ESI in 2010: Trash or Treasure?

While calling 2010 the year of deletion might be over the top for most companies, it is a topic to consider during our current economic realities and the constant threat of litigation.

There is no time like the present to undertake a house cleaning of electronically stored information (ESI). Storage costs, poor organization and expensive restoration of backup tapes for litigation purposes are the norm, while at the same time there are many available tools to de-duplicate, organize and store inexpensively.

Most in-house lawyers now understand that a company’s ability to save money when litigation hits starts before litigation hits. That means having an understanding of how your company's ESI is stored and organized and proactively doing something about it. If you have no litigation hold pending that would require you to preserve certain ESI for the duration of the legal proceedings, now is definitely the time to act.

Record retention or ESI management have two parts: retain and delete. Many companies are pretty good at the “retaining” part, although they do need help implementing and organizing it. The harder part is often the “delete” part. This is true not just for the organization as a whole but also for the people who make up that organization. Many people are loathe to delete their lunch invitation e-mails, let alone anything that rises to the level of a substantive subject. It takes a shift in thinking, a shift in policy or, more often than not, a shift of money from your company to a vendor to process the ESI – and the lawyers to review it in a large e-discovery project – before a shift really takes hold.

It often takes that first million-dollar bill during the discovery phase of litigation to wake up a company executive or law department that it might make sense to deal with the excessive ESI issue. Actual money that affects the bottom line is often the only true motivator. Otherwise the expense and/or the mental capital to deal with the issue from a technology, planning and implementation perspective is often too much to handle.

Buy-in at the top is needed. Make your case for how this type of deletion and organization of ESI is critical to the company bottom line. Half of all in-house lawyers believe that their company is not ready to handle an ESI discovery project. I wonder if that’s the half that hasn’t yet been hit with huge litigation and believes that they won’t get hit with litigation this year?

2010 is fast approaching and the new year brings all things new. For many, dealing with ESI would certainly fall under the “new” category -- and makes for a great resolution.

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