The "Wake-Up Call" Rings Twice: Blawgs Buzzing on the Importance of Thoughtful, Collaborative Search Protocol Design

In reviewing the E-Discovery blawgs this week, a recurring theme emerged:  the pitfalls and limitations of keyword searching, and the need for collaboration and cooperation between counsel to devise effective search protocols.

A number of the E-Discovery blawgs this week featured the ABA Journal's article on improving e-discovery search protocols: "In Search of the Perfect Search."  The thought-provoking article highlights the dismaying lack of progress in finding cost-effective ways to locate and retrieve relevant documents through keyword searching. Bottom line? The way we are doing it now is wrong. Although technology has advanced at a rapid clip over the past twenty years, it has not been able to overcome "the fundamental ambiguity of language": research shows that paralegals and attorneys using simple keyword searches on a group of documents find, on average, only twenty percent of the relevant documents. That is basically the same result research found in similar studies conducted twenty years ago. 

The answer? Using a combination of search methods and tools. The Text Retrieval Conference Legal Track is working on a process and protocol to improve the results of digital searches. According to the article, however, few E-Discovery vendors have participated in the project, perhaps reluctant to have the effectiveness of their own search technologies quantified. Early recommendations from the project on how to improve on the usual keyword search include:

 

  • Working with opposing counsel to identify the best search terms;
  • Negotiating proposed Boolean search strings;
  • Using sampling to see whether the search engines are really finding the relevant documents.

Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, the April 3 post from the Electronic Discovery Blog discusses a Southern District of New York opinion that emphasizes these same points in delivering a "wake-up call" to the local bar "about the need for careful thought, quality control, testing, and cooperation with opposing counsel in designing search terms or 'keywords' to be used to produce emails or other electronically stored information . . . " In that case, a dispute over delays and defects in a Bronx Courthouse construction project, parties sought emails from non-party Hill, the construction management company. One party proposed searching solely with the names of the parties and the names of the project as search terms. The other parties all proposed very broad keywords that would result in production of the entire database. Non-party Hill failed to contribute any helpful suggestions. 

 

As a result, the court was forced to create a search protocol itself, without meaningful assistance from the parties. The court closed its "wake-up call" with some golden words of advice for attorneys practicing in the SDNY, which bear repeating for attorneys and businesses facing e-discovery issues across the country:

 

Electronic discovery requires cooperation between opposing counsel and transparency in all aspects of preservation and production of ESI. Moreover, where counsel are using keyword searches for retrieval of ESI, they at a minimum must carefully craft the appropriate keywords, with input from the ESI’s custodians as to the words and abbreviations they use, and the proposed methodology must be quality control tested to assure accuracy in retrieval and elimination of “false positives.” It is time that the Bar — even those lawyers who did not come of age in the computer era — understand this.

 

Words to live by.

Ode to E-Discovery in 2008

Flooding the internet, they consistently accrue:
Blawgs offering e-discovery 'Year in Review's;
But these go on about facts and case histories too,
Before getting to the point of what you can and can't do.

Why not cut to the chase? Why not give it up straight?
Stripped below are the basics of two thousand and eight.
We'll start off with the general dos and the don'ts;
The haven'ts, the shouldn'ts, the emphatically won'ts.

Quite instructive are Canon's and Keithley's examples
Of "lackadaisical attitude" of defendants. As samples:
Do not find that hard drive behind the client's home door,
When discovery has been ongoing for a year or for more.

Do not stumble on computer reports you said "did not exist"
In an e-folder marked "Reports" that you for some reason missed.
And periodically remind clients and their IT personnel
Of the need to preserve the source code that was written on that Dell.

When you don't produce e-mails, the court said in Peskoff
Explain your search method and why, at production, you scoffed.
But if you contributed to information deletion or loss
And the court orders recovery, you won't get your costs!

Do not say you've e-searched when it's just a tall tale:
This was sanctioned under Rule 26 in R&R Sails.
There were costs sanctions also in Ajaxo, among a larger plethora.
And sanction of termination in Arteria and also Pandora.

In Keithley sanctions were imposed even on a party pro se
And in Schwarzenegger for "foot dragging" and a "litany of delays."
But take heed, warned O'Keefe -- don't request termination on whim.
Do not "strike at a king" unless you're sure you'll "kill him."

O'Keefe (plus Equity, Victor) gave lawyers heart attacks.
For saying that search term effectiveness is for experts to crack;
And that if lawyers pick and evaluate the key words instead
They are moving toward places "where angels fear to tread."

The courts warned that when using a method of searching
Learn first of its weaknesses through prior researching.
This was why D'Onofrio rejected what both experts said
And created a brand new search protocol method instead.

Rule 502 on preventing waiver through "reasonable steps"
Saw decisions pronouncing judgment on various missteps.
Alcon acknowledged that the Rule's very recent debut
Was designed to avoid "expensive, painstaking review."

Despite this pronouncement, some courts have cried "waived"
As to attempts made in hindsight to have privilege saved.
Rhoads found possible waiver for documents mistakenly produced
If they were not in the privilege log – there could be no excuse.

And failure to take measures that could prevent waiver
Like claw-back agreements, or Sedona-type saviors
Led to Victor’s conclusion, which uncommonly held
That the attorney-based privilege at issue was quelled.

Moving on, Mancia addressed the Rule 26 obligation
To meet early on regarding e-preservation,
Proclaiming "adversarial conduct" in e-discovery condemned
As a "burden to the American judicial system."

Some courts dove in early to prevent such discord,
Ordering forensic exams to preserve evidentiary records.
To conserve ephemeral info in Xpel, it was fair;
And when defendants were evading service, it was ordered in Allcare.

Other examples included when a party was unable
or unwilling (in Canon) to preserve/produce on the table.
Just remember: as emphasized in Sterle and Square D
Do not interfere with a court-ordered forensic decree.

Rodman, Reinhard and Younessi addressed nonparty subpoenas
And the protection of confidential, trade secret arenas.
Where nonparties are concerned and offer up much resistance
In-house searches are fine, or neutral expert assistance.

The debates continue on metadata versus non-native tracks
And Aquilar labeled metadata as being "the new black."
That court ordered re-production of non-natives with meta
Though the recipient was required to pay costs, as pro rata.

But not all courts required conversion to a metadata mode.
Extra burden led D'Onofrio to an "only if necessary" ode.
And Autotech said doc requests must actually require "native" --
You can't ask for it in hindsight by getting creative.

Yet if e-documents already exist in original native form
And the requests do not contain any language that informs,
White condemned the conversion to non-native in litigation
Since this is done just to increase the opponent's frustration.

Finally, social networks are making an appearance in law
And becoming a most popular e-discovery draw.
The field is wide open on the extent to which these
Are discoverable and admissible, or cannot be seized.

Flagg required defendants to give ISPs consent
And to produce ISP-retrieved records of texts that it sent.
And in Australia a court made clients even more nervous
By allowing Facebook to be used as a method of service!

We hope you've enjoyed this short "Year in Review"
And that all of this knowledge is useful to you.
We await more developments in two thousand and nine;
And wonder whether and where courts will draw any lines.

 

**For a complete list of the cases discussed above, please contact the author.