Are Custodial Self-Discovery and Preserving ESI in Place Good for You?


A majority of organizations still follow the traditional practice of instructing custodians—that is, employees–to search for and protect potentially responsive electronically stored information (ESI) locally or what’s known colloquially as “preserving it in place”. In fact, the international law firm Fulbright & Jaworski found in its 7th Annual Litigation Trends Survey that more than half (55%) of companies still rely on custodians as their primary method to identify and preserve their own information for litigation or an investigation.

By following this practice, these companies, particularly those with larger numbers of custodians,  have a higher risk of incomplete collection, inadvertent deletion/spoliation, and metadata corruption. What’s more, it’s difficult for legal to supervise  the collection process,  leading to inadequate defensibility of the litigation hold and eDiscovery process.

In a 2008 Kahn Consulting survey on employee understanding of eDiscovery responsibilities, only 22% of respondents said they had a good understanding of their responsibilities for retaining ESI for discovery. Only 16% said they had a good understanding of their responsibilities when responding to a litigation hold. These statistics, while a few years old, blatantly highlight the risk of custodial self discovery and preservation in place.

Still not convinced? The courts are now holding litigants to a higher standard. In a recent case, Roffe v. Eagle Rock Energy GP, et al., C.A. No. 5258-VCL (Del. Ch. Apr. 8, 2010), the Judge expressed surprise overt the custodial self discovery practice used by one attorney:

The Judge asked:

Am I correct that you have been relying on what they [the defendants] self-selected to put in their transaction files in terms of what you obtained and produced?

The defense attorney answered:

That’s correct, your Honor. I was told that they uniformly would put all of their Eagle Rock e-mails into that folder. I have not checked, and I don’t know whether that is true or whether that is accurate. I believe they are telling the truth, but I don’t know if that is accurate.

The Judge immediately responded:

Then here is my ruling. This is not satisfactory. From what you have described to me, you are not doing what you should be doing. First of all, you do not rely on a defendant to search their own e-mail system. Okay? There needs to be a lawyer who goes and makes sure the collection is done properly. So both as to the two directors who already have produced — we don’t rely on people who are defendants to decide what documents are responsive, at least not in this Court. And you certainly need to put somebody on a plane to go out and see Mr. Smith.

In this exchange, the Judge clearly states: We don’t rely on people who are defendants to decide what documents are responsive. Custodial self-discovery is like the fox guarding the chicken coop.

Relying on litigants to find, protect and eventually turn over potentially responsive ESI can be problematic. Most of them will attempt to do what’s right to the best of their understanding. But as we’ve seen from the 7th Annual Litigation Trends Survey, fewer  than1 in 4 (23%) have a good understanding. Those few that could have something to hide may find ways to do a sub-par job in the discovery process. If I am the opposing counsel, I  want to know if self discovery was relied on.

So what is a defensible answer for the risks posed by custodial self discovery and preservation in place? Well in my opinion—and I’m about to sound like a corporate schill–you need an ESI archive, which captures the majority of potentially responsive ESI from the in-house infrastructure along with a solution for the remote collection of custodian ESI from their locally controlled equipment.

First, a central ESI archive that captures, indexes, stores, protects, manages and disposes of ESI allows for central discovery of ESI for silos like email systems, share drives and SharePoint systems.

So what can be done for the discovery of locally controlled custodian locations?

Some organizations centrally backup custodian workstations on a regular basis. But relying on restoring backups and searching for responsive ESI has never been considered a good idea. It’s also expensive.

What if you could schedule forensically sound backups of all custodian workstations and use those backups of custodians’ workstations to discover against, even when those custodians are traveling and not synced to the organization’s infrastructure?

A consolidated metadata repository provides enterprises with an accessible catalog of the types of data and content stored on PCs. Using flexible metadata selections, administrators can quickly identify information that is relevant to litigation or compliance matters and, if necessary, retrieve that relevant data from the solution for further review.

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Are Custodial Self-Discovery and Preserving ESI in place a good idea?


A majority of organizations still rely of the practice of instructing custodians to search for and protect potentially responsive ESI locally or “preserve it in place”. In its 7th Annual Litigation Trends Survey, Fulbright & Jaworski reported that 55% of responding companies still rely on custodians to identify and preserve their own information as the method used most frequently to preserve potentially relevant information in litigation or an investigation.

Custodial self-discovery and “preservation in place” is a potentially risky in that, especially with larger numbers of custodians, the risk of incomplete collection, inadvertent deletion/spoliation, and meta data corruption is greatly increased, legal supervision of the collection process is impossible leading to inadequate defensibility of the litigation hold and eDiscovery process.

In a 2008 Kahn Consulting survey on employee understanding of eDiscovery responsibilities, only 22% of respondents said they had a good understanding of their responsibilities for retaining ESI for discovery. Only 16% said they had a good understanding of their responsibilities when responding to a litigation hold. These statistics blatantly highlight the risk of custodial self discovery and preservation in place.

The courts are now holding litigants to a higher standard. In a recent case, Roffe v. Eagle Rock Energy GP, et al., C.A. No. 5258-VCL (Del. Ch. Apr. 8, 2010), the Judge was surprised at the custodial self discovery practice one attorney was relying on:

The Judge asks;

Am I correct that you have been relying on what they [the defendants]  self-selected to put in their transaction files, in terms of what you obtained and produced?

The defense attorney answers;

That’s correct, your Honor. I was told that they uniformly would put all of their Eagle Rock e-mails into that folder. I have not checked, and I don’t know whether that is true or whether that is accurate. I believe they are telling the truth, but I don’t know if that is accurate.

The Judge immediately responds to the defense attorney;

Then here is my ruling. This is not satisfactory. From what you have described to me, you are not doing what you should be doing. First of all, you do not rely on a defendant to search their own e-mail system. Okay? There needs to be a lawyer who goes and makes sure the collection is done properly. So both as to the two directors who already have produced — we don’t rely on people who are defendants to decide what documents are responsive, at least not in this Court. And you certainly need to put somebody on a plane to go out and see Mr. Smith.

In this exchange, the Judge clearly states; we don’t rely on people who are defendants to decide what documents are responsive. Custodial self-discovery is like the wolf guarding the chicken coop.

Relying on litigants to find, protect and eventually turn over potentially responsive ESI can be problematic. Most of them will attempt to do what’s right; to the best of their understanding (less than 23% have a good understanding). Those few that could have something to hide may find ways to do a subpar job in the discovery process. If I am the opposing counsel, I am going to want to know if self discovery was relied on.

Backups are an effective eDiscovery resource, if it’s the right backup


I have always been told relying on backups for eDiscovery purposes is a costly and time consuming mistake.

Searching through backup tapes or even a disk-based backup for eDiscovery is difficult. Imagine restoring 22 200 GB backup tapes of your employee workstations and

Consider an eDiscovery request which asks for any files on 73 custodian workstations which contain the terms “Mimosa” and “Iron Mountain” that were created or accessed between Feb 19 2008 and June 3 2010, all the while meeting a 30 day deadline from the court to produce. How would you quickly determine what if any responsive content exists on those 73 custodians laptops/desktops?

The scenario I laid out above is not a corner-case, made-up situation. I have seen this many times. Many of you will recognize a situation very close to this.

Now consider one additional requirement to the above scenario… you must insure any responsive ESI on those workstations are secure and not deleted (litigation hold) by the custodian starting right now.

Active content on custodian workstations and laptops is the single biggest risk when facing litigation hold and eDiscovery responsibilities for most organizations. The usual processes most organizations follow for custodian resource collection is either:

  1. Custodian led collection: the organizations legal department sends out a detailed email to all custodians’ involved asking them to search for specific content on their system (including any PSTs) and forward any results to the legal department. Many opposing counsel’s have a problem with this process

or

  1. The legal department creates collection teams which consist of a legal department employee and an IT employee to visit each custodian’s workspace to look for responsive ESI, usually including the imaging of the custodian’s hard disks. This imaging of the custodian’s hard disk takes hours and then has to be filtered somewhere else to look for responsive content.

What if you could utilize your centrally managed custodian workstation/laptop backup process for eDiscovery purposes?

Iron Mountain has addressed this major eDiscovery risk and cost with its newly announced Connected® Classify & Collect, a solution which simplifies the collection process for distributed PC ESI to comply with a legal hold request as well as discovery. The Connected Classify & Collect offering helps businesses to quickly find relevant data on laptop and desktop computers to meet litigation and compliance requirements.

The Connected® Classify & Collect offering makes laptop and desktop data easily visible, searchable and usable. It also protects data and prevents accidental deletion to support eDiscovery or internal investigations. Its enterprise-class data-classification capabilities give administrators visibility into vast amounts of data stored on enterprise PCs and allow them to lower eDiscovery costs by quickly collecting relevant information to be used for early-case assessments and first-pass reviews.

An interesting twist to this capability is the fact that even if the custodian is disconnected from the network, Classify & Collect can discover against the existing centrally managed backup of each custodian’s workstation or laptop. The next time the custodian connects to the network, additional searching will be accomplished automatically in the background on the custodian laptop.

Additionally, the Connected Classify & Collect offering helps businesses establish a thorough and defensible collection process with its ability to track all activities, including the search terms and documents returned to support internal reviews.

10 Clues Corporate Counsel Should Take to Heart about eDiscovery


The following content was inspired by an article in Law Technology News in Oct 2009 by Tom O’Connor titled “Top 10 EDD Tips for General Counsel”.

  1. Read the Rules: Read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or at least the amendments passed in December of 2006. For most of you, the days of farming out all discovery preparation is quickly disappearing. You are going to be responsible to not lose the case against you in the first couple of weeks by screwing up the discovery process. Come on…you made it through law school and read (?) all those books as well as you probably have suffered through your share of mind numbing IP applications. The FRCP is not as bad as that. I also recommend taking a look at the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM), a great site for in-depth learning of the eDiscovery process.
  2. Learn from Others: Case decisions are a great place to learn what others assumed or tied and didn’t work. They are also a great place to determine Judge’s opinions and judicial thinking. There are many great blogs and websites. The one site I look at every day is Electronic Discovery Law which consistently has great write ups and analysis on current and past cases. I have been constantly amazed over the years to see how little corporate counsels pay attention to current legal actions. If nothing else, some of these decisions have a great deal of humorous revelations in them and will give you a chance to make fun of others. Another great organization to look at for information and leadership in the discovery process is the Sedona Conference organization.
  3. Understand the Terms: No, eDiscovery is not an electronic dating service; early case assessment (ECA) is not a process to determine if a case of wine in your basement has gained in value and “PST” is not a juvenile texting shortcut for “Please Stop Texting”. Knowing the legal terms is expected, generally knowing technical terms such as “Giga Byte” and “Thumb Drive” will be helpful and just might impress the Judge.
  4. Understand Where the Corporate ESI Could be Stored: Understanding all the places ESI could exist is the first step in lowering your risk in litigation. After you understand where all the ESI could exist, and it could be thousands of places that have little or no central control, limit the number of locations that ESI can be stored. This will lower your cost of collection a huge amount.
  5. Talk to your IT department: Take the key individuals in your IT department out once in a while, maybe to your club. This will impress the propeller heads enough so that the next time you incorrectly reverse sync your Blackberry and blow all your contacts out of your outlook, they might actually fix it quickly. You might also learn some other stuff that would be helpful like the fact that they are keeping backup tapes around for years (if you don’t know why this is a problem, you didn’t take the prerequisite to this class).
  6. Acknowledge (and work with) your Records Managers: They’re not bad people, just misunderstood. I have heard Records Managers often referred to as “Blue Hairs”. This is an obvious reference to the stereotype that all records managers are “mature” women. I won’t lie to you; this is sometimes true in certain industries but not everywhere. The Records Management department can be an important ally in your understanding of eDiscovery problems and ways to fix those problems. They are also important in the next clue.
  7. Create a Usable Records Management Policy and Schedule: I walked into a large company several years ago on a consulting engagement and asked them for their records retention schedule. After about a day and a half I was given a 212 page document that was full of record types and retention periods, all in 8 point type. When I asked them if they really thought every employee actually followed this schedule, they answered “absolutely” and they met it. After interviewing 40 or so employees I found that 34 on them didn’t know the company had a retention schedule and the other 6 employees just regularly kept everything for ever. Having a records retention policy and schedule is the first step in controlling your ESI. The idea is to manage and control it; not keep everything forever. A word of caution; a retention schedule that is not enforced is worse than not having one at all.
  8. Create a Litigation Hold Policy and Test It: Creating a litigation hold policy before you experience litigation should not be a revelation to anyone even though I know for a fact it is for many.  It just makes sense that being able to effectively stop the destruction of potentially responsive ESI would lower your risk of spoliation. A common sense next step would be to test it. A litigation hold policy that doesn’t work will not usually impress the Judge.
  9. Train Your Employees: Train your employees on the records retention policy and schedule as well as the litigation hold policy. Remember the example above in the “Create a Usable Records Retention Policy and Schedule” topic. Having a policy and not telling your employees about it will not get you an invitation to the next Mensa gathering. Employees should be trained regularly and asked to sign a document that says they understand the training.
  10. Automate Where You Can: The bigger your organization, the harder it will be to do things manually. I know “archive” is a dirty word to most legal types but the term archive does not mean save everything for ever. It is a way to manage your ESI so that it is eventually deleted. Put ESI management systems in place that will help you meet your legal, regulatory and business requirements.

Do we need an addition to the EDRM?


The Electronic Discovery Reference Model is a great reference model showing all the general steps/processes around eDiscovery. There has obviously been a great deal of thought and work put behind it with fantastic results but does it cover everything that corporate legal departments want?

The reason I bring this up is I often run across companies that comment on the EDRM mostly because it doesn’t really reflect their processes. I don’t think it was met to be specific and probably couldn’t have been. Organizations have their own processes they have developed and are use to and it would be nearly impossible to take them all into consideration.

An addition I would like to see in the EDRM is a costing component. What processes, for example, incur the highest costs and how could those costs be better controlled. Again, I don’t believe it was in the EDRM’s target to answer those kinds of questions but wouldn’t those answers be great?

The EDRM Model


Everyone rasie their hand if they have ever heard of the Electronic Discovery Reference Model (EDRM)…

The EDRM project is an effort to create standards and guidelines around the electronic discovery process. George J. Socha of Socha Consulting LLC and Tom Gelbmann of Gelbmann & Associates has done extensive work creating this model.

The reason I ask is I’m not sure those people that should know about it is aware of it. I just spent a week meeting with ten of the largest law firms on the east coast and not one of the many attorneys or associates I asked had ever heard of it.

I’m not sure what the answer is short of law schools actually spending some time on it, but if you get a chance take a look at it.