Recently two separate and prominent courts — the federal court for the Northern District of California and the Delaware Court of Chancery (which is the primary court of equity for Delaware registered corporations) issued eDiscovery preservation guidelines. This is not unprecedented as other courts have issued similar written guidance in the form of general guidance or even more enforceable local rules of court specifically addressing eDiscovery protocols. What I found particularly interesting, however, is both courts provided fairly specific guidance on the scope of collection and preservation. In the case of the California court, which notes that its “guidelines are designed to establish best practices for evidence preservation in the digital age,” the Court offers a checklist for Rule 26(f) “meet and confer” conferences with good detail on suggested ESI preservation protocols. The Delaware Court of Chancery also issued a detailed checklist or “sample collection outline.” ESI preservation checklists are useful practice guides, and these are sanctioned by two separate influential courts.
This is important as the largest expense directly associated with eDiscovery is the cost of overly inclusive preservation and collection, which leads to increased volume charges and attorney review costs. To the surprise of many, properly targeted preservation initiatives are permitted by the courts and can be enabled by adroit software that is able to quickly and effectively access and search these data sources throughout the enterprise.
The value of targeted preservation is recognized in the Committee Notes to the FRCP amendments, which urge the parties to reach agreement on the preservation of data and the keywords used to identify responsive materials. (Citing the Manual for Complex Litigation (MCL) (4th) §40.25 (2)). And In re Genetically Modified Rice Litigation, 2007 WL 1655757 (June 5, 2007 E.D.Mo.), the court noted that “[p]reservation efforts can become unduly burdensome and unreasonably costly unless those efforts are targeted to those documents reasonably likely to be relevant or lead to the discovery of relevant evidence.”
The checklist from the California Northern District and the guidelines issued by the Delaware court are consistent with these principles as they call for the specification of date ranges, custodian names and search terms for any ESI to be preserved. The Northern District checklist, for instance, provides for the identification of specific custodians and job titles of custodians whose ESI is to be preserved, and also specific search phrases search terms “that will be used to identify discoverable ESI and filter out ESI that is not subject to discovery.”
However, many lawyers shy away from a targeted collection strategy over misplaced defensibility concerns, optioning instead for full disk imaging and other broad collection efforts that exponentially escalate litigation costs. The fear by some is that there always may be that one document that could be missed. However, in my experience of following eDiscovery case law over the past decade, the situations where litigants face exposure on the preservation front typically involve an absence of a defensible process. When courts sanction parties, it is usually because there is not a reasonable legal hold procedure in place, where the process is ad hoc and made up on the fly and/or not effectively executed. I am personally unaware of a published decision involving a fact pattern where a company featured a reasonable collection and preservation process involving targeted collection executed pursuant to standard operating procedures, yet was sanctioned because one or two relevant documents slipped through the cracks.
This is because the duty to preserve requires reasonable efforts, not infallible means, to collect potentially relevant information. As succinctly stated by the Delaware court: “Parties are not required to preserve every shred of information. Act reasonably.”
Another barrier standing in the way of defensible and targeted collection is that searching and performing early case assessment at the point of collection is not feasible in the decentralized global enterprise with traditional eDiscovery and information management tools. What is needed to address these challenges for the de-centralized enterprise is a field-deployable search and eDiscovery solution that operates in distributed and virtualized environments on-demand within these distributed global locations where the data resides. In order to meet such a challenge, the eDiscovery and search solution must immediately and rapidly install, execute and efficiently operate locally, including in a virtual environment, where the site data is located, without rigid hardware requirements or on-site physical access.
This ground breaking capability is what X1 Rapid Discovery provides. Its ability to uniquely deploy and operate in the IaaS cloud also means that the solution can install anywhere within the wide-area network, remotely and on-demand. Importantly, the search index is created virtually in the location proximity of the data subject to collection. This enables even globally decentralized enterprises to perform targeted search and collection efforts in an efficient, defensible and highly cost effective manner. Or, in the words of the Delaware court — the ability to act reasonably.