New E-Discovery Rules

With file sizes growing, you would think computers that can rapidly process large files and storage capability would be all the rage. For compliance officers, record managers and lawyers, it’s retrieving the information that is the hot issue and hardly a trivial one. New Federal rules relating to civil litigation took effect at the end of last year, requiring companies involved in federal litigation to produce electronically stored information as part of the pre-trial discovery process. The new rules apply to employee e-mails, instant messages and other electronic, digitally stored information. In the event the companies are sued, legal experts say, companies will need to start worrying about everything in electronic form—from digital photos on employee cell phones to text (“SMS”) messages.

Companies need to have sound record retention and destruction of records policies to ensure compliance with regulatory record-keeping requirements and to avoid potentially massive costs of searching and retrieving information that could and should have been purged. Absent actual or an expectation of specific litigation or a subpoena requiring production of data, companies can purge their systems of information that may no longer be relevant or necessary to their business operations. As the cost of storage has come down, however, companies routinely store information and don’t bother to delete unnecessary information—because it’s easy and affordable to simply keep everything!

The opposite is also an issue. Communication between lawyers and technology folks is less than perfect. A lawsuit arrives, but no one tells data management or systems. Tapes and disks continue to be routinely erased or written-over, with corresponding loss of data. Lots of companies don’t have policies and don’t know what information they have, where it is stored, and who may have, have kept or destroyed copies of information in electronic form. Lack of information is a weakness for lawyers. If you remember the adage, “never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to,” imagine how a litigator for the company will feel blindsided by records she was unaware of or cited by a court for destroying records he didn’t know his client had.

Why pay attention? Because by exercising preventive care, you can avoid potentially huge legal and operational expenses. By crafting and enforcing compliant and well-thought-out record retention and destruction policies, you can avoid high-priced lawyers sorting through email messages about the staff luncheon, and the pitfalls associated with a “smoking gun” needlessly showing up in that pesky lawsuit. Call us. The ATM Legal Team can help!

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