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ILTA eDiscovery Survey Reflects Increased Social Media Discovery

The International Legal Technology Association recently published a very informative and comprehensive law firm eDiscovery practice survey “2016 Litigation and Practice Support Technology Survey.” ILTA received responses from 204 different law firms — small, medium and large — on a variety of subjects, including eDiscovery practice trends and software tool usage.  The survey reveals three key takeaways regarding social media and website discovery.

The first clear takeaway is that social media discovery is clearly increasing among law firms and in the field in general. 77 percent of responding law firms reported conducting social media discovery in 2016, a 12 percent increase over 2015. Additionally, the responding firms reported a higher average volume of cases involving social media evidence, with a 23 percent increase in firms handling at least 4 matters per year involving social media evidence. (See Survey at pg. 23)

In terms of identified software solution usage, the survey establishes that X1 Social Discovery is the clear leader in the web and social media capture category among purpose-built tools used by law firms. 24 percent of all law firms rely on X1 Social Discovery on either an in-sourced or outsourced basis. The survey also reflects that X1 Social is the number one process used by eDiscovery service providers, by far surpassing the next common process of screen capturing. This is consistent with our own internal data, reflecting the industry’s standardization of social media evidence collection by the sheer volume of customers that have adopted X1 Social Discovery. Nearly 200 law firms and 500 eDiscovery services firms have at least one paid license of X1 Social Discovery. So while X1 Social Discovery is very popular with law firms, it is even more widely used by eDiscovery service providers.

ILTA survey2

Utilization of X1 Social also registered in the separate category of webmail collections.

The final takeaway is that the practice of using screen captures with general IT tools like Adobe and Snagit is still commonly employed by practitioners at law firms, but is virtually non-existent amongst service providers, who typically are on the forefront of adapting best practices. Screen capturing is neither effective nor defensible. It is ineffective because the results are very narrow and incomplete, and the process is very labor intensive resulting in much higher costs to the client than using best practices. (See Stallings v. City of Johnston, 2014 WL 2061669 (S.D. Ill. May 19, 2014), law firm spent full week screen capturing contents of Facebook account — which amounted to over 500 printed pages — manually rearranging them, and then redacting at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars).

In addition, simple screen captures are not defensible, with several courts disallowing or otherwise calling into question social media evidence presented in the form of a screen shot image. This scrutiny will only increase with Federal Rule of Evidence 902(14) coming into effect later this year. I have previously addressed Rule 902(14) at length on this blog, but in a nutshell, screen captures are not Rule 902(14) compliant, while best practices technology like X1 Social Discovery have the critical ability to collect all available metadata and generate a MD5 checksum, or “hash value,” of the preserved data for verification of the integrity of the evidence. The generation of hash values is a key component for meeting the requirements of FRE 902(14).

The ILTA Litigation Practice survey results can be accessed here. For more information about how to conduct effective social medial investigations, please contact us, or request a free demo version of X1 Social Discovery.

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Declining Law Firm Productivity Tied to Information Governance Challenges

A new legal industry study finds a substantial decline in attorney productivity in recent years, significantly reducing law firm profitability. In its 2017 Report on the State of the Legal Market, Thomson Reuters notes that “over the past 10 years, the average billable hours worked by all lawyers across the market declined from 134 billable hours per month in 2007 to 122 through the late part of 2016.” This equals a reduction of 144 billable hours per year per lawyer. The report, by multiplying that total by the average worked rate ($463) for all lawyers in 2016, determined the productivity decline is costing law firms about $66,672 per lawyer per year.

One of the main causes for diminished lawyer productivity is the exponential proliferation of their stored emails and documents and the associated inability to recall important work product and previous e-mail communications. Another industry study assessing the productivity of lawyers and other high-end information knowledge workers found that such professionals on average spend 11.2 hours a week dealing with challenges related to document creation and management. As the table below from the IDC report demonstrates, lawyers and paralegals lose as much as 2.3 hours a week searching, but not finding, the right documents and emails and another 2 hours recreating documents they failed to locate.

Time Spent on Document Management Challenges

productivity-for-law-firms-table2Source: IDC’s Information Worker Survey, June 2012

Applying the same lawyer cost calculations used by Thomson Reuters in their 2017 report (4.3 hours per week X $463 average hourly rate X 49 annual worked weeks) reveals that an effective search capability can dramatically improve law firm productivity by as much as $97,500 annually per lawyer. Even normalizing this analysis for recovered billable time (assuming every hour of gained productivity results in less than a full hour of actual billable time) a law firm of a 1000 attorneys would realize tens of millions per year in recovered billable hours, in addition to important intangible benefits including enhanced work product, improved client satisfaction and attorney morale.

Many law firm attorneys tell us that without the right search solution, they can spend hours looking for a past proposal, a key client communication from several months prior, or many other forms of work product and client communications that are stored in emails, local drives or cloud file shares. If lawyers and paralegals cannot quickly find such information assets, then that represents a serious information governance failure. Time wasted rummaging around for past emails and documents is not billable time and directly cuts into a firms’ profit margin. To be sure, a law firm’s two most important assets are its professionals and their body of work product and other key information. As such, a top priority for law firm management should be to ensure their attorneys have the right productivity search solution to quickly find and retrieve the firms’ information assets.

However, the recurring theme we hear is that outside of the data managed by X1, enterprise search is a source of major frustration for law firms and other organizations. This is confirmed by survey after survey where the vast majority of respondents report dissatisfaction with their current enterprise search platform. Simply put, the traditional approach to enterprise search has not worked. This is largely because most search solutions deployed in recent years focused on IT requirements — which see search as either a technical project or a commodity — rather than an intimate end-user driven requirement that is core to their professional productivity.

And for lawyers especially, “good enough” is not good enough when it comes to their search. It does not make sense to invest in an enterprise search solution for business productivity search, unless there is a significant improvement in the end-users search experience for emails, files and SharePoint data.

At X1, however, many of our customers report dramatic improvements with their productivity search, with firm-wide X1 rollouts being major wins at their organization. We believe that X1’s unique focus on the end-user is the key. You won’t find many other business productivity search solutions where the end users drive demand, instead of the tool being imposed on the end-users by IT or systems integrators. We continually hear countless testimonials from business professionals, at law firms and companies large and small, who swear by their X1 and cannot imagine working without it. In speaking with industry analysts and other experts in the enterprise search field, this is an almost unheard of phenomenon, where end-user satisfaction with the companies’ enterprise search platform is usually around 10-15 percent, verses the 80-85 percent satisfaction ratio we see with X1.

Importantly, X1 is a platform. Users need a single-pane-of-glass view to all of their information – email, files, SharePoint, archives like Veritas Enterprise Vault, OneDrive, Box and other network and cloud sources.  X1 Search provides a user-friendly interface to all information that lets attorneys find what they are looking for in an instant.  But the thousands of X1 end users know all this. The key takeaway for CIOs and other IT executives is that search is an inherently personal user experience, and the number one requirement, by far, for a successful search initiative is enthusiastic end-user adoption. If the lawyers and other business professionals in your organization are not passionately embracing the search solution, then nothing else matters.

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Criminal Conviction Overturned Due to Failure to Authenticate Social Media Evidence

Law Journal for webUnder our ongoing effort to monitor legal developments concerning social media evidence, we again searched online legal databases of state and federal court decisions across the United States — this time to identify the number of cases in January 2017 where evidence from social networking sites played a meaningful role in the litigation. The initial search returned over 2,000 results. That is far too many to review manually, but through random sampling to eliminate duplicates and de minimis entries — defined as cases with merely cursory or passing mentions of social media sites — we counted over 1,200 cases accessible through Westlaw and/or Google Scholar for January 2017.

And as only a very small number of cases — approximately one percent of all filed cases — involve a published decision or brief that we can access online, it is safe to assume that tens of thousands more cases involved social media evidence during this time period. Additionally, these cases do not reflect the presumably many hundreds of thousands of more instances where social media evidence was relevant to a corporate or law enforcement investigation yet did not evolve into actual litigation. Even so, this limited survey is an important metric establishing the ubiquitous nature of social media evidence, its unequivocal and compelling importance, and the necessity of best practices technology to search and collect this data for litigation and compliance requirements. There is no question that nearly every criminal investigation and civil litigation matter involves at least some social media and internet-based evidence.

The following are a brief synopsis of five notable cases from the survey:

Brown v. State, (Ga: Supreme Court, January 23, 2017). In this case, the prosecution presented key evidence from a variety of social media sources, including a “cropped screenshot” from a YouTube video, several incriminating Facebook postings and a copy of a photograph downloaded from a Twitter account. The items were admitted into evidence and the defendant was convicted on all counts. However, a motion for new trial was brought on the basis of challenging the authenticity of the social media evidence introduced as screen shots. The court overturned the conviction on one of the counts (count of criminal gang activity). The Georgia Supreme Court upheld that ruling but determined that improper authentication was a harmless error as to the remaining counts that Defendant was also convicted on.

State v. Kolanowski, (Wash: Court of Appeals, January 30, 2017).  In another case involving the failure to authenticate social media evidence, a criminal defendant unsuccessfully sought to admit a screenshot of Facebook evidence that he maintained would have served as critical impeachment against the prosecutions’ main witness.  During pretrial motions, the State sought to exclude Facebook records that lacked foundation, and the defendant sought to admit a March 2015 screenshot of what purported to be a 2:49 a.m., February 8, 2014 Facebook post. The authenticity of that screenshot was successfully contested. It is apparent from the record that various metadata and other circumstantial evidence was not available (which could have been collected using best practices technology) that very well may have served to establish a proper evidentiary foundation.

ZAMUDIO-SOTO v. BAYER HealthCARE PHARMACEUTICALS INC. (US Dist. Ct, ND California, January 27, 2017). In this matter, a major product liability claim was barred on statute of limitation grounds based exclusively on the Plaintiff’s comments on her Facebook post.  Plaintiff’s Facebook comments drew a connection to her injury and the alleged defective product in question, and was posted on May 26, 2011, more than two years prior to her filing suit against Bayer. The court determined that Plaintiff’s Facebook post started the clock for her to bring her claim within the two year statute of limitations period. However, as she did not file her suit until January 2015, the court ultimately barred her action.

Jacobus v. Trump, (NY Supreme Court, January 9, 2017) This high-profile libel case is notable in that the claim against then-candidate Donald Trump was exclusively based upon social media evidence in the form of two separate tweets. Plaintiff Jacobus is a Republican political consultant and frequent commentator on television news channels and other media outlets, who was contacted by the Donald Trump campaign to potentially serve as a key staff member. After several meetings, Plaintiff ultimately did not join the campaign, based upon what she asserts was a mutual decision.  A few months later, Jocobus appeared on CNN where she made some comments that were critical of Trump. In response, Trump tweeted:  “@cherijacobus begged us for a job. We said no and she went hostile. A real dummy!”  A day later, on February 3, 2016, Plaintiff’s then lawyer sent Trump a cease and desist letter. Two days after that, Trump posted the following tweet about Plaintiff: “Really dumb @CheriJacobus. Begged my people for a job. Turned her down twice and she went hostile. Major loser, zero credibility!” Ultimately the court construed Trump’s comments to be “hyperbolic” opinion, based upon subjective perception of events, and thus did not constitute defamation under the law, and thereby dismissed Jacobus’s claim.

Johnson v. ABF Freight System, Inc. US Dist. Court, MD Florida, January 27, 2017. This opinion is based upon a motion to compel discovery of the Plaintiff’s Facebook account. The Defendant asserted that Plaintiff’s Facebook account would be relevant to his damages claims arising out of a serious personal injury claim. The Court granted the motion to compel, but limited the production of the Facebook account to a certain date range and also only information that related to his employment and business activities and efforts to gain employment.

There is no question that the volume of cases involving social media evidence is increasing on a monthly basis. In addition to case law, another metric reflecting the industry’s standardization of social media evidence collection is the sheer volume of sophisticated customers that have now adopted X1 Social Discovery. Nearly 500 eDiscovery and computer forensics services firms have at least one paid copy of X1 Social Discovery. I cannot think of a single service provider in the eDiscovery space that performs at least some ESI collection services that does not have at least one paid X1 Social license. Social media evidence collection is now a standard practice in many law enforcement matters as well. So, if you are one of the minority of digital investigative or eDiscovery professionals who have not adopted X1 Social Discovery, please contact us for a demo today.

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Judge Facciola Addresses Impact of New Federal Rule of Evidence 902(14)

john_m-_facciola

As part of our continuing coverage and analysis of Federal Rule of Evidence 902(14), we are highlighting a  very notable Law Review article now available online, penned by Hon. Judge John Facciola as lead author, in the Georgetown Law Technology Review: Law of the Foal: Careful Steps Towards Digital Competence in Proposed Rules 902(13) and 902(14). U.S Magistrate Judge Facciola (Ret), who is now a Georgetown law professor, is well known for his many important and insightful court opinions involving eDiscovery issues when he was on the bench. So his analysis on Rules 902(13) (14), which exclusively address electronic evidence, will be influential.

To review, FRE 902(14) is a very important new rule, which provides that electronic data recovered “by a process of digital identification” is to be self-authenticating, thereby not routinely necessitating the trial testimony of a forensic or technical expert where best practices are employed, as certified through a written affidavit by a “qualified person.” This rule will have a significant impact on computer forensics and eDiscovery collection practices when it goes into effect later this year. A detailed discussion of Rule 902(14) can be found here.

A key takeaway from the Georgetown Law Technology article is that Facciola believes 902(14) will have a very positive impact by mainstreaming and standardizing electronic evidence collection practices and the supporting technology among the courts and attorneys. Facciola notes: “The proposed Rules will likely reduce litigation costs spent authenticating information, and help foster judicial efficiency and familiarity with technology. Authentication using hash values will allow courts and lawyers to focus on more pressing issues, and will provide courts with the assurance that presented digital evidence is, in fact, what it purports to be.”

Further to this point, Facciola notes that the written certifications provided by eDiscovery and computer forensics practitioners under Rule 902(14) “could illuminate for the court the underlying forensic science that will explain why the evidence being offered can be trusted and relied upon. This is, of course, a welcome alternative to lawyers and courts looking everywhere except the technological basis to determine the authenticity of an email or a Facebook entry.”

The article contains a detailed discussion of hashing as a process of digital identification, which Judge Facciola identifies as a very important process to fulfill the requirements of the Rule: “Hashing provides exactly the proof that Rule 902 requires: that the document is what the attorney states that it is.”

In one regard, Judge Facciola believes the goal of the new Rule is modest, but the Judge is addressing the overall admission of the electronic evidence at hand, including other potential evidentiary objections related to its content, such as hearsay, relevance, and other matters that are generally beyond the scope of a forensic collection and examination. From the perspective of eDiscovery and computer forensics collection practices however, the article confirms that the impact will be very significant and widespread across the practice.

Most of all, Judge Facciola  predicts a meaningful intangible impact from the rule as judges and lawyers will surely become much more familiar with computer forensic technology, which will lead to more widespread adaption and more rapid development in the law in this area:

“[T]he technology properly understood can lead to further advances in creating new rules that will deal with the other issues of authenticity that are based on a forensic evaluation of how computers operate, and create vitally useful information. Forensic technology may answer quickly whether a particular computer produced this electronically stored information because data created by the system itself can answer that question indubitably in particular case.”

We definitely agree, and in terms of supporting technology to enable compliance with Rule 902(14) and any future related legal developments, X1 Distributed Discovery for enterprise collections and X1 Social Discovery for social media and website collections are geared toward providing such quick and unequivocal answers to questions of ESI authenticity.

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Federal Evidence Rule 902(14) is Immediately Applicable for ESI Collections

X1 and Reed Smith recently hosted a timely webinar on new Federal Rule of Evidence 902(14) and its expected impact on eDiscovery and computer forensics collection practices. Reed Smith senior partner and eDiscovery practice chair David Cohen led the discussion, providing a substantive and detailed discussion on the new rule, including its nuances and expected practice impact. FRE 902(14) provides that electronic data recovered “by a process of digital identification” is to be self-authenticating, thereby not routinely necessitating the trial testimony of a forensic or technical expert where best practices are employed, as certified through a written affidavit by a “qualified person.” A detailed discussion of Rule 902(14) can be found here.

The webinar, which also provides a detailed overview of the rule, features excellent analysis and insight from David Cohen on how he anticipates the new rule will be applied. In fact, the key takeaway from the webinar is that while FRE 902(14) technically goes into effect on December 1, 2017, Cohen correctly noted that ESI collected in a Rule 902(14) compliant manner any time prior to the rule’s effective date can be subject to the new rule’s provisions once the rule goes into effect. This is important, because digital evidence is routinely collected well in advance of trial. Electronic evidence that an examiner collects today may not be actually introduced at trial until one year or more from now, so practitioners need to understand and account for Rule 902(14) immediately.

Cohen believes that FRE 902(14) will be widely applied and will overall increase the utilization of eDiscovery and computer forensics practitioners. This is because the rule provides a streamlined and very efficient process to establish a foundation for ESI collected in a Rule 902(14) manner. This will increase predictability by eliminating surprise challenges, and will encourage, instead of discourage, the use of forensics and eDiscovery practitioners by allowing written certifications in the place of expensive and burdensome in-person trial testimony. Cohen also noted that while most cases do not proceed to trial, a much higher percentage involve dispositive court motions (such as a motion for summary judgment in civil actions) and he expects FRE 902(14) to be widely used in support of such motions.

I have covered eDiscovery and computer forensics law for over 15 years, and in my opinion, FRE 902(14) is the single most important legal development directly impacting ESI collection practices to date. All eDiscovery and computer forensics professionals have a professional responsibility to keep current with key legal and technological developments in the field. There is no question FRE 902(14) is such a development, and all those involved in ESI preservation and collection from both a technical, legal and managerial perspective need to be fully briefed on the law.

Viewing the video recording of the webinar is a good start, and it can be accessed here.

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