eDiscovery Legal Minefield Migraines

With compliance discovery typically averaging out at a million US dollars per legal case, the whole area of retrieving all digital dialog around a dispute is the time and money sink that stresses IT staff and slows line of business technology adoption.

With compliance discovery typically averaging out at a million US dollars per legal case, the whole area of retrieving all digital dialog around a dispute is the time and money sink that stresses IT staff and slows line of business technology adoption.

Legal compliance touches all parts of business, from the dullest process work to the most exciting research and development, and from the smallest project to trawling through terrabytes of email archives and electronically stored information (ESI)  for all relevant correspondence.

The legal restrictions that large company legal departments design to comply with international information retention legislation - typically blanket global standards - are what IT departments are tasked to enforce.

The email archiving, retrieval and packaging for corporate lawyers industry is huge - the legal profession is a bastion of the document and email culture. This is the way the legal profession has worked for hundreds of years from back office to day in court.

It would be fair to say that business communication is shaped - and hindered - by the way the legal profession works.

Along come sophisticated ways of working - collaboration networks that resemble sophisticated 'performance fabrics' of interoperability - but the boat anchor of legal workflow practice is always lurking in the background.

This arcane legal world tends to make peoples eyes gloss over, and few outside the profession feel they can do anything but follow processes laid out by legal departments they often have little or no contact with.

In fact, many lawyers would like nothing more than to work with the rest of the business to streamline document retention tactics.

Mimosa Systems, who provide archiving software for Microsoft Exchange,  have an excellent free downloadable book called 'The know IT all's guide to eDiscovery' written in plain  English for the non legal layperson. The book does an excellent job of demystifying US legal law (Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, etc) in a very entertaining, easy to understand way.

Where the book is particularly useful is in walking you through the realities of legal discovery - which essentially involves rooting through mountains of stuff in a panic, like you did when you realized you couldn't find your passport a few hours before your flight.

Multiply that experience by a few thousand ESI items and you can start to see why IT security staff break out in a cold sweat when they see all the 'shadow IT' servers hiding under desks and who knows where.

More importantly, the book does a good job of proposing strategies for organizing task forces of cross departmental employees to design ESI retention and ediscovery strategy.

Thinking outside the software box about retention logic is an important component of collaboration planning strategy; many larger companies assume that the baked in tools within Sharepoint and large software suites will save their bacon when the lawyers come knocking.

The reality however is that this issue is 90% about how you've organized your stuff and 10% about where you keep it and how you access it.

Email is growing at 45% a year and enterprise content management systems are like reservoirs in winter, filling to the brim with cascades of ESI.

You'll help your legal and IT security people by organizing ESI in a way that makes their lives easier, regardless of where it is situated in the organization.  The alternative is a nightmare of despoilation accusations in discovery sessions and frantic rummaging for relevant materials as the clock counts down to the legal deadline.

There are deeper levels of strategic thinking around automated deletion processes and levels of security which are highly contextual to business need - for this getting strategic and tactical help will be hugely cost effective over time.