Category Archives: Preservation & Collection

Case Law Update: Federal Court Endorses Targeted Search Term Based ESI Collection

By John Patzakis

A recent decision from the Southern District of New York provides that the parties’ have obligations to conduct reasonable searches during discovery, but such searches may be targeted. The court invoked the proportionality concepts within the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern the production of Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”). In Raine Grp. v. Reign Capital, (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2022), the plaintiff, “a merchant bank with over 100 employees,” sued defendant “Reign Capital LLC, a two-person real estate development and management firm, for trademark infringement and unfair competition based on Defendant’s” name. After unsuccessful meet and confer efforts to negotiate an ESI protocol, the Court ruled on two key issues in dispute—the scope of the plaintiff’s search and collection obligations and the formulation of certain search terms.

The court, in its written decision, first articulated a party’s general obligations under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, noting that Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 26 and 34 “require parties to conduct a reasonable search for documents that are relevant to the claims and defenses.” The court further noted that under Rule 26(a), “Parties have an affirmative obligation to search for documents which they may use to support their claims or defenses.” In meeting these obligations, the court provided that a producing party may utilize search methodologies, specifically mentioning search terms. The court observed that, “in this instance, the producing party must include and utilize search terms it believes are needed to fulfill its obligations under Rule 26 in addition to considering additional search terms requested by the requesting party.” The court—in addressing the concept of reasonable, proportional discovery under the Rules—continued: “In other words, the producing party must search custodians and locations it identifies on its own as sources for relevant information as part of its obligations under Rules 26 and 34.” Importantly, the court noted that “an ESI protocol and search terms work in tandem with the parties’ obligations under the Federal Rules…”

Additionally, the court advised the plaintiff to search not only the relevant custodians’ direct data sources, but also “other sources of data such as shared drives that are not particular to a specific custodian that should be searched as part of Plaintiffs’ obligations under Rule 26. Plaintiff is expected to conduct a reasonable search of such non-custodian sources likely to have relevant information.” The court here is making an important point about shared network drives, and that the parties have a duty to search them for relevant information. We have previously blogged about the importance of network file shares and how to effectively conduct eDiscovery on those critical data sources.

In regard to the formation of search terms, the court, explained that “[s]earch terms, while helpful, must be carefully crafted. Poorly crafted terms may return thousands of irrelevant documents and increase, rather than minimize the burden of locating relevant and responsive ESI. They also can miss documents containing a word that has the same meaning or that is misspelled.” The court further correctly advised that overly broad search terms “are typically not sufficiently targeted to find relevant documents. Modifiers are often needed to hone in on truly relevant documents.” This decision is very important as the court endorses the concept of utilizing highly targeted search terms and other parameters to defensibly collect and preserve potentially relevant ESI.

Additionally, this decision illustrates the necessity of an iterative, in-place search and collection process. None of the cost-saving, targeted collection efforts outlined by the court can be realized without an operational capability to effectuate them. Ideally, the producing party can employ a defensible, targeted, and iterative search and collection process in place, prior to collection to effectuate the proportional discovery process approved by the court in this decision. However, without such a capability, the alternative is an expensive, over-collection effort, where the data is searched post collection. Enabling the search iteration and targeted collection upstream brings dramatic cost savings, risk reduction, and other process efficiencies.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law, eDiscovery & Compliance, Enterprise Search, Preservation & Collection

Post Pandemic, Corporate eDiscovery Undergoes a Permanent Paradigm Shift

By John Patzakis

While the pandemic disrupted the workplace during its height, it is now becoming clear that a more permanent transformation has taken place. Employees and their electronic information assets are far more geographically dispersed. This is requiring corporate legal departments to rethink how they conduct eDiscovery, as the old model based upon data over-collection is no longer tenable. Instead, corporations are favoring a more targeted approach to ESI collection.

Industry analyst Greg Buckles of the eDiscovery Journal recently provided a good analysis on this topic:

“The sheer volume of raw custodial collections has put pressure on discovery professionals to use an iterative selective collection strategy. That puts the corporate legal team closer to scoping and collection activities than most have been. For too long corporate legal has felt uncomfortable pushing back on overly burdensome or broad discovery requests from opposing or retained counsel. The recent development of proportionality frameworks, guidelines and tools has the potential to empower corporate legal to make defensible cost-risk arguments.”

Buckles further observes that “some of my clients have drastically cut their eDiscovery related expenses through these kinds of initiatives.” He terms this as a “grand enterprise reboot” that “brings (corporate legal) to the table with a fresh perspective.”

Most core eDiscovery costs (outside of attorney review) stem from over-collection of ESI. While direct collection costs can seem inexpensive, law firm Nelson Mullins notes that “over preservation tends to have its own costs relating to storage of large amounts of electronically stored information (ESI) and the resources needed to manage it; leads to increased downstream e-discovery costs associated with collection, processing, and review.”

As outlined by Buckles, proportionality-based eDiscovery is an important principle that all corporate attorneys should be leveraging. 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. However, attorneys representing enterprises are essentially flying blind on this analysis when it matters most. Prior to the custodian data being actually collected, processed and analyzed, attorneys do not have any real visibility into the potentially relevant ESI across an organization. This is especially true in regard to unstructured, distributed data, which is invariably the majority of ESI that is ultimately collected in a given matter.

If accurate pre-collection data insight were available to counsel, that game-changing factor would enable counsel to set reasonable discovery limits and ultimately process, host, review and produce much less ESI. Counsel can further use pre-collection proportionality analysis to gather key information, develop a litigation budget, and better manage litigation deadlines. Such insights can also foster cooperation by informing the parties early in the process about where relevant ESI is located, and what keywords and other search parameters can identify and pinpoint relevant ESI.

A solution to these challenges is the utilization of index and search in-place technology. Indexing and search in-place in this context means that a software-based indexing technology is deployed directly onto file servers, laptops or even in the cloud to address cloud-based data sources. This indexing occurs without a bulk data transfer of the data. Once indexed, the searches are performed in a few seconds, with complex Boolean operators, metadata filters and regular expression searches. The searches can be iterated and repeated without limitation, which is critical for large data sets.

But it is important that the technology employed truly enables index-in-place, with the indexes deployed directly onto the laptops, file shares or cloud servers where the data exists. Some providers will market their tools as such, but the indexing and searching actually takes place in their platform at a central location. Data must first be copied and collected off of laptops and file servers and migrated over the network to get the indexing engines. This does not scale for eDiscovery. For information about X1’s index-in-place technology, X1 Enterprise Platform, please visit us here.

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Filed under Best Practices, collection, compliance, eDiscovery, eDiscovery & Compliance, Enterprise eDiscovery, ESI, Preservation & Collection, proportionality