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Look Before You Leap

By David Strom  |  Posted 2009-09-29 Print this article Print

When implemented correctly, the best e-discovery systems can save a pile of cash and time, and can become real productivity boosters.

Look Before You Leap

Before beginning an e-discovery process, take a look at the standardized model from the Electronic Delivery Reference Model, an industry group created to develop and establish e-discovery guidelines and standards. On edrm.net, you can see a series of working groups and other efforts to bring some sense to this landscape. The whole nature of legal discovery is shifting as a result of these standards and better tools.

“The paper world had lower volumes, lower risk of spoliation [deleting, hiding or withholding evidence] and had its information gathering spread out over longer time periods,” says Ron Best, director of legal information systems at the law firm Munger, Tolles and Olson in Los Angeles. The firm uses Clearwell’s e-discovery software.

“Paper used a hub-and-spoke approach, with the case attorney at the center with outgoing single lines of support,” he explains. “The attorney sent orders, and individual team members reacted. That is no longer possible with the nature of data and information systems today. The data is too voluminous, the systems are too complex, the risks are higher and time is compressed. In such a paradigm, there is only one answer to the question of who should be involved—a nimble, well-informed team.”

The first step is to locate your critical data and determine how it is used—what many call a “data map.” Jason Straight, senior managing director of Kroll Ontrack’s Computer Forensics in New York, advises: “Before you buy any system, spend some time with your lawyers and create a data map that will give you a sense of where your most critical documents reside and which applications created those documents. Although technology can assist in this, it is a very manual process, and knowing the right people to interview is critical.”

Second, have clear data-retention policies. “Make sure your data-retention policies are written—and make sense—for the business and are periodically revised,” Straight says. “Also ensure that these policies are enforced and followed.”

Sometimes, what isn’t specified in these policies can cause problems. “The new regulations and guidance in the area of e-discovery will work for you if you have a records management policy and system in place before the legal hold and e-discovery process starts,” says Maureen Durack, director of management information services for law firm Vedder Price in Chicago. “If there are no procedures or policies, you can’t make assumptions about how your information is stored, or how it can best be retrieved in order to save time and money.

“The IT department is under pressure to reduce costs, but it often has no guidance on how and when data can be destroyed. A good records management policy governs paper and electronic records, and provides the process and procedures for storage, organization, retrieval and destruction—aligning the goals of the organization with the goals of IT and legal.”

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