Putting some real teeth in eDiscovery sanctions will drive effective information management


Ok, I know there is a push back from the legal industry in reference to the problem of the cost of discovery. Yes, companies create, use, receive and delete huge amounts of electronic information on a daily basis and it is unreasonable to expect an organization to have enough of a handle on this moving target to be able to place an effective legal hold – quickly, and provide all responsive information in response to an eDiscovery request. But come on… organizations live and die by their information, especially electronic information and if an organization doesn’t have enough of a handle on their data to be able to place a legal hold on select data, then I’m sorry they have other problems.

It all comes down to effective information management. Why is it unreasonable for a Judge to expect a company knows what data it has at any point in time and can find it when it needs to?

I understand the proportionality doctrine argument, and it makes sense. If proportionality did not exist, a plaintiff’s counsel could win every case just based on how they construct their discovery request.

Many businesses in the United States have long given employees total control of the company records, with a few exceptions, with little or no central control or even knowledge the information exists and how it pertains to the business. This does not seem the best business decision for the long run.

Maybe eDiscovery can serve as the impetus to nudge companies to start taking information management seriously. If Judges start imposing even larger penalties and fines for what amounts to eDiscovery failings because of ineffective or no information management policies in an organization, then we may see a corporate change of attitude.

In a recent LTN Law Technology News article, e-discovery analyst Barry Murphy of Murphy Insights noted that very few sanctions for e-discovery have had any real teeth, and the few that have involved large dollar amounts have been overturned. In some cases, e-discovery snafus have led to negative inferences that almost certainly impacted the outcome, but he says even those rulings seem to have had little impact. “The sanctions we’re seeing are too small to register with many people, and while negative inferences may lead to a bad outcome, the impact is not always obvious,” says Murphy. “Once we see a sanction for many millions of dollars because of a failure to preserve electronic evidence, the point will be clearer.”

Let me offer some common sense suggestions around information management and eDiscovery:

  1. Have regularly updated and tested records retention policies
  2. Get rid of data your business no longer needs
  3. Really know what electronically stored information (ESI) you have and don’t have
  4. Be ready to find it quickly
  5. If you are a big enough organization, have tools on hand to help in the searches
  6. Have a tested litigation hold process. Be able to stop records deletions based on content, employee, date etc. quickly
  7. Have a tested eDiscovery process

Too many organizations are willing to risk the consequences; “It’s never happened to me before”. If you manage your ESI effectively, then discovery response should not be a problem

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A Proper Legal Hold Requires More Than Just an Email to a Few Employees


In the recent case; Jones v. Bremen High School Dist. 228, 2010 WL 2106640 (N.D. Ill. May 25, 2010), one of the discovery points made in the decision was what is the appropriate legal hold process to meet an organization’s legal hold responsibilities.

The court determined that the defendant breached its duty to preserve by failing to immediately issue a litigation hold to “all employees who had dealings with plaintiff” and by relying on only a few individual employees to identify and preserve responsive email. The Judge stated:

It is unreasonable to allow a party’s interested employees to make the decision about the relevance of such documents, especially when those same employees have the ability to permanently delete unfavorable email from a party’s system.  As one court has noted, “simply accept [ing] whatever documents or information might be produced by [its] employees,” without preventing defendants from clearing the hard drives of former employees, was improper.  Most non-lawyer employees, whether marketing consultants or high school deans do not have enough knowledge of the applicable law to correctly recognize which documents are relevant to a lawsuit and which are not.  Furthermore, employees are often reluctant to reveal their mistakes or misdeeds.

The court also rejected defendant’s argument that placing a proper litigation hold would have resulted in burden to the defendant and noted the troublesome nature of defendant’s failure to produce the document retention policy posted on the district’s website.   The court then determined that plaintiff had been harmed by the delayed production of documents as well as the possibility that emails had been permanently deleted.

This case again highlights the need to comprehensive and tested litigation hold policies. A comprehensive Information Management solution should include central control of all ESI and the ability to search for the responsive ESI and place a secure litigation hold on it immediately.

The full case review can be viewed at eDiscoverylaw.com