently disclosed documents that were manually reviewed and logged by an attorney.  

Relion, Inc. v. Hydra Fuel Cell Corp., 2008 WL 5122828 (D. Or. Dec. 4, 2008): held that privilege was waived because, even though the issue of inadvertent production was raised by opposing counsel, the holder failed to conduct a page by page review.

Bottom line: keep flexing that finger – at least for now!

E-Discovery World Wars: The Privacy Menace

Descriptions of the art of litigation are ingrained in ancient history, from Greek scrolls yellowed with age to stone hieroglyphs engraved into the pyramid walls of the Egyptians. But these early insular legal systems did not have to deal with what is becoming one of the more daunting aspects of e-discovery: international boundaries. Today, the overseas offices of many United States corporations have been dragged into the painstaking, and often painful, process of e-discovery. Many more corporations, based entirely in foreign countries, have found themselves subject to e-discovery requests from the United States as well.

When requesting e-discovery internationally, foreign information privacy laws must be respected. The dilemma is that foreign countries have placed restrictions on the international transmission of data that can present high, sometimes insurmountable, barriers to United States e-discovery.  

European nations, having experienced first-hand the horrors related to invasions of privacy and release of personal information in World War II, are more protective of individual privacy than the United States to begin with. To compound matters, United States discovery obligations are more demanding -- by far -- than those in virtually every other jurisdiction in the world.  In response, foreign nations have scrambled to protect their citizens' privacy by placing stringent legislative restrictions on the transmission of electronic data.  French privacy “blocking statutes" (as observed by numerous courts) were designed solely for "frustrating the jurisdiction of the United States" and "provid[ing foreigners] with tactical weapons and bargaining chips" in U.S. courts.  Other countries have enacted similar legislation. 

The resulting differences between U.S. and non-U.S. discovery limits are considerable. For example, when a domestic corporation is required to submit to discovery obligations within the United States, e-mails sent to and received by that corporation's employees can be fair game. But under the European Union Privacy Directive, the privacy of employees is sacred, and electronic transmission of information across international borders can be prohibited without the express consent of the subject of the communication. Because the subordinate nature of the employer-employee relationship may render any such consent inherently coerced, it can be impossible to obtain the required consent of an E.U. corporation's employees in order to produce company e-mails and documents. While the U.S. enjoys a "safe harbor" of sorts with the E.U., this is not a fail-safe solution. The Directive, which has been adopted by numerous countries, is not the only impediment. Recently, China considered similar legislation. At times, U.S. e-discovery has also been threatened by privacy and secrecy laws in Japan, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Surprisingly, there are few court decisions on overseas e-discovery. As a general rule, courts consider a variety of factors in weighing U.S. discovery requests against the stringent privacy requirements of foreign nations. These include: (1) the importance of the documents to the litigation; (2) the respective interests of the United States and the foreign national where the information is located; (3) the degree of specificity in the request; (4) whether the information originated in the United States; (5) the availability of alternate means to obtain the information; (6) the hardship of the foreign party or witness in complying with the discovery requests; and (7) the good faith of the foreign party or witness resisting discovery.

Going forward, corporations and their attorneys should be aware that even an in-depth knowledge of U.S. e-discovery rules is often not enough when requesting e-documents and information from overseas.  As international e-discovery gains traction, a key issue is when and whether the interest of a United States court or litigant is important enough to override the very real foreign state interest presented by foreign privacy legislation.  Courts will have to continue to be mindful of the tension between broad U.S. discovery rules and the restrictive privacy laws of foreign nations.

U.S. Courts Teach Europe the True Meaning of Christmas

Litigation slows around the holidays as all of us, men and women, associate and partner, plaintiff and defendant, join together in the spirit of the season and take some time to remind ourselves why there are some cousins we just don't keep in touch with. But before we bid good riddance to those interminable weeks of peace on earth and good will toward men and look forward to the comfort of acrimonious discovery disputes ahead, let us take a moment to reflect one last time on the true meaning of Christmas, as perhaps first taught us by the U.S. Supreme Court in Societe Nationale Industrielle Aerospatiale v. United States Dist. Ct. for the Southern Dist. of Iowa, 482 U.S. 522 (1987):

It is better to give than to receive sanctions for violating a U.S. discovery order.

This is a universal message, as explained by Peter Selvin and Jed Lowenthal here. Just as Santa may distribute coal to naughty children without regard for the governing statutes of those children's home jurisdictions (many of which contain strict emissions standards which exclude coal from the list of acceptable gift fuels), U.S. courts may distribute sanctions for violations of discovery orders regardless of whether the non-U.S. parties' compliance with those orders would expose the parties to civil or even criminal sanctions in their home jurisdictions. In fact, as Mssrs. Selvin and Lowenthal note, one may not even need to be a party to the litigation to be subject to a discovery order; foreign affiliates of U.S. litigants may be fair game, too, if the court determines that the litigant has control over the information held by the affiliate.

So, if you are a non-U.S. party and are ordered to disclose your discoverable electronically stored information, you will likely be obliged to give that information up. Even if the information is stored on servers in Europe. Even if you aren't a party to the litigation. Even if disclosure would expose you to sanctions back home. Even if you really, really don't want to.

But take heart, non-U.S. readers; things could be worse. For example, this post was only inches away from being titled "U.S. Courts Crash European 'Block' Parties."

Not Just Another "Auld Lang Syne"

On New Year's Eve, we typically gather in a glitter-and-confetti whirl to toast the New Year with champagne…or maybe you're a stay-by-the-fire-and-watch-Times Square type. Whatever your preference to usher in the New Year, you may be interested to know that the singing of the Scottish folk song "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight is not as traditional as you believed - it did not come to yearly use until 1929, when Guy Lombardo's orchestra played it at midnight at the Hotel Roosevelt in New York City, then released a record of it and continued playing it every New Year's Eve afterward.

By the same token, a century from now law firms will no doubt wonder at our tizzy in getting used to electronic document discovery instead of our "traditional" means of producing documents via hard copy. But for now, clinging to the old ways and not making sure that document retention policies are not only up to date but adhered to is costing our clients a mint. As reported by Sheri Qualters in The National Law Journal on December 17, 2008, Kroll Ontrack analyzed 138 reported cases from January to October 2008 and reported that ONE QUARTER of the reported electronic discovery opinions in that period resulted in sanctions issues, while 13 percent addressed preservation and spoliation, 12 percent involved computer forensics protocols and experts, 11 percent, admissibility, and 7 percent, privilege considerations. In one case in the Northern District of California, defendants were sanctioned to the tune of more than a quarter million dollars. Keithley v. The Home Store.Com Inc., No. 3:03-cv-04447 (N.D. Calif., Aug. 12, 2008). That buys a LOT of champagne!

 

It's clear that doing things the way they were done in "old times past" - the literal translation of Auld Lang Syne - will get legal clients in trouble with the Court and could result in heavy financial sanctions. The Court has no "cup of kindness" when it comes to electronic discovery issues. So this New Year, no matter your celebratory preference, resolve to pay attention to your document retention and e-discovery policies, or if you do not have such policies, it's a New Year - a great time to implement a formal policy.

Is E-Discovery Eliminating the Benefits of Arbitration?

The broad scope of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, coupled with electronic discovery and aggressive trial counsel, have increased litigation costs exponentially. (See Arbitration's E-Discovery Conundrum, by Thomas J. Aldrich). As a result, corporations and their legal counsel have recently turned to arbitration in an attempt to escape the huge expansion of document discovery in federal civil litigation. Id. However, as litigation discovery techniques used in federal court trickle down to the arbitration process, the benefits of arbitration - cost-efficiency and speed - have all but disappeared. Id. In an effort to preserve the benefits of arbitration, while balancing the need to discover documents with the cost and burden involved with producing them, many arbitral institutions have developed comprehensive guidelines for dealing with discovery and resolving disputes. Id. In his article entitled "Arbitration's E-Discovery Conundrum", Thomas J. Aldrich provides a rundown of the discovery guidelines propounded by arbitral institutions in an effort to "stem the tide of runaway discovery in arbitration." Id.  Read on to see a summary of his findings.

The International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution

The arbitration committee for the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution has proposed guidelines for preventing overzealous discovery in arbitral proceedings. Section 1(a) of the protocol reads: "[a]rbitration is not for the litigator who will 'leave no stone unturned…' [Z]ealous advocacy must be tempered by an appreciation for the need for speed and efficiency… [D]isclosure should be granted only as to those items that are relevant and materials for which a party has a substantial, demonstrable need." Id. The guidelines state that the disclosure of electronic documents shall follow the general principles of narrow focus and balancing cost, burden and accessibility with the need for disclosure. "Production of e-materials from a wide range of users or custodians, which is both costly and burdensome, should not be permitted without a showing of extraordinary need." Id. 

 

The guidelines also contain a list of various "levels" of disclosure from which the parties may select. Mr. Aldrich summarizes the levels or "modes" of disclosure succinctly when he states:

"Mode A, the narrowest scope, provides for no prehearing disclosure other than copies of printouts of e-documents to be presented in support of each party's case. Mode B provides that each side produce e-documents maintained by an agreed limited number of designated custodians, that the disclosure be limited to e-documents created from the date of signing the arbitration agreement to the date of filing the request for arbitration, and that production be limited to e-documents from primary storage facilities. In other words, no documents from backup servers, backup tapes, cell phones, personal digital assistants or voicemails will be produced. And no information obtained through forensic methods will be admitted in evidence." Id.

"Mode C provides for a larger number of specified custodians and a wider time period than Mode B, and also provides that the parties may agree to allow documents obtained through forensic methods to be admitted. Finally, Mode D provides for disclosure of electronic information regarding nonprivileged matters relevant to any party's claim or defense, subject to limitations of reasonableness, duplicativeness and undue burden. It is a broad level of disclosure similar to that required or permitted under FRCP Rule 26." Id. 

 

The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators

 

The article also discusses the Chartered Institute Protocol for E-Disclosure in Arbitration, which was put into effect in October 2008. See Chartered Institute Protocol for E-Disclosure. The purpose of the Protocol is "(1) to achieve early consideration of disclosure of documents in electronic form ('e-disclosure') in those cases where early consideration is necessary and appropriate for the avoidance of unnecessary cost and delay; (2) to focus the parties and the tribunal on e-disclosure issues for consideration, including the scope and conduct of e-disclosure (if any); and (3) to address e-disclosure issues by allowing the parties to adopt this protocol as part of their agreement to arbitrate a potential or existing dispute." Id. The Protocol delineates what is necessary for "early consideration;" the necessary contents of a request for disclosure of electronic documents; how electronic documents are to be produced; and the procedure and allocation of costs associated with electronic disclosure of documents. Id. 

 

International Centre for Dispute Resolution

 

Mr. Aldrich also discusses the rules for the exchange of information promulgated by the ICDR, the international arm of the American Arbitration Association. See ICDR Guidelines for Arbitrator Concerning Exchanges of Information. The Guidelines provide that "while arbitration must be a fair process, care must also be taken to prevent the importation of procedural measures and devices from different court systems, which may be considered conducive to fairness within those systems, but which are not appropriate to the conduct of arbitrations in an international context and which are inconsistent with an alternative form of dispute resolution that is simpler, less expensive, and more expeditious." Id. Under the Guidelines, the only documents to be exchanged are those on which a party relies. The Guidelines specifically address electronic documents, and state:

 

"When documents to be exchanged are in electronic form, the party in possession of such documents may make them available in the form (which may be paper copies) most convenient and economical for it, unless the tribunal determines, on application and for good cause, that there is a compelling need for access to the documents in a different form. Requests for documents maintained in an electronic form should be narrowly focused and structured to make searching for them as economical as possible. The Tribunal may direct testing or other means of focusing and limiting any search." Id. 

 

Conclusion

 

While it is obvious that some arbitral institutions are taking steps to regulate discovery in arbitration proceedings, others lag behind. Even with these protocols, it is up to the parties and the arbitrators to enforce them, "stem the tide of runaway e-discovery in arbitration" and preserve the benefits associated with alternative dispute resolution. For a full discussion of these issues, click here to read "Arbitration's E-Discovery Conundrum" by Thomas J. Aldrich.

10 Things You Should Never Put in an E-mail

Want a hint as to the types of phrases found in emails that are going to catch the eye of a lawyer looking for a smoking gun in a lawsuit?

Roger Mathus of Death by Email quotes Elizabeth Charnock, CEO of Cataphora, on 10 things you should probably never write in an e-mail:

  1. “I could get into trouble for telling you this, but…”
  2. “Delete this email immediately.”
  3. “I really shouldn’t put this in writing.”
  4. “Don’t tell So-and-So.” Or, “Don’t send this to So-and-So.”
  5. “She/He/They will never find out.”
  6. “We’re going to do this differently than normal.”
  7. “I don’t think I am supposed to know this, but…”
  8. “I don’t want to discuss this in e-mail. Please give me a call.”
  9. “Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.”
  10. “Is this actually legal?”

Ms. Charnock developed her "top ten list" based on e-mails and documents her company has analyzed for clients.

After reviewing Ms. Charnock's list, Matus advises, "If you find yourself typing one of these phrases, perhaps you should delete the entire e-mail."  In other words, when in doubt, think before you press that "send" button.

Do you have other favorites?  Feel free to share them with us in the Comments.

Predicting the Course of E-Discovery in 2009

As the new year approaches, many are wondering what e-discovery will look like in 2009.  The question is now generating some interesting discussion in the blogosphere.  I think Ralph Losey hit the key issue on the head this last week in a comment posted to EDD Update.  The thrust of the post is that litigation will be on the rise next year, but that corporate budgets will be tighter, leading everyone to look for ways to make the e-discovery process more efficient and cost-effective.  

In discussing the effects that leaner budgets will have on the e-discovery process, Losey makes, among others, two important predictions.  The first is that we will see "an explosion of metrics and proportionality arguments to drastically reduce the amount of ESI to be reviewed and produced."  The second is that in-house counsel may "finally become selective and pick new lawyers that get it, instead of their old stand-byes that don't."  On the latter point, he further offers his "doubt [that] the budget will permit the cronyism system to continue." 

I fully agree with Losey's prediction that companies will have to rethink their e-discovery choices, but I think there is more to be said about how to make smart decisions when it comes to e-discovery.  To be sure, every company - and outside counsel - should already be looking at ways to achieve measurable efficiencies when it comes to e-discovery.  And certainly, companies will be taking a harder look at the outside counsel they hire to do this work.  As Losey suggests, some firms "get it," while others don't.  A law firm with experience can really make the e-discovery process much more efficient, and much less expensive.  For this reason, we're already seeing many companies move towards hiring national e-discovery counsel.  I am confident that these trends will continue, especially in a tight economic market. 

I am concerned, however, that tighter budgets may lead to the slowing, or even the reversal of another very important trend - that is, the trend towards taking a proactive approach to e-discovery issues.  A quick example illustrates the point.  In recent years, many companies have realized the benefit of creating a plan for managing, and responding to discovery requests that call for their electronic data.  As part of that process, companies map their networks, so they know where their data is, and develop protocols for responding to requests for electronic discovery.  As budgets tighten, some companies may not be willing to pay the up-front cost of developing these data management plans.  In doing so, companies who are trying to save money may be making a costly mistake.  The worst time to begin the process of understanding your network - where you have data, how it is stored, how to retrieve it efficiently - is when you are in the middle of litigation and have to respond to discovery requests.  Litigation moves too quickly and gathering electronic data can be a time consuming process.  In the rush to comply with demands for electronic discovery, those who have not planned ahead will not be able to think through their response as thoroughly, and will almost certainly see inefficiencies, work that has to be redone, or costly errors, as a result. 

Making the right e-discovery decision will often mean different things for different companies.  What is universal, however, is that the best decisions are usually made by those companies that have the best advice from those who really understand the e-discovery process.  As Losey suggests in his post, those who understand the process will be the ones who have the competitive edge.  That will be particularly true in the tight economy of 2009.

My Boss May Own My Facebook Page !?

Social networking websites have taken the world by storm.  On MySpace and Facebook, users lovingly chronicle the intimate details of their lives, post their current relationship status and feelings, provide spontaneous opinions, and upload off-the-cuff photographs.  Even the more professional networking site LinkedIn, is now trying to become more social by adding a blog application.  Unfortunately, users often post without considering the trail of evidential bread crumbs they leave in their wake.  Just last week, Virgin Atlantic Airways fired 13 members of a cabin crew after they allegedly posted inappropriate comments on Facebook.  And today, investigators visit these sites as a matter of course when looking into an individual for purposes of employment, college admission, background checks for criminal activity, and so on.

This growing use of social network information raises two important questions for the corporate world in this new age of electronic discovery:

1. Are social networking sites accessed using an employer's computer, fair game when it comes to electronic discovery and document production?

2. If social networking pages are produced as part of electronic discovery, would this information then be admissible in court?

First, employees will notice that their personal workplace computers sometimes "remember" their MySpace or Facebook password -- not to mention gmail, hotmail, yahoo, and other accounts -- when they sign on.  That's because the website browser takes note of and saves the password.  But here's the catch.  Because the password exists on the employer's hard drive, that password and therefore access to the social networking page, are literally within the possession, custody, and control of the employer.  With the right IT know-how, the employer can easily access the site.  The unanswered question is, is the social network page in the legal "possession, custody and control" of the employer?  What happens when the employee or employer gets sued, and the social networking page becomes responsive to document requests?

It may depend on whether the adverse party is the employer or a third entity.  In the case of the employer being sued, perhaps the employee is alleging discrimination in the workplace, and has a discussion on his Facebook page about how he made up the whole story.  Does the employer have the right to access the Facebook page on its own?  If not, does the employer have the right to demand images of the page in their document requests?  The employer's argument would be that by accessing the page at work, the employee waived any right to claim that the site is private and personal.  An even broader argument is that by posting personal information on a world-wide web, the employee has automatically given up any pretense of personal privacy at all, to the world at large.

A different implication arises if the employer is being sued by a third party for, say, legal malpractice.  The third party does not have direct access to the Facebook page or the password. Does the third party have the right to request the employee's Facebook website through document requests to the employer?  The employer, who has the password in its records, may be able to access the Facebook page.  The answer hinges on whether the Facebook page is in the possession, custody or control of the employer, thereby requiring the employer to produce it to the third party.

Second, even assuming that the Facebook page must be produced, it still may not be admissible in court.  Because websites are amorphous creatures, one must take a "snapshot" of the page in order to preserve a site as it existed at a particular moment.  This process raises numerous evidentiary issues under the admissibility rules for standard electronically stored information. This includes considerations of relevancy, hearsay, authenticity, the "best evidence" rule and undue prejudice. See Lorraine v. Markel Am. Ins. Co., 241 F.R.D. 534, 538 (D. Md. May 2007).

In sum, more people sign up for social networking websites every day.  It is only a matter of time before attorneys routinely request social networking pages during certain types of lawsuits.  The law is still uncertain as to when and whether such pages must be produced, and whether those pages are going to be admissible in court.  Employers should be mindful of these issues, and should impress upon their employees the dangers of posting inappropriate materials on their social networking pages.  Similarly, employees should be aware that what they post -- even if they explicitly limit access to their page to friends only -- may someday come back to haunt them.

Slaying the e-Discovery Dragon: Are Law Schools Up to the Task?

Ask any lawyer whether the typical law school course is "practical," and you'll likely receive a resounding "No!" - after they stop laughing, of course. But bloggers have stumbled onto a novel idea - why not teach law students practical skills for dealing with e-discovery issues before they are sent out into the legal community? In a recent article, William Hamilton, a commercial litigator at Holland & Knight and an adjunct professor at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law, pointed out that "e-discovery failures continue, apparently unabated" and "many of the dramatic e-discovery failures of the past two years have involved firms at or near the top of the profession." See The E-Discovery Crisis: An Immediate Challenge to Our Nation's Law Schools, November 5, 2008." Some experts believe that "attorney incompetence in e-discovery is so widespread that it presents a massive ethical crisis across the entire legal profession." Id.  So why not educate the next generation of lawyers about the best methods for dealing with e-discovery? These law students can bring a new level of e-discovery competence to law firms, government agencies, and clients. Id. It may be the best method by which the profession can slay the e-discovery dragon and avoid the pitfalls and sanctions of the "e-discovery crisis." 

In his article, published as a guest feature on the e-Discovery Team blog and the Paralegal Profs blog, Professor Hamilton does a thorough analysis of the impact law schools can have on the legal profession by teaching courses on e-discovery. Hamilton himself teaches a course on e-discovery at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law. He points out that most law schools are "blithely continuing to teach civil procedure as if nothing or little is happening 'out there.'" Id. All while the civil justice system "flounders under the weight of digital revolution." Id. Hamilton compares the inaction of law schools to "fastidiously arranging the deck chairs while the Titanic goes under." Id. He calls on law schools to educate young lawyers about the importance of e-discovery. After all, law schools are best equipped to address the e-discovery crisis, because they "operate in an educational environment absent crushing time and business restraints. Law students have the time to think, work, and struggle with e-discovery in a tolerant, incubating environment." Id. Practicing lawyers, on the other hand, are forced to attempt to learn best practices for dealing with e-discovery through CLE programs and seminars, all while trying to deal with the "crush of billable hours and the economics of the modern law firm." Id. Hamilton goes on to describe what a "practical" e-discovery course would look like.  He insists that "teaching e-discovery means working through each of the e-discovery phases outlined in the EDRM model with similar hands-on experimental approaches." Id. He also emphasizes that the students must not be lectured, they must "do." In his own course, Hamilton emphasizes practical experience, and the students conduct mock "interviews" using IT professionals from the University of Florida's Legal Technology Institute as their subjects. See Hamilton's article for a full walk-through of a course in his classroom. 

Professor Hamilton's point is a good one: the legal profession can begin to stop the bleeding from the e-discovery crisis by insisting that the new generation of lawyers be educated about e-discovery issues. Some law schools, like the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida, are already on board. But how likely are law schools across the country to answer Hamilton's call? After all, law schools have been historically slow to offer practical coursework for their students. But as sanctions from e-discovery violations build, law schools may be forced to pull their heads out of the sand and address the critical role they could play in educating the profession about e-discovery. Only time will tell if law schools will answer the call.