Industry Experts: Proportionality Principles Apply to ESI Preservation and Collection

By John Patzakis

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 overbroad eDiscovery production. In a recent webinar, eDiscovery attorney Martin Tully of Redgrave LLP, addressed how to use processes and best practices to operationally attain this goal, particularly in the context of preservation and collection. In addition to being a partner at the Redgrave firm, Tully is currently the chair of the Steering Committee of the Sedona Conference Working Group on Electronic Document Retention and Production (WG1), providing additional import to his comments on the subject.

During the webinar, Tully noted that the “duty to preserve is directly aligned with what is within the scope of discovery….so if something is not within the scope of discovery – that is its either not relevant or its not proportional to the needs of the case — then there should not be an obligation to preserve it in the first place.” Tully discussed at length the recent case of Raine Grp. v. Reign Capital, (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2022), which holds that under FRC 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. Tully explained that the court—in addressing the concept of reasonable, proportional discovery under the Rules – provides that producing parties are obligated to search custodians and locations it identifies on its own as sources for relevant information as part of its obligations under Rule 26, but that such identification and collection efforts should be proportional.

Further to these points, Tully weighed in on overbroad practice of full-disk imaging, noting that it should not be the default practice for eDiscovery collection: “Too often there is a knee jerk approach of ‘let’s just take a forensic image of everything – just because.’” According to Tully, alternative and more targeted search and collection methods were more appropriate for eDiscovery and can better effectuate proportional efforts: “Indexing in-place is key because it doesn’t just preserve in-place and reduce costs, but it can give you insight (into the data) to further justify your decision not to collect it in the first place, or if you need to, you are in much better shape to go back and collect the data in a tailored and focused way.”

Co-presenter Mandi Ross, CEO of Insight Optix also provided keen insight, outlining her typical workflow applying the aforementioned proportionality concepts through custodian and data source ranking and keyword searching performed in an iterative manner to identify key custodians, data sources, and the potentially relevant data itself. To effectuate this, Mandi noted that the enterprise eDiscovery collection and early data assessment process should enable a targeted, remote, and automated search capability, with immediate pre-collection visibility into custodial data.

In fact, both Tully and Ross emphasized in their comments that none of the cost-saving, targeted collection efforts permitted under the Federal Rules 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.

A recording of the webinar on proportionality can be accessed here.

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Filed under Best Practices, Case Law, Case Study, eDiscovery, eDiscovery & Compliance, Enterprise eDiscovery, ESI, Information Management, Preservation & Collection, proportionality

Usage-Based Pricing Model Increasingly Driving eDiscovery Software Growth

by John Patzakis

Legal Tech software CEOs often grapple with two competing challenges: Growing revenue in a manner that supports how customers buy their products for their individual cases, while at the same time maximizing shareholder value by recording recurring revenue, which the investor community typically favors. Recurring revenue generally comes in the form of fixed annual or monthly subscription licenses.

However, eDiscovery software providers are increasingly aligning their SaaS pricing strategy with the amount of product usage their customers consume. Instead of paying a fixed rate, the pricing is based upon actual usage. The benefits of this approach include a shorter and simpler purchasing process and increased customer satisfaction and retention.

In the eDiscovery space, customers often prefer to pay by “matter”, i.e., per lawsuit or legal case. Law firms and service providers typically utilize eDiscovery SaaS software specific to an individual case on a pass-through cost basis, where their end-client ultimately pays for the services. In the case of corporate law departments, oftentimes the organization prefers to purchase annual subscriptions for eDiscovery and apply the license over multiple matters in the course of the year. However, such buying decisions vary by organization, with corporate counsel sometimes deferring eDiscovery workflow and tech decisions to their law firms, which favors a usage-based pricing model.

While tech companies with recurring annual term revenue will typically garner higher valuations, eDiscovery software firms with usage-based pricing models are now seeing similarly elevated valuations. Investors are recognizing the very unique economics and buying dynamics specific to the eDiscovery software space. But it is incumbent on eDiscovery software execs, their investment bankers, and board members to educate the broader market on this dynamic unique to the eDiscovery space. In some situations, investors new to this space attempt to apply a steep discount to usage-based SaaS revenue, as it doesn’t fit in with their “paint by the numbers” ARR models. Rick Weber, Managing Director of Legal Tech investment banking firm Arbor Ridge Partners notes, “while the usage model is not annual recurring, it is ‘monthly re-occurring,’ and thus projections and modeling can be made based on company history and industry norms and should be treated like ARR contracts.”

In fact, usage-based pricing is now gaining wider acceptance in the broader SaaS software market beyond legal tech. Cloud infrastructure providers AWS and Microsoft Azure are obvious examples of successful usage-based pricing strategies, but many startups and medium sized companies have successfully implemented the model as well. While usage-based revenue may seem less predictable compared to other pricing models, companies using this model are often growing faster, retaining more revenue, and valued at high revenue multiples. But again, this realization requires a closer look by investors and an intelligent education effort by the companies and their advisors.

One caveat for investors is to confirm that the value of the SaaS usage offering is mostly based upon proprietary software tech versus services that are dressed up as SaaS. Some eDiscovery service providers attempt to position their services as SaaS, without a true standalone propriety software component. An analysis of the cost of sales/gross margins and assessment of the actual proprietary nature of the software is determinative. Gross margins should be at least 80 percent. And while some services are often provided in conjunction with a SaaS usage-based offering, a qualifying factor is whether the software is also separately offered purely as a traditional license to end users without any services required, which is how many customers will opt to buy.

But for true usage-based SaaS offerings, the flexibility, simplicity and supporting of legal customers purchasing dynamics are key to rapid growth and customer satisfaction. As summarized by Weber, “many of the PE firms and investors that have made big bets on such companies in recent years seem to understand the nuance and opportunity while many still lag behind and simply need to think outside of their box.”

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Filed under Best Practices, Cloud Data, Corporations, eDiscovery, Enterprise eDiscovery, Information Management, SaaS, Uncategorized

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

ILTA eDiscovery Survey Highlights Targeted ESI Collection as the Preferred Methodology

By John Patzakis


The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) recently published a very informative and comprehensive law firm eDiscovery practice survey, “2021 Litigation and Practice Support Survey.” ILTA received responses from litigation support professionals from 82 different law firms ranging in size from medium to large, on a variety of subjects, including eDiscovery practice trends and software tool usage. While the survey addresses a variety of aspects of legal tech and litigation, the survey reveals a couple of very notable insights regarding ESI collection in the enterprise.

The first important insight reflects that targeted ESI collection is the clear preferred method over forensic collection for litigation support purposes. Fifty-nine percent of respondents preferred “targeted collection (non-forensic)” as their standard methodology, while 13 percent still preferred forensic imaging. Forensic collection is rightfully on the decline as a method of ESI collection, as legal counsel seeks to leverage proportionality concepts that greatly reduce cost, time and risk associated with otherwise inefficient eDiscovery.

However, attaining the benefits of targeted collection 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. That is why we see forensic imaging, the epitome of data over-collection, on a steep decline.

The second notable takeaway was that network file shares and “loose files” were the most common form of collection data sources, even outpacing email. Network file shares are a significant challenge with data volumes, typically 10 to 20 terabytes, but can be much higher. Nearly every company and government agency maintains such large file shares, sometimes hundreds of them, depending on the size of the organization. Large network file shares can be found on premise or in a company’s cloud environment.

Traditional eDiscovery collection methods fail to efficiently address these large file shares, due to significant logistical challenges. The data cannot simply be searched in-place by traditional forensics tools or other crawling methods. Consequently, the data is typically copied in bulk and then migrated to another location for processing, where the data is finally indexed and then searched and culled. This approach does not enable the targeted, proportional collection methods preferred by law firms, as noted above.

To accomplish the goals of both targeted collection and addressing large file shares, index and search in-place technology should be utilized. Indexing and search in-place in this context means that a software-based indexing technology (as opposed to an expensive and cumbersome stand-alone hardware appliance) is deployed directly onto the file server or an adjacent computing resource. 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.

These capabilities supporting targeted and proportional collection of loose files, emails, and large network file shares are uniquely provided in the X1 Enterprise Platform.

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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