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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Coming to Terms with Defensible Disposal; Part 1


Last week at LegalTech New York 2013 I had the opportunity to moderate a panel titled: “Defensible Disposal: If it doesn’t exist, I don’t have to review it…right?” with an impressive roster of panelists. They included: Bennett Borden, Partner, Chair eDiscovery & Information Governance Section, Williams Mullen, Clifton C. Dutton, Senior Vice President, Director of Strategy and eDiscovery, American International Group and John Rosenthal, Chair, eDiscovery and Information Management Practice, Winston & Strawn and Dean Gonsowski, Associate General Counsel, Recommind Inc.

During the panel session it was agreed that organizations have been over-retaining ESI (which accounts for at least 95% of all data in organizations) even if it’s no longer needed for business or legal reasons. Other factors driving this over-retention of ESI were the fear of inadvertently deleting evidence, otherwise called spoliation. In fact an ESG survey published in December of 2012 showed that the “fear of the inability to furnish data requested as part of a legal or regulatory matter” was the highest ranked reason organizations chose not to dispose of ESI.

Other reasons cited included not having defined policies for managing and disposing of electronic information and adversely, organizations having defined retention policies to actually keep all data indefinitely (usually because of the fear of spoliation).

One of the principal information governance gaps most organizations haven’t yet addressed is the difference between “records” and “information”. Many organizations have “records” retention/disposition policies to manage those official company records required to be retained under regulatory or legal requirements. But those documents and files that fall under legal hold and regulatory requirements amount to approximately 6% of an organization’s retained electronic data (1% legal hold and 5% regulatory).

Another interesting survey published by Kahn Consulting in 2012 showed levels of employee understanding of their information governance-related responsibilities. In this survey only 21% of respondents had a good idea of what information needed to be retained/deleted and only 19% knew how  information should be retained or disposed of. In that same survey, only 15% of respondents had a general idea of their legal hold and eDiscovery responsibilities.

The above surveys highlight the fact that organizations aren’t disposing of information in a systematic process mainly because they aren’t managing their information, especially their electronic information and therefore don’t know what information to keep and what to dispose of.

An effective defensible disposal process is dependent on an effective information governance process. To know what can be deleted and when, an organization has to know what information needs to be kept and for how long based on regulatory, legal and business value reasons.

Over the coming weeks, I will address those defensible disposal questions and responses the LegalTech panel discussed. Stay tuned…

The Dangers of Infobesity at LegalTech


LegalTech just concluded in New York and one of the popular hot buttons many vendors were talking about was the idea that too much corporate, especially valueless, ungoverned, unstructured information is both risky as well as costly to organizations… I agree. The answer to this “infobesity” (the unrestricted saving of ESI because storage is supposedly cheap and saving everything is easier than checking with others to see if its ok to delete) is a defensible process to systematically dispose of information that’s not subject to regulatory requirements, litigation hold requirements or because it still has business value. In a 2012 CGOC (Compliance, Governance and Oversight Counsel) Summit survey, it was found that on the average 1% of an organization’s data is subject to legal hold, 5% falls under regulatory retention requirements and 25% has business value. This means that 69% of an organization’s ESI can be disposed of.

Several vendors at LegalTech were highlighting Defensible Disposal solutions, also known as defensible disposition and defensible deletion, as the answer to the problem of infobesity. Defensible Disposal is defined by many as a process (manual, automated or both) of identifying and permanently disposing of unneeded or valueless data in a way that will standup in court as reasonable and consistent. The key to this process is to be able to identify valueless information (not subject to regulatory retention or legal hold) with enough certainty to be able to actually follow through and delete the data. This may sound easy… its not. Many organizations are sitting on huge amounts of data because their legal department doesn’t want to be accused of spoliation, so has standing orders to “keep everything forever”. Corporate legal has to be convinced that the defensible disposal processes and solutions billed as being the answer to infogluttony can actually tell the difference, accurately and consistently, between information that should be kept and that information that’s truly valueless.

To automate this defensible disposal process, the solution needs to be able to be able to understand and differentiate content conceptually; that an apple is a fruit as well as a huge high tech company. The automated classification/categorization of content cannot accurately or consistently differentiate the meaning in unstructured content by just relying on keywords or simple rules.

An even less consistent approach to categorization is to base it on simple rules such as “delete everything from/to Bill immediately” or “keep everything to/from any accounting employee for 3 years”. This kind of rules based retention/disposition process will quickly have your GC explaining to a Judge why data that should have been retained was “inadvertently” deleted.

To truly automate disposal of valueless information in a consistently defensible manner, categorization applications must have the ability to first, conceptually understand the meaning in unstructured content so that only content meeting your intended intentions, regardless of language, is classified as “of value” to the organization not because it shares a keyword with other records but because it truly meets your definition of content that needs to be kept. Second, because unstructured data by definition is “free-flowing” (not structured into specific rows and columns) extremely high categorization accuracy rates and defensibly can only be achieved with defensible disposal solutions which incorporate an iterative training processes including “train by example” in a human supervised workflow.

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’.

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.

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…

Defensible Disposal and Predictive Coding Reduces (?) eDiscovery by 65%


Following Judge Peck’s decision on predictive coding in February of 2012, yet another Judge has gone in the same direction. In Global Aerospace Inc., et al, v. Landow Aviation, L.P. dba Dulles Jet Center, et al (April 23, 2012), Judge Chamblin, a state judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit of Virginia’s Loudoun Circuit Court, wrote:

“Having heard argument with regard to the Motion of Landow Aviation Limited Partnership, Landow Aviation I, Inc., and Landow & Company Builders, Inc., pursuant to Virginia Rules of Supreme Court 4:1 (b) and (c) and 4:15, it is hereby ordered Defendants shall be allowed to proceed with the use of predictive coding for the purposes of the processing and production of electronically stored information.”

This decision was despite plaintiff’s objections the technology is not as effective as purely human review (their objections can be seen here).

This decision comes on top of a new RAND Institute for Civil Justice report which highlights a couple of important points. First, the report estimated that $0.73 of every dollar spent on eDiscovery can be attributed to the “Review” task. RAND also called out a study showing an 80% time savings in Attorney review hours when predictive coding was utilized.

This suggests that the use of predictive coding could, optimistically, reduce an organization’s eDiscovery costs by 58.4%.

The barriers to the adoption of predictive coding technology are (still):

  • Outside counsel may be slow to adopt this due to the possibility of loosing a large revenue stream
  • Outside and Internal counsel will be hesitant to rely on new technology without a track record of success
  • Additional guidance from Judges

These barriers will be overcome relatively quickly.

Let’s take this cost saving projection further. In my last blog I talked about “Defensible Disposal” or in other words, getting rid of old data not needed by the business. It is estimated the cost of review can be reduced by 50% by simply utilizing an effective Information Governance program. Utilizing the Defensible Disposal strategy brings the $0.73 of every eDiscovery review dollar down to $0.365.

Now, if predictive coding can reduce the remaining 50% of the cost of eDiscovery review by 80% as was suggested in the RAND report, between the two strategies, a total eDiscovery savings of approximately 65.7% could be achieved. To review, lets look at the math.

Starting with $0.73 of every eDiscovery dollar is attributed to the review process

Calculating a 50% saving due to Defensible Disposal brings the cost of review down to $0.365. (assuming 50% of documents to be reviewed are disposed of)

Calculating the additional 80% review savings using predictive coding we get:

$0.365 * 0.2 (1-.8) = $0.073 (total cost of review after savings from both strategies)

To finish the calculations we need to add back in the cost not related to review (processing and collection) which is $0.27

Total cost of eDiscovery = $0.073 + $0.27 = $0.343 or a savings of: $1.0 – $0.343 = 0.657 or 65.7%.

 As with any estimates…your mileage may vary, but this exercise points out the potential cost savings utilizing just two strategies, Defensible Disposal and Predictive Coding.