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Friday, August 31, 2007

E-Discovery Trends Take Center Stage at ILTA

This is the first of several guest posts from Kurt Leafstrand, formerly a rocket scientist at MIT and now an e-discovery guru at Clearwell. Kurt was on vacation last week, but couldn't resist spending part of it at an important gathering in Florida. His report:

Last week, 3,000 of the country's top legal technologists gathered in Orlando for the 2007 International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) conference. Lawyers will always be lawyers, so the hotel staff seemed particularly diligent as they secured the electrical cords to the floor of the exhibit hall, and the Starbucks seemed a bit on the cool side. However, the discussions and technology were far from cold, and the show was a great chance to learn from some of the industry's leading practitioners from both corporations and law firms.

E-discovery was the focus of many of the conversations, and several emerging trends were at the forefront:

Courts are taking a more active role in e-discovery: With the changes to rule 26(f) in the FRCP, parties are required to confer early (and agree on!) e-discovery. This has pushed the courts to start issuing guidelines to help remove some of the ambiguity from this process and to help parties reach a faster consensus. In one session, Browning Marean of DLA Piper highlighted as "best thinking" a protocol from the Maryland District Court, which included:

  • Defining minimum standards for the kind of information to be exchanged
  • Recommending that each party have an ESI coordinator (this may lead to IT/legal tech being brought into the meet and confer process)
  • Setting defaults to be applied if parties can't agree

One panelist pointed out that, in spite of all this, "the average litigator is woefully unprepared for the e-discovery aspects of the rule 26(f) conference." With the courts showing early aggressiveness in ensuring that the FRCP changes are actually put into practice, it appears that the already intensive focus on ESI will only increase, so firms and corporations need to get their acts together quickly.

Discovery battles are taking center stage: In what many see as a worrisome trend, e-discovery battles are increasingly common and focus "not on the case and its merits, but on spoliation and sanctions." Because of the error-prone nature of most e-discovery efforts, it often pays to look for "little slips... did some executive accidentally delete his email? Was there a failure to produce?" One astute participant commented that the "interest in sanctions is because electronic data is so treacherous. It's much easier to get it wrong than right."

Two current e-discovery "train wrecks" serve to highlight this:

How do corporations and firms better manage their risk in light of these trends? One panel of senior partners suggested that parties need to work smarter, not harder, when it comes to e-discovery, and understand that the state of the art is moving toward a highly iterative e-discovery process. In most initial e-discovery requests today, “the signal-to-noise ratio is such that search results are often meaningless.” This new approach will need to be “negotiated throughout the e-discovery process,” but is going to becoming increasingly critical for both sides of the case to work together on in order to assure that they don’t find themselves in the same (costly) boat as Intel and Qualcomm. This trend was especially relevant to ILTA attendees, because the only way to make this iterative process work is through their active participation, assisted by the next generation of e-discovery 2.0 technologies.

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