Do organizations really have formal information disposal processes…I think NOT!


Do organizations really have formal information disposal processes…I think NOT!

Do organizations regularly dispose of information in a systematic, documented manner? If the answer is “sure we do”, do they do it via a standardized and documented process or “just leave it to the employees”?

If they don’t…who cares – storage is cheap!

When I ask customers if they have a formal information disposal process, 70 to 80 percent of the time the customer will answer “yes” but when pressed on their actual process, I almost always hear one of the following:

1.    We have mailbox limits, so employees have to delete emails when they reach their mailbox limit
2.    We tell our employees to delete content after 1,2, or 3 years
3.    We store our records (almost always paper) at Iron Mountain and regularly send deletion requests

None of these answers rise to an information governance and disposal process. Mailbox limits only force employees into stealth archiving, i.e. movement of content out of the organization’s direct control. Instructing employees to delete information without enforcement and auditing is as good as not telling them to do anything at all. And storing paper records at Iron Mountain does not address the 95%+ of the electronic data which resides in organizations.

Data center storage is not cheap. Sure, I can purchase 1 TB of external disk at a local electronics store for $150 but that 1 TB is not equal to 1 TB of storage in a corporate data center. It also doesn’t include annual support agreements, the cost of allocated floor space, the cost of power and cooling, or IT resource overhead including nightly backups. Besides, the cost of storage is not the biggest cost organizations who don’t actively manage their information face.

The astronomical costs arise when considering litigation and eDiscovery. A recent RAND survey highlighted the fact that it can cost $18,000 to review 1 GB of information for eDiscovery. And considering many legal cases include the collection and review of terabytes of information, you can imagine the average cost per case can be in the millions of dollars.

So what’s the answer? First, don’t assume information is cheap to keep. Data center storage and IT resources are not inexpensive, take human resources to keep up and running, and consume floor space. Second, information has legal risk and cost associated with it. The collection and review of information for responsiveness is time consuming and expensive. The legal risks associated with unmanaged information can be even more costly. Imagine your organization is sued. One of the first steps in responding to the suit is to find and secure all potentially responsive data. What would happen if you didn’t find all relevant data and it was later discovered you didn’t turn over some information that could have helped the other side’s case? The Judge can overturn an already decided case, issue an adverse inference, assign penalties etc. The withholding or destruction of evidence is never good and always costs the losing side a lot more.

The best strategy is to put policies, processes and automation in place to manage all electronic data as it occurs and to dispose of data deemed not required anymore. One solution is to put categorization software in place to index, understand and categorize content in real time by the conceptual meaning of the content.  Sophisticated categorization can also find, tag and automatically dispose of information that doesn’t need to be kept anymore.  Given the amount of information created daily, automating the process is the only definitive way to answer ‘yes we have a formal information disposal process’.

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Defensible Disposal means never being accused of spoliation for hosting “Shred Days”


U.S District Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose reversed his own prior ruling from a 2009 case where he issued a judgment against SK Hynix, awarding Rambus Inc. $397 million in a patent infringement case. In his reversal this month, Judge Whyte ruled that Rambus Inc. had spoliated documents in bad faith when it hosted company wide “shred days” in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Judge Whyte found that Rambus could have reasonably foreseen litigation against Hynix as early as 1998, and that therefore Rambus engaged in willful spoliation during the three “shred days” (a finding of spoliation can be based on inadvertent destruction of evidence). Because of this recent spoliation ruling, the Judge reduced the prior Rambus award from $397 million to $215 million, a cost to Rambus of $182 million.

Two questions come to mind in this case; 1) why did Rambus see the need to hold “shred days”?, and 2) did they have an information governance policy and defensible disposal process? As a matter of definition, defensible disposal is the process (manual or automated) of disposing of unneeded or valueless data in a way that will standup in court as reasonable and consistent.

The obvious answer to the second question is probably not or if yes, it wasn’t being followed, otherwise why the need for the shred days? Assuming that Rambus was not destroying evidence knowingly; the term “shred-days” still has a somewhat negative connotation. I would think corporate attorneys would instruct all custodians within their companies that the term “shred” should be used sparingly or not at all in communications because of the questionable implications.

The term “Shred days” reminds many of the Arthur Andersen partner who so famously sent an email message to employees working on the Enron account, reminding them to “comply with the firm’s documentation and retention policy”. The Andersen partner never ordered the destruction or shredding of evidence but because anticipation of future litigation was potentially obvious, the implication in her email was “get rid of suspect stuff”. The timing of the email message was also suspect in that just 21 minutes separated Ms. Temple’s e-mail message to Andersen employees on the Enron account about the importance of complying with the firm’s document retention policy from an entry in a record of her current projects in which she wrote that she was working on a case involving potential violations of federal securities laws.

The Rambus case highlights the need for a true information governance process including a truly defensible disposal strategy. An information governance process would have been capturing, indexing, applying retention policies, protecting content on litigation hold and disposing of content beyond the retention schedule and not on legal hold… automatically, based on documented and approved legally defensible policies. A documented and approved process which is religiously followed, and with proper safeguards goes a long way with the courts to show good faith intent to manage content and protect that content subject to anticipated litigation.

Inadequate Information Management Policy Leads to Third Party eDiscovery


Many organizations have adopted an Information Governance policy of “not having a policy” for many reasons such as to save on costs associated with managing information or… to frustrate eDiscovery requests, i.e. if I can’t find it, then I can’t produce it.

The policy of purposely deleting (not retaining) business records is not necessarily illegal, unless you put that policy in place to thwart eDiscovery or you have federal or state retention requirements. The “no information governance” policy can have unforeseen consequences. Case in point: Peter Kiewit Sons’, Inc. v. Wall Street Equity Group, Inc., No. 8:10CV365, 2012 WL 1852048 (D. Neb. May 18, 2012).

The case involves claims by the Plaintiff Peter Kiewit Sons’, Inc. against Defendants Wall Street Equity Group, Inc., Wall Street Group of Companies, Inc., Shepherd Friedman, and Steven West for the alleged violation of various aspects of federal and state trademark law, unfair competition, and commercial misrepresentation including the misuse of the “Kiewit” brand.

The Defendants assist business owners in marketing their businesses to prospective buyers. One strategy the Defendants allegedly use is to suggest to some of their potential clients that Kiewit may be a potential buyer of the client’s business

During the course of discovery, the defendants had objected to a number of the plaintiff’s interrogatories and requests for production on the grounds that the requests are “not reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence” – that is, the information requested in not relevant. The Defendants also argue that many of the requests are meant solely to harass the defendants (The court found no merit to that claim). This case has many interesting aspects but the one piece that interested me was the part where the defendants record retention policy and practices were called out.

In a section of the court’s memorandum titled “Defendant’s Inability to Serve as a Reliable Source of Discovery”, the Judge remarks;

“The corporate defendants claim that, consistent with their standard practice, they do not retain any correspondence unless it results in a completed sale. Thus, the defendants claim they would have no documents showing how often and to what entities they sent proposals (to include any proposals using the Kiewit mark for marketing). The record itself includes evidence of this practice; specifically, defendant West acknowledges that he submitted a proposed merger to the plaintiff concerning a company called Agra, but the defendants have produced no documents regarding that proposal, presumably because it did not result in a sale.

Since the defendants have a document retention practice of destroying all marketing records unless a closing occurs, to obtain a complete picture of the extent to which the Kiewit mark may have been used by the defendants, records identifying those who received the defendants’ marketing must be obtained. As a result of the defendants’ own document destruction practices, the only remaining sources for information regarding the content of defendants’ marketing materials are the recipient third parties. Information regarding the identity of these third party business contacts, whether obtained by a third party subpoena or in response to written discovery served on the defendants, is relevant to determining the extent of defendants’ use of the Kiewit service mark.

There is nothing necessarily improper about a company’s reasonable pre-litigation document retention policy whereby documents are disposed of in periodic intervals. Generally speaking, spoliation arguments are unsuccessful if relevant documents were destroyed in accordance with the business’ reasonable document retention policy and/or practices.

However, even a reasonable practice of destroying documents may have unintended consequences. By failing to retain any documentation, a defendant may lose its ability to credibly defend claims asserted against it, and it may open avenues of third party discovery which would have been closed had the defendant retained documents consistent with standard business practices, and thereby been considered a reliable and complete source of the relevant discovery.”

As the Judge stated, there is nothing potentially improper about deleting records on an on-going basis, but those who choose this policy should be aware of the third part consequences. Do you really want opposing attorneys causing your customers and suppliers to have to respond to your eDiscovery?

In this case the Judge granted the plaintiff’s request to identify the defendant’s contacts and client lists to and to proceed with third party discovery on some or all of these clients. The Judge also ordered the defendants to turn over financial information, such as the defendants’ accounts receivable and record of its various completed business transactions to further help in identifying potential targets of third party discovery.

Successful Predictive Coding Adoption is Dependent on Effective Information Governance


Predictive coding has been receiving a great deal of press lately (for good reason), especially with the ongoing case; Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Groupe, No. 11 Civ. 1279 (ALC) (AJP), 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23350 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2012). On May 21, the plaintiffs filed Rule 72(a) objections to Magistrate Judge Peck’s May 7, 2012 discovery rulings related to the relevance of certain documents that comprise the seed set of the parties’ ESI protocol. 

This Rule 72(a) objection highlights an important point in the adoption of predictive coding technologies; the technology is only as good as the people AND processes supporting it.

To review, predictive coding is a process where a computer (with the requisite software), does the vast majority of the work of deciding whether data is relevant, responsive or privileged to a given case.

Beyond simply searching for keyword matching (byte for byte), predictive coding adopts a computer self-learning approach. To accomplish this, attorneys and other legal professionals provide example responsive documents/data in a statistically sufficient quantity which in turn “trains”the computer as to what relevant documents/content should be flagged and set aside for discovery. This is done in an iterative process where legally trained professionals fine-tune the seed set over a period of time to a point where the seed set represents a statistically relevant sample which includes examples of all possible relevant content as well as formats. This capability can also be used to find and secure privileged documents. Instead of legally trained people reading every document to determine if a document is relevant to a case, the computer can perform a first pass of this task in a fraction of the time with much more repeatable results. This technology is exciting in that it can dramatically reduce the cost of the discovery/review process by as much as 80% according to the RAND Institute of Civil Justice.

By now you may be asking yourself what this has to do with Information Governance?…

For predictive coding to become fully adopted across the legal spectrum, all sides have to agree 1. the technology works as advertised, and 2. the legal professionals are providing the system with the proper seed sets for it to learn from. To accomplish the second point above, the seed set must include content from all possible sources of information. If the seed set trainers don’t have access to all potentially responsive content to draw from, then the seed set is in question.

Knowing where all the information resides and having the ability to retrieve it quickly is imperative to an effective discovery process. Records/Information Management professionals should view this new technology as an opportunity to become an even more essential partner to the legal department and entire organization by not just focusing on “records” but on information across the entire enterprise. With full fledged information management programs in place, the legal department will be able to fully embrace this technology to drastically reduce their cost of discovery.

Automatic Deletion…A Good Idea?


In my last blog, I discussed the concept of Defensible Disposal; getting rid of data which has no value to lower the cost and risk of eDiscovery as well as overall storage costs (IBM has been a leader in Defensive Disposal for several years). Custodians keep data because they might need to reuse some of the content later or they might have to produce it later for CYA reasons. I have been guilty of over the years and because of that I have a huge amount of old data on external disks that I will probably never, ever look at again. For example, I have over 500 GB of saved data, spreadsheets, presentations, PDFs, .wav files, MP3s, Word docs, URLs etc. that I have saved for whatever reason over the years. Have I ever really, reused any of the data…maybe a couple of times, but in reality they just site there. This brings up the subject of the Data Lifecycle. Fred Moore, Founder of Horison Information Strategies wrote about this concept years ago, referring to the Lifecycle of Data and the probability that the saved data will ever be re-used or even looked at again. Fred created a graphic showing this lifecycle of data.

Figure 1: The Lifecycle of data – Horison Information Systems

The above chart shows that as data ages, the probability of reuse goes down…very quickly as the amount of saved data rises. Once data has aged 90 days, its probability of reuse approaches 1% and after 1 year is well under 1%.

You’re probably asking yourself, so what!…storage is cheap, what’s the big deal? I have 500 GB of storage available to me on my new company supplied laptop. I have share drives available to me. And I have 1 TB of storage in my home office. I can buy 1TB of external disk for approximately $100, so why not keep everything forever?

For organizations, it’s a question of storage but more importantly, it’s a question of legal risk and the cost of eDiscovery. Any existing data could be a subject of litigation and therefore reviewable. You may recall in my last blog, I mentioned a recent report from the RAND Institute for Civil Justice which discussed the costs of eDiscovery including the estimate that the cost of reviewing records/files is approximately 73% of every eDiscovery dollar spent. By saving everything because you might someday need to reuse or reference it drive the cost of eDiscovery way up.

The key question to ask is; how do you get employees to delete stuff instead of keeping everything? In most organizations the culture has always been one of “save whatever you want until your hard disk and share drive is full”. This culture is extremely difficult to change…quickly. One way is to force new behavior with technology. I know of a couple of companies which only allow files to be saved to a specific folder on the users desktop. For higher level laptop users, as the user syncs to the organization’s infrastructure, all files saved to the specific folder are copied to a users sharedrive where an information management application applies retention policies to the data on the sharedrive as well as the laptop’s data folder.

In my opinion this extreme process would not work in most organizations due to culture expectations. So again we’re left with the question of how do you get employees to delete stuff?

Organizational cultures about data handling and retention have to be changed over time. This includes specific guidance during new employee orientation, employee training, and slow technology changes. An example could be reducing the amount of storage available to an employee on the share or home drive.

Another example could be some process changes to an employee’s workstation of laptop. Force the default storage target to be the “My Documents” folder. Phase 1 could be you have to save all files to the “My Documents” folder but can then be moved anywhere after that.

Phase 2 could include a 90 day time limit on the “My Documents” folder so that anything older than 90 days is automatically deleted (with litigation hold safeguards in place). This would cause files not deemed to be important enough to moved to be of little value and “disposable”. The 3rd Phase could include the inability to move files out of the “My Documents” folder (but with the ability for users to create subfolders with no time limit) thereby ensuring a single place of discoverable data.

Again, this strategy needs to be a slow progression to minimalize the perceived changes to the user population.

The point is it’s a end user problem, not necessarily an IT problem. End users have to be trained, gently pushed, and eventually forced to get rid of useless data…

eDiscovery Cost Reduction Strategies


In these still questionable economic times, most legal departments are still looking for ways to reduce, or at least stop the growth, of their legal budgets. One of the most obvious targets for cost reduction in any legal department is the cost of responding to eDiscovery including the cost of finding all potentially responsive ESI, culling it down and then having in-house or external attorneys review it for relevance and privilege. Per a CGOC survey, the average GC spends approximately $3 million per discovery to gather and prepare information for opposing counsel in litigation.

Most organizations are looking for ways to reduce these growing costs of eDiscovery. The top four cost reduction strategies legal departments are considering are:

  • Bring more evidence analysis and do more ESI processing internally
  • Keep more of the review of ESI in house rather that utilize outside law firms
  • Look at off-shore review
  • Pressure external law firms for lower rates

I don’t believe these strategies address the real problem, the huge and growing amount of ESI.

Several eDiscovery experts have told me that the average eDiscovery matter can include between 2 and 3 GB of potentially responsive ESI per employee. Now, to put that in context, 1 GB of data can contain between 10,000 and 75,000 pages of content. Multiply that by 3 and you are potentially looking at between 30,000 and 225,000 pages of content that should be reviewed for relevancy and privilege per employee. Now consider that litigation and eDiscovery usually includes more than one employee…ranging from two to hundreds.

It seems to me the most straight forward and common sense way to reduce eDiscovery costs is to better manage the information that could be pulled into an eDiscovery matter, proactively.

To illustrate this proactive information management strategy for eDiscovery, we can look at the overused but still appropriate DuPont case study from several years ago.

DuPont re-looked at nine cases. They determined that they had reviewed a total of 75,450,000 pages of content in those nine cases. A total of 11,040,000 turned out to be responsive to the cases. DuPont also looked at the status of these 75 million pages of content to determine their status in their records management process. They found that approximately 50% of those 75 million pages of content were beyond their documented retention period and should have been destroyed and never reviewed for any of the 9 cases. They also calculated they spent $11, 961,000 reviewing this content. In other words, they spent $11.9 million reviewing documents that should not have existed if their records retention schedule and policy had been followed.

An information management program, besides capturing and making ESI available for use, includes the defensible deletion of ESI that has reached the end of its retention period and therefore is valueless to the organization.

Corporate counsel should be the biggest proponents of information governance in their organizations simply due to the fact that it affects their budgets directly.

Information Governance and Predictive Coding


Predictive coding, also known as computer assisted coding and technology assisted review, all refer to the act of using computers and software applications which use machine learning algorithms to enable a computer to learn from records presented it (usually from human attorneys) as to what types of content are potentially relevant to a given legal matter. After a sufficient number of examples are provided by the attorneys, the technology is given access to the entire potential corpus (records/data) to sort through and find records that, based on its “learning”, are potentially relevant to the case.

This automation can dramatically reduce costs due to the fact that computers, instead of attorneys conduct the first pass culling of potentially millions of records.

Predictive coding has several very predictable dependencies that need to be addressed to be accepted as a useful and dependable tool in the eDiscovery process. First, which documents/records are used and who chooses them to “train the system”? This training selection will almost always be conducted by attorneys involved with the case.

The second dependency revolves around the number of documents used for the training. How many training documents are needed to provide the needed sample size to enable a dependable process?

And most importantly, do the parties have access to all potentially relevant documents in the case to draw the training documents from? Remember, potentially relevant documents can be stored anywhere. For predictive coding, or any other eDiscovery process to be legally defensible, all existing case related documents need to be available. This requirement highlights the need for effective information management by all in a given organization.

As the courts adopt, or at least experiments with predictive coding, as Judge Peck did in Monique Da Silva Moore, et al., v. Publicis Groupe & MSL Group, Civ. No. 11-1279 (ALC)(AJP) (S.D.N.Y. February 24, 2012, an effective information management program will become key to he courts adopting this new technology.