Nine Points Impacting E-Discovery Costs

There was a time when state court civil disputes did not involve the risk of astronomical e-discovery costs. That time has passed. Just as e-discovery in federal courts reaches some semblance of uniformity, the fifty (very independent) states have begun to realize that discovery in the Digital Age will necessarily involve "staggering" amounts of electronically stored information (ESI).

Since 2003, 30 states have adopted rules or enacted statutes that specifically address ESI management, preservation and production in civil disputes. New York and seven other states have developed their own methods for managing e-discovery, while California (and 21 states like it) generally follows the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The remaining 20 states (e.g., Illinois) have yet to adopt any e-discovery rules, but most recognize "the increasing reliance on computer technology," and some explicitly (by judicial interpretation of existing discovery rules) obligate civil litigants to produce ESI as part of their state's existing discovery obligations.

Although all 50 states have somewhat different approaches to managing e-discovery, there are a few trends in how states treat e-discovery that impact costs.

Some of the important trends include:

1.   Discretionary Cost-Shifting. While the federal rules are silent on who should bear the cost of retrieving "inaccessible data," certain states (e.g., Texas) require that a judge order a party requesting inaccessible data to incur the cost of producing it. Other states (like California and Mississippi) give the judge the option to shift the cost of producing "inaccessible" ESI. Given that the retrieval and production of "inaccessible data" can easily cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the discretion (or obligation) to shift those costs can have a significant impact on the litigation budget.
 

2.   The Meet and Confer. Some states (like New York and Delaware) have made the "meet and confer" the cornerstone of their methodology for managing e-discovery, while other states have abandoned the requirement altogether. Do not miss this opportunity to seize control of the e-discovery process. Skipping an early “meet and confer” may appear to save money and avoid the aggravation of dealing with the "unreasonable" opposition; however, more progressive literature on e-discovery suggests that the "meet and confer" actually saves costs in the long-run and helps insulate the parties against the risk of e-discovery "do-overs" and even more severe sanctions.
 

3.   Safe Harbor. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(e) forbids a court from ordering sanctions against a party who has destroyed potentially relevant ESI "as a result of the routine, good-faith operation of an electronic information system." Although practitioners debate how "safe" the harbor really is in federal courts, several states have eliminated the "safe harbor" altogether. This means that litigation holds in state courts should be implemented as soon as litigation is reasonably anticipated.


4.   Sanctions. It also is important to know what activities (or failure to act) will prompt the court in your jurisdiction to levy sanctions. Counsel should not assume (especially in states that don't follow the federal rules) that state courts will levy sanctions in the same manner and for the same conduct as federal courts. This analysis will inform your discovery strategy and help insulate against the risk of state court sanctions.

 

Although there is no substitute for becoming familiar with each state's e-discovery rules before formulating an e-discovery plan, there are a few fundamental practices that will help manage e-discovery costs (and help avoid sanctions) regardless of your jurisdiction.  Savvy litigants should:

1.   Budget for e-discovery costs in every case (based on the rules of the jurisdiction where the dispute is venued) so that you (and your outside counsel) are forced to address how the state's approach to e-discovery might affect your case.


2.   Discuss e-discovery issues and attempt reach agreement about the parameters of ESI preservation and production as early in the case as practical regardless of whether your jurisdiction requires a “meet and confer.” If the state court rules do not require a “meet and confer” and the opposition refuses, ask the court to order the parties to meet and discuss e-discovery.


3.   Know the most likely circumstances where the jurisdiction has awarded sanctions in e-discovery cases.


4.   Oversee the data collection process in your cases, but try to avoid having your internal IT department collect the data.


5.   Document the steps taken to prevent the destruction of potentially relevant ESI
In additional to local counsel, good resources to check on current state court discovery rules and decisions are maintained by Kroll Ontrack.
 

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

Bill Hamilton's Seven Deadly Sins of the Rule 26(f) 'Meet-and-Confer' Conference

**This article was published by Bill Hamilton, a partner at Quarles & Brady and Chairman of the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS), www.aceds.org, the member organization for professionals in the private and public sectors who work in the field of e-discovery.**

 

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f) requires parties in litigation to "…confer as soon as practicable … [and to]…state the parties’ views and proposals on …any issues about disclosure or discovery of electronically stored information….."  Proper handling of these "meet and confer" sessions about electronically stored information (ESI) and e-discovery is crucial to a winning litigation strategy. Don't think of the session as a procedural formality and just go through the motions.  STOP!! Take a deep breath and think.  The Rule 26(f) conference is where you begin the management of the opposition, and sets the structure of a case's e-discovery process. Your goal is to minimize your e-discovery costs and risks and to make sure you will be able to get the data you need from the opposition.

 

Avoid the Seven Deadly Sins of the Rule 26(f) conference and you’ll be well on your way to making e-discovery work for your case.

Deadly Sin #1: Failure to Set the Agenda. Come prepared to the Rule 26(f) conference . . . and make sure your opponent is prepared. Write a letter to the opposing counsel saying what you expect to accomplish at the conference, what information you will bring to the conference, and what information you expect from the opposition. Allowing the opponent to come to the conference unprepared wastes time and money, and impedes achieving your conference goals. If the opposition shows up at the conference “empty handed,” let the opposition know that you will advise the court of any further failures. Additionally, re-schedule the conference immediately. You need to insist on a genuine, meaningful Rule 26(f) conference for the very reasons the opposition is intent on avoiding it. Don’t let them escape this opportunity for you to structure electronic discovery in a way that works best for you.

Deadly Sin # 2: Failure to Manage Preservation.  While your instincts at the beginning of litigation may be to keep information close to the vest, disclose your preservation decisions at the Rule 26(f) conference. Be prepared to explain them. You cannot preserve all client data. Unnecessary preservation takes time and money and is wasteful. For example, it is probably not necessary to preserve forensic images of laptops and desktops or Internet browsing histories. It is also unlikely that back-up media containing unimportant and cumulative data will be needed. Disclosure allows you to sleep at night. If unpreserved data suddenly becomes relevant, your initial disclosure will help you avoid or minimize judicial sanctions. Demand the same from your opponent. Their data is part of your case. Make sure it is secured.

Deadly Sin # 3: Failure to Corral E-Discovery Limit and phase e-discovery. E-discovery is typically not an "all at once" game. Most cases can only afford so much e-discovery. E-discovery is bounded by the dollar value and importance of the case. ESI volume is often staggering. Present a sensible plan to corral the important data. Only a handful of documents are likely to be used at trial. Why process and review the data of 20 company employees who might have some marginally relevant ESI when a few key players can be identified quickly? Suggest starting with these two or three key employees and building from there. Reach agreement on a flexible, rolling e-discovery plan. Include this phased plan in the scheduling order that is entered pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16. Be sure to disclose the locations of electronically stored information that you consider not reasonably accessible under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) (2) (B). Be prepared to defend your claims. When the opposition declares ESI locations not reasonably accessible, put them to the test. Don’t accept generalized representations of counsel. Technology moves on. Much of what was once thought not reasonable accessible is today readily available. Demand the details, and consult an expert on ESI accessibility.

Deadly Sin #4: Failure to Set Search Expectations.  Make sure your opponent knows you will insist on search quality and demonstrable, statistically valid recall. High recall means the search is pulling most, if not all, the responsive documents. The opposition will normally be attentive to search precision and not pulling false positives, i.e. unresponsive documents. Don’t let the opposition test for precision and not test for recall. Find out how the opposition will search the data and whether the opposition will employ manual searching or automated search tools using key words and concept filters. Make sure your opponent knows that search quality is your focus. It is your job to deter sloppy, casual searching for the data you may need to win your case. Your client deserves the best possible data, not just what the other side happens to find. Be sure to meet your own search standards or you will not be able to effectively call the opposition to task. Don't settle for a "don't ask, don't tell" strategy and blind reliance on what the opposition produces.

Deadly Sin #5: Failure to Specify the Production Format. Establish the production format. You usually get only one bite at the production apple. Make sure you get the data in a format and with a load file that works for the technology you will be using. The opposition will not know how you need the data delivered unless you tell them. Don’t wait for delivery and then complain. You should reach agreement on how you want the electronically stored information from your opponent produced and how you will produce your own. Do you intend to produce data in "native" (meaning a copy of the original electronic file) or in TIFF or PDF formats with load files containing extracted searchable text? What metadata will be produced? Discuss how each side's data will be organized and delivered and what metadata will be produced. If you are using a vendor, get the vendor’s delivery specifications and provide it early to the opposition. Don’t let the opposition decide what format is reasonably useable for the case.

Deadly Sin # 6: Failure to Protect Against Privilege Waiver from Inadvertent Production. Make sure to get the entry of a court order, under Federal Rules of Evidence 502, protecting you against inadvertent disclosure of privileged documents and providing that any determination of non-waiver arising from an inadvertent production is also binding on state court proceedings. Negotiate a written protocol with the opposition as to the procedures to be followed if a privileged document is discovered to have been inadvertently produced. Mistakes happen even after rigorous - and expensive - review and double checking. Don’t think your production will always be flawless. The greater the volume of ESI, the greater the chance of mistake and error. Neither automated searches nor human reviewers are 100% perfect.

Deadly Sin # 7: Failure to Document. Don't let what you won at the Rule 26(f) conference get lost in the fog of competing - and faulty - memories. Confirm in writing all the agreements and understandings. No one will recall a year later what transpired unless you confirm it in writing. Memorialize the conference as you would a settlement agreement or a contract. This documentation is your roadmap to a successful case.

 

Avoiding these Seven Deadly Sins will help you take control of your case and manage e-discovery. Taking control means taking control of the Rule 26(f) conference and achieving your e-discovery goals, a crucial component of any winning strategy.
 

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**Bill Hamilton will be a featured speaker at the ACEDS 2011 Annual E-Discovery Conference on March 23-25, 2011 at the Westin Diplomat in Hollywood, Florida.  For more information and to sign up for the Conference -- a chance to learn the ins and outs of e-discovery through hands-on experience, practical guidance and interactive learning from 28 experts in the field -- visit /conferencewww.aceds.org** 

WI Supreme Court Continues to Debate E-Discovery Amendments

          

On July 6, 2010, the Wisconsin Supreme Court set the date for the next and final hearing regarding amendments to the state rules of civil procedure that relate to the discovery of electronically stored information. The hearing will take place on September 30, 2010 at 9:30 a.m. at the State Capitol in Madison. The Court will accept written comments from the public until August 31, 2010. 

By a 4-3 vote, the Court has already adopted amendments to Wis. Stat. §§ 802.10, 804.01, 804.08, 804.09, 804.12 and 805.07 to address e-discovery. However, the amendments are subject to revision following public comment and the hearing on September 30, 2010. The amendments will become effective January 1, 2011. 

As the 4-3 voting split indicates, the Court is not of one mind regarding the amendments. While all of the Justices agree that the rules should be amended to address e-discovery, there are three key issues regarding which the Court remains divided: 

 

(1) whether the rules should require parties to meet and confer on e-discovery at the outset;

(2) whether the rules should include a “claw-back” provision; and

(3) whether the rules should expressly provide for cost-shifting. 

 

Currently, the amendments include a mandatory meet and confer provision regarding e-discovery and do not include claw back or cost shifting provisions.  Under the circumstances, and because the Court is divided, it looks as though the public has a meaningful opportunity not only to be heard, but to affect the ultimate outcome.

In large part, the disagreement between the Justices is based on their varied understandings regarding what cases the rules are most likely to apply to, because not every case involves significant e-discovery.  The dichotomy is as follows:

  • Justices who focus on smaller, less complicated disputes tend to oppose mandatory e-discovery conferences as well as express “claw back” and cost-shifting procedures. 
  • Justices who focus on complex commercial disputes, which frequently involve extremely costly and extensive e-discovery tend to be in favor of mandatory e-discovery conferences, claw back and cost-shifting provisions. 

 Chief Justice Abrahamson has appealed to the public to focus on these particular issues when submitting written comments. As a result, it is worth considering each side of the debate.

 

Mandatory early e-discovery conferences:  Those in favor of an early, mandatory e-discovery conference argue that if the parties confer before discovery, they can reduce the ultimate cost of discovery and head off future disputes before they develop. Those opposed note that the conference is a waste of time in the majority of cases, which are typically small, less complicated disputes in which neither party will request or receive much in the way of e-discovery. Those opposed also note that there is no rule that would prevent parties in complex commercial disputes from meeting and conferring independently in the absence of a rule requiring the parties to meet.  Current vote:  five in favor of this rule, two against (5-2).

 

Claw back provisions:  Those in favor of an express claw back provision note that in cases involving voluminous e-discovery productions, it is extremely expensive and time-consuming for the producing party to review every single document and file prior to production to determine if it contains privileged information. They argue that a claw back provision is necessary to alleviate the producing parties burden by allowing a party who inadvertently produces privileged information to demand its return and prohibit the receiving party from using the privileged information. Those opposed note that an effective claw back rule is both procedural and evidentiary to the extent that it must address whether the privileged information remains privileged despite having been produced. They argue that the claw back rule is best addressed at a later time, when amendments to the rules of evidence can also be considered to avoid inconsistencies between the procedural and evidentiary provisions. Current vote:  three in favor of this rule, four against (3-4).

 

Cost-shifting:  Finally, those in favor of a provision authorizing cost shifting argue that the court should be expressly empowered to make a requesting party pay for the unduly burdensome discovery it seeks. Those opposed only disagree to the extent that they argue that the current rules of civil procedure already authorize the court to require a requesting party to pay for unduly burdensome discovery. They cite Wisconsin case law in support of their position, and note that federal cases provide persuasive authority regarding the circumstances under which cost shifting is appropriate.  Current vote:  three in favor of this rule, four against (3-4).

 

Whether the current distribution of votes will change likely depends on the volume and nature of written comments the Court receives before August 31, 2010, as well as the persuasiveness of any argument the Court hears at the public hearing on September 30, 2010. 

 

Let the arguments begin . . .

"Say Cheese!": Wisconsin Supreme Court Pictures New E-Discovery Rules . . . TWICE.

Courts are becoming increasingly persnickety when parties fail to discuss e-discovery issues early on in the case, even to the point of imposing sanctions.  The latest railway car attached to this train of thought, can be found in The Cheese State.

Back in January, we reported on the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s public hearing and open administrative conference about the Wisconsin Judicial Council’s petition for an order amending the state rules of civil procedure to deal explicitly with the discovery of electronically stored information (ESI). Those meetings closed with the court asking for a new petition that would rely more heavily on language in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, incorporate commentary to the federal rules, and possibly include new substantive provisions, particularly one requiring that parties confer about e-discovery issues early in any proceeding.

The Judicial Council submitted its amended petition in March.

This amended petition responded to the Court’s requests by more closely tracking language in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and incorporating, within the Judicial Council’s own notes, large chunks of commentary supplied by the federal Advisory Committee on Civil Rules. The amended petition also included a new provision granting Wisconsin courts discretion to order that parties confer about various discovery problems, including the discovery of ESI.

The Court considered the Council’s amended petition at an open administrative conference on April 28 (video here) and quickly zeroed in on the Council’s new discovery conference provision. The justices voiced unanimous approval for all other provisions in the amended petition. But several justices, led by Justice Annette Ziegler, argued that the Council had not gone far enough to encourage parties to confer at an appropriately early time about e-discovery issues.

The Court ultimately voted 5-2 to adopt the Council’s amended petition but to change the discovery conference provision to require that parties always confer about the discovery of ESI -- although not about discovery issues generally -- unless excused by the court. The Court was unable to hammer out exact language to adopt during the April 28 conference, finding that it needed more time to get the drafting right. But the Court agreed to have the new rules ready for publication this fall.

The e-discovery debate, however, will not end there. The new rules will not be effective until January 2011, and the Court agreed to hold yet another hearing in the fall to receive public commentary, particularly about the discovery conference provision.  The Court may still make additional changes before those rules apply to proceedings in the Wisconsin courts. 

Other states have and will follow suit, not to mention federal courts.   So while marshalling one's ESI arsenal and assessing its contents may seem like a time-consuming task so early on in the case, it is becoming increasingly clear that this must be done.  E-discovery discussions -- which necessitate an understanding of yours or your client's ESI capabilities and contents -- need to occur early on in the case.  Courts are no longer buying excuses to the contrary.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Hopes to Adopt E-Discovery Rules Later This Term

On January 21, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held a lengthy public hearing and open administrative conference about the Wisconsin Judicial Council's petition for an order amending the state rules of civil procedure to deal explicitly with the discovery of electronically stored information.  E-Discovery fans with roughly 5 hours to spare may view the entire hearing and conference here.  Everyone else may read on to get the executive summary below. 

Three speakers appeared at the public hearing to oppose the Judicial Council's petition.  For the most part, the Council's opponents argued that the Council had not gone far enough to bring the state rules of civil procedure into conformity with the federal rules.  Their sometimes wide-ranging critique focused most centrally on the Council's decision not to propose amendments: (1) requiring that parties meet early in the proceeding to confer about the discovery of electronically stored information, (2) permitting a party who inadvertently discloses information that is privileged or protected as trial preparation material to "claw back" that information by asserting the claim of privilege or protection after the fact, or (3) explicitly relieving a party from the burden of disclosing electronically stored information that is not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost.  To a lesser extent, the Council's opponents also criticized the Council for declining to propose the creation of a state rule based on Rule 502 of the Federal Rules of Evidence or a provision explicitly authorizing the circuit court to appoint a special master to handle e-discovery disputes.

During the open administrative conference that followed upon the public hearing, the Wisconsin Supreme Court quickly and unanimously resolved to adopt a set of noncontroversial amendments in the near future while also regarding these amendments as the beginning of a work in progress. The chief justice said that she hopes to see a revised petition from the Judicial Council in 2-3 months and then to adopt a set of amendments in May.  This timetable may not hold, however, pending input from the Judicial Council.  "They have day jobs," the chief justice observed of the Council's members.   

The court stated that the Judicial Council's new petition must eliminate some non-substantive differences between language in the Council's proposed amendments and language in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.  The court also recommended that the Council expand its commentary to the proposed amendments, including by incorporating commentary to the federal rules that serve as a basis for the Council's proposal.  Finally, the court asked the Judicial Council to consider -- although only to consider -- proposing some of the additional provisions recommended by those who spoke in opposition to the Council during the public hearing.

The court seemed to take particular interest in the possibility of adopting a provision requiring parties to confer about e-discovery issues early in the proceeding.  Some of the Council's opponents suggested that the proposed amendments could be improved without going so far as to generally require that parties conduct an e-discovery conference and develop a plan addressing e-discovery issues.  One proposal, for example, would give either side the right to demand an e-discovery conference but would impose no requirement absent such a demand.  The court identified the issue of an e-discovery conference as the point of disagreement that the Council and its opponents are most likely to resolve.    

The court also stated that it is open to receiving a revised petition addressing the other issues that  sparked debate during the public hearing.  It acknowledged, however, that most of these issues are controversial and perhaps are best dealt with down the road.

Above all, the court made clear its commitment to adopting a set of e-discovery rules as soon as practicable.  It seems very likely that the court will grant the Judicial Council's revised petition and will wait to deal with the more contentious e-discovery issues in the years to come.