Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the “new” electronic data discovery (“EDD”) rules.* In fact, the EDD rules were not new, they were intended to be a codification of the basic rules already in use by the various district courts. Despite that, a study conducted by LexisNexis at the October Association of Corporate Counsel 2007 Annual Meeting in Chicago found that corporate counsel continue to struggle with implementation of the rules and confusion about what the EDD rules required. For example, 70% of respondents believed that electronic files had to be produced in their native formats. In fact, you simply must work with opposing counsel to decide what format to produce the files in, either their native formats or some chosen standard format. This confusion should not have surprised anyone. Even in IP circles, lawyers rarely fully understand a company’s IT infrastructure and the IT people rarely understand the legal process. This disconnect can be very dangerous when it comes to meeting EDD obligations.
If your company is still struggling with the EDD rules or, worse, avoiding them completely, you can solve your problems with some relatively simple actions. First, take a breath, open your copy of the Federal Rules and read them thoughtfully and then set up a meeting with the head of your company’s IT infrastructure, the head of your company’s legal department or litigation staff and an outside counsel with EDD experience. Working together, come up with a general plan for gathering and preserving the appropriate information as cases arise. Pay special attention to how your plan fits with the company’s overall data retention policies (yes, your company should have data retention policies and the policy should be followed carefully) and how to suspend any periodic or automatic data removal when a litigation hold needs to be instituted. Once you have a plan, meet periodically to update it and to ensure that it is being followed. If you are prepared for EDD, it is an excellent litigation tool. If you are not, it is a potential disaster.
For more on EDD, check out these blogs:
* Tomorrow is also the date that the next set of changes to the Federal Rules becomes effective. Fortunately, these changes are largely focused on making the rules more readable instead of adding or changing obligations. But once you are prepared for the EDD rules, you should still turn back to your copy of the Federal Rules and read through the revisions. Look for a blog post next week highlighting some of the substantive changes.