It's 2 a.m. Do You Know Where Your E-mail Is?

I have long argued that companies keep too much e-mail. There are numerous approaches to dealing with this problem that I have seen. First are the companies that have no policy at all. Well, actually they have as many policies as they have employees, as everyone is doing their own thing. This not only enlarges the company’s volume (and therefore cost), but it makes it very difficult to preserve e-mail for litigation or other investigations.

Second are those who have a policy but do not audit it through training or technological means. They’ve gone through the process of creating a policy but never quite got around to seeing to it that their employees follow it.

Third, there are those who have a policy, train on it initially, implement and audit but over time it becomes less important as everyone focuses on their job and no one is assigned the task of making sure there is compliance.

Finally, there are those who arbitrarily deal with their e-mail through a purely technological methodology and do not allow their employees to make any decisions about it at all.

Whatever approach describes your company, you also must deal with the issue of employees using their personal e-mail accounts to handle work e-mail. In a recent survey by Axway, 82% of employees surveyed said they use personal e-mail accounts to send large files that would otherwise not make it through their company e-mail systems. It’s not that they’re trying to hide anything; they are simply trying to get their work done and found that it’s just too much hassle to get IT to let that particular document through the system. Perhaps they even chose to have it sent via a disc of some kind but normally they need that e-mail immediately and thus resort to using their personal account(s) to access it.

This is the reality and thus has huge implications for security, record retention and litigation hold purposes. Is your trade secret and confidential information sitting in Gmail or Yahoo! accounts? Or on the personal computers of your employees? What if it’s the official record that the company has a legal or regulatory obligation to keep for a certain time period? What if that employee becomes subject to a litigation hold that requires the company to preserve that information? Can we simply put a hold on his/her shared drive and e-mail accounts at work or must we now make sure his/her home computers are impounded for the same purposes? Obviously there are privacy issues at work here as well.

The employee is usually doing this for work reasons, efficiency, etc. But do they realize the potential impact on their personal privacy if their home computer is subject to an evidentiary hold? Do the employee’s spouse and children realize that their information might be subject to an attorney reviewer looking at their e-mail if it’s co-mingled with corporate e-mail on a home computer?

If employees and companies start asking the questions and talking about these practical issues even more, perhaps we can come up with solutions that work for the reality of the world we live in. Follow Barry on Twitter.

It's Your Fault! No It's Your Fault!

I decided I would begin my Lawdable blogging career with a look at a somewhat light piece of e-discovery case law … if there is such a thing. I do follow case law and I hope that my future posts on the subject will offer more of a “this is the potential bottom-line effect” versus a strictly academic viewpoint – I find that to be much more practical (and interesting). In the meantime, I look forward to your suggestions or thoughts. Here we go:

Lawsuits are about conflict and not always just between the parties. Is there a client that hasn’t complained about its attorney, or a lawyer who hasn’t bemoaned the actions of his/her client? It’s just part of human nature. But what happens when one or both of you fail to fulfill your preservation obligations, and this leads to sanctions? Who pays the piper?

The obligations of the client and the lawyer are clear: you must preserve Electronically Stored Information (ESI) that is relevant to the case at hand. The lawyer must provide the legal advice on what is potentially relevant and the practical advice on how to preserve it – and then monitor the client’s implementation of that advice. Having and implementing consistent best practices will be your best shot at fulfilling this obligation.

In Green v. McClendon 2009 WL 2496275 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 13, 2009), ESI was lost when the client had “the son of a friend” re-install the operating system on her computer. The lawyer apparently did not properly implement a litigation hold and did not properly inspect and search for relevant ESI on that computer before the son of a friend “helped out.”

The court sanctioned both the client and the lawyer for the costs of the motion to compel and noted that if the court found out later that bad faith was involved in the loss of the ESI, the court would impose an adverse inference.

The final issue for the court was this: how to allocate blame between the client and the lawyer? The court concluded that they should work it out amongst themselves and present the court with a plan. (Really, how do you think that conversation went?) If, however, they are unable to agree on cost allocation then they could present the issue to the court “for determination.” (If that were to happen, does anyone else see any potential conflict there?)

The bottom line is this: the lawyer and the client must understand their obligations to preserve ESI. The lawyer and the client must work together to implement the plan. Working together and following best practices to fulfill the preservation obligation will keep your side moving in the right direction and prevent sanctions – instead of battling each other when sanctions are imposed.