Ask the Magic 8-Ball; “Is Predictive Defensible Disposal Possible?”


The Good Ole Days of Paper Shredding

In my early career, shred days – the scheduled annual activity where the company ordered all employees to wander through all their paper records to determine what should be disposed of, were common place. At the government contractor I worked for, we actually wheeled our boxes out to the parking lot to a very large truck that had huge industrial shredders in the back. Once the boxes of documents were shredded, we were told to walk them over to a second truck, a burn truck, where we, as the records custodian, would actually verify that all of our records were destroyed. These shred days were a way to actually collect, verify and yes physically shred all the paper records that had gone beyond their retention period over the preceding year.

The Magic 8-Ball says Shred Days aren’t Defensible

Nowadays, this type of activity carries some negative connotations with it and is much more risky. Take for example the recent case of Rambus vs SK Hynix. In this case U.S District Judge Ronald Whyte in San Jose reversed his own prior ruling from a 2009 case where he had originally issued a judgment against SK Hynix, awarding Rambus Inc. $397 million in a patent infringement case. In his reversal this year, 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 as well). 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.

Another well know example of sudden retention/disposition policy activity that caused unintended consequences is the Arthur Andersen/Enron example. During the Enron case, Enron’s accounting firm sent out the following email to some of its employees:

This email was a key reason why Arthur Andersen ceased to exist shortly after the case concluded. Arthur Andersen was charged with and found guilty of obstruction of justice for shredding the thousands of documents and deleting emails and company files that tied the firm to its audit of Enron. Less than 1 year after that email was sent, Arthur Andersen surrendered its CPA license on August 31, 2002, and 85,000 employees lost their jobs.

Learning from the Past – Defensible Disposal

These cases highlight the need for a true information governance process including a truly defensible disposal capability. In these instances, 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 consistently followed and has 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.

To successfully automate the disposal of unneeded information in a consistently defensible manner, auto-categorization applications must have the ability to conceptually understand the meaning in unstructured content so that only content meeting your retention policies, regardless of language, is classified as subject to retention.

Taking Defensible Disposal to the Next Level – Predictive Disposition

A defensible disposal solution which incorporates the ability to conceptually understand content meaning, and which incorporates an iterative training process including “train by example,” in a human supervised workflow provides accurate predictive retention and disposition automation.

Moving away from manual, employee-based information governance to automated information retention and disposition with truly accurate (95 to 99%) and consistent meaning-based predictive information governance will provide the defensibility that organizations require today to keep their information repositories up to date.

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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.