"Because Something Must Be Done": The Dangers of Trying to Save E-Discovery Costs by Treating Data Like Paper

This article was published by Wendy Akbar and Bill Hamilton.

Remember the days before the computer, the typewriter, the printing press, and even carbon paper? The days when, to copy a book, one needed to sit down and re-write it by hand? Every letter of every word of every sentence-dappled paragraph, had to be painstakingly copied one by one. With all the technology available today, no publisher would ever consider copying a book by hand rather than re-printing a copy saved on the computer. To do so would be a waste of time -- a return to the Dark Ages.

When it comes to e-discovery, unfortunately, the Dark Ages still occasionally guest stars in modern-day electronically stored information (ESI) retrieval and production. The dangers of being such an e-discovery ostrich were most recently highlighted in Multiven, Inc. v. Cisco Systems, 2010 WL 2813618 (N.D. Cal. July 9, 2010). Plaintiff Multiven, along with the two counterclaim defendants, originally elected to undertake a manual review of the full set of voluminous ESI it possessed prior to production. Sound conscientious? Not exactly. It means they turned the clock back about 15 years (in e-discovery time, akin to 150 years) and:

(1) Refused to use an outside vendor to help organize ESI information;
(2) Refused to utilize any search terms to narrow the "giant mass" of data to be reviewed;
(3) Instead used approximately five attorneys for six months to a year, to manually review every unfiltered page of "that giant mass" for responsive documents.

Why? They wanted to save on cost, particularly the expense of hiring an outside vendor to help whittle down potentially responsive information. Perhaps they adopted a manual review for other strategic reasons. (Never mind, of course, the hourly billing rate of five attorneys doing eight hours of document review five days a week for over six months, which more likely than not was more expensive than hiring a vendor to narrow the "giant mass" to a more reasonable review load for the attorneys).   The end result, however, was not exactly what was intended . . .
 

What sounded like a Great Idea to Multiven ultimately backfired. The process bogged everyone down, taking months and months. Finally, the district court became distressed when it became apparent that the delays associated with the manual review of all electronic files was causing the case to extend well beyond the boundaries of the scheduling order:

[I]t has become clear to this Court that [the plaintiff and counterdefendants] cannot complete their review and production of documents with enough time before the close of discovery to allow Cisco time to actually do anything with them. [They] so far have insisted on a review process that guarantees that they will not finish this extensive project in any reasonable amount of time.

Id. at *2. The trial court thus adopted the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Lloyd, required Multiven to utilize a vendor to assist in e-discovery, and appointed a Special Master to manage certain e-discovery disputes that potentially threatened to derail the litigation. In short, the Court concluded (id. (emphasis added)):

Because something must be done, this Court recommends that the District Court order the parties to promptly retain a third party vendor to assist with this increasingly perilous situation.

So first, Multiven was not only stuck having to hire the very vendor it had hoped to avoid, but on top of it had to pay its attorneys the hundreds of thousands it cost to conduct the months of document review that were done to avoid hiring a vendor in the first place. Instead of saving money, their gamble multiplied the cost of e-discovery in the case. Second, by this point, even Multiven was so fed up with the document review process that it was amenable to hiring a vendor before the court order even issued. Sure, part of it was because the defendant, Cisco, had offered to pay for part of the vendor cost, but Multiven had finally learned that it was in over it head, and that in trying to save money, it had wound up spending significant more cost on e-discovery.

While the Court's intervention was necessary to get the case back on track, one wonders what possessed the Multiven and its counsel to undertake a prolonged manual review, especially when Cisco appeared to be urging Multiven to employ modern technology all along. Delay was only one by-product of Multiven's decision. A second by-product was the likely extraordinary costs such manual reviews entail. The most substantial e-discovery costs arise from the attorney review process, regardless of whether that review is done internally by firm lawyers or outsourced to vendors in the United States or abroad.

One might think that a manual review is the "gold standard" and the most thorough, comprehensive way of searching. In other words, while you can place fistfuls of hay at a time into a hay-sorter to separate out those few stray needles, there's still a margin of error. You're more likely to find them if you use the time-consuming method of picking up one strand at a time and eyeballing it. Right? Oddly, no. In truth, the so-called gold standard of manual review is mythological, and the human eye can miss a lot more than a well-crafted keyword search protocol can capture. A widely-regarded study, Blair et al., Wittgenstein, 'Language and Information:  Back to the Rough Ground!' 302 (2006), found that manual review teams only found 20% of the relevant documents!  Ralph Losey and Jason Baron have also demonstrated that adding conceptual search tools to key-word searching further improves results and reduces cost. So Multiven's Dark Ages strategy not only multiplied costs and delayed the proceedings, but likely would have missed most of the relevant documents -- leading to potential sanctions and do-overs. Some cost-saving strategy!

In truth, there are very limited circumstances in which a case or production might require every e-document to be reviewed: the all-consuming, unfiltered, manual document review is dead, and for good reason. Today's staggering volume of ESI makes such a manual review both cost and time prohibitive. Utilizing the broad array of tools to cull down, de-duplicate and search data volumes is generally accepted and is even becoming mandated practice, as Multiven learned too late. While all searches are not created equal, the Text REtrieval Conference (TREC) Project -- co-sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and U.S. Department of Defense-- has demonstrated a better search results by machines than plowing through data manually. While a search methodology utilized by a party has to be defensible, standards are slowly emerging, as documented by The Sedona Conference® in its May 2009 Commentary on Achieving Quality in the E-Discovery Process: Best Practices for Document Retention and Production. There is no reason to be stuck in the Dark Ages of linear, manual review.
 

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.
 

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.