By John Patzakis
Proportionality is now the hottest legal issue in the area of eDiscovery, with the largest number of eDiscovery-related cases in the past year addressing the subject. eDiscovery attorney Kelly Twigger leads a team who produced an excellent analysis of 2020 case law, noting “a big jump to 889 in 2020” of cases addressing proportionality, “which represented nearly a third (31%) of all (eDiscovery) case law decisions last year.” The report notes that “[p]roportionality arguments have become a weapon in arguing scope of discovery and the sharp rise in disputes has illustrated the need for more systematic and standardized approaches to assessing proportionality in cases today.”
Proportionality-based eDiscovery is a goal that all judges and corporate attorneys want to attain. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), parties may discover any non-privileged material that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case. Lawyers that take full advantage of the proportionality rule can greatly reduce cost, time and risk associated with otherwise inefficient eDiscovery.
Proportionality is getting a further boost as George Washington University Law School is developing an important proportionality benefit-and-burden model that provides a practical structure for assessing claims of proportionality. The model features a heat map mechanism to identify relevant custodians and data sources to enable a more objective application of proportionality, thereby facilitating negotiations and better informing the bench.
The GW Law model is much needed, as while there is keen awareness of proportionality in the legal community, attaining the benefits requires the ability to operationalize workflows as far upstream in the eDiscovery process as possible. For instance, when you’re engaging in data over-collection, which in turn runs up of a lot of human time and processing costs, the ship has largely sailed before you are able to perform early case assessments and data relevancy analysis, as much of the discovery costs have already been incurred at that point. The case law and the Federal Rules provide that the duty to preserve only applies to potentially relevant information, but unless you have the right operational processes in place, you’re losing out on the ability to attain the benefits of proportionality.
An example of a process that effectively applies proportionality on an operational basis would be an iterative exercise to identify relevant custodians, their data sources, applicable data ranges, file types and agreed upon keywords, following the process outlined in McMaster v. Kohl’s Dep’t Stores, Inc., No. 18-13875 (E.D. Mich. July 24, 2020), and collect only the data that is responsive to this specific criteria. The latest enterprise collection tech from Relativity and X1 enable such detailed and proportional criteria to be applied in-place, at the point of collection. This reduces the data volume funnel by as much as 98 percent from over-collection models, yet with increased transparency and compliance. In other words, a collection process that targeted, automated and proportional, instead of one that is overbroad and manual.
To learn more about these concepts, please tune in on April 13, where attorney David Horrigan of Relativity and Mandi Ross of Prism Litigation Technology will be leading a webinar to discuss the legal and operational considerations and benefits of proportionality. The webinar will also feature a live exercise performing a pre-collection proportionality analysis on remote employee data. You can register here.