Posts Tagged ‘discovery’

Henry Blodget on damaging emails

When Congressional investigators come calling, or hostile lawyers begin trawling in electronic discovery, guilty and not-so-guilty alike can be caught in the net:

It’s the folks who are just chattering and venting to colleagues about normal business tensions who are most at risk. The computer doesn’t capture the wink or head nod. It doesn’t say “this is my first reaction…when I have considered everything in detail, I’ll give you my final opinion.” Etc.

(h/t Pete Warden, from whom more).

We’re all lawyers. We don’t have to answer questions.

Not like you manufacturing defendants who are going to have to hand over your hard disks’ contents to us because you’re mere non-lawyers. “If a company’s sole business is licensing and litigating patents, plus it’s run by lawyers, what isn’t protected by privilege?” A subsidiary of patent holding firm Acacia is appealing a judge’s ruling denying some of its broad privilege claims. (Zusha Elinson, “IP Case Tests Boundaries of Privilege”, The Recorder, Oct. 20).

Annals of sweeping discovery: Dish Network vs. Coolsat

“In the war on piracy, consumer privacy is often the first casualty. But on Monday, a federal court imposed some limits on the collateral damage content owners can inflict, blocking a satellite TV provider’s effort to subpoena the names and personal information of thousands of people who purchased ‘free-to-air’ satellite receivers that can be hacked to decrypt signals meant for paid subscribers.” A brief from EFF had argued that “Echostar’s [parent company of Dish Network’s] subpoenas were ‘especially troubling in light of past litigation’ where another satellite TV provider, DirecTV, had similarly obtained customer information in the course of a civil suit against a device manufacturer. The company then sent out 170,000 letters pressuring customers to agree to a $3,500 ‘settlement’ or face litigation.” (Julian Sanchez, Ars Technica, Oct. 1). On the earlier DirecTV litigation campaign, see posts here, here, here, and (reader letter) here.

Purge that data, cont’d

“Aside from the costs, keeping all those records indefinitely is a gold mine for attorneys looking for evidence, [storage services provider John Merryman] adds.” (Mary Brandel, “When to shred: Purging data saves money, cuts legal risk”, ComputerWorld, Sept. 18). Earlier here.

“Cost of Discovery a Driving Force in Settling Cases, Study Shows”

“There’s no incentive to pursue low-merits cases because opponents won’t settle them.” Wrong:

On one thing plaintiffs lawyers and defense counsel can agree: The cost of litigation, particularly discovery, has become the driving force in settling cases, not the merits, according to results of a survey of groups representing both sides. The joint survey, from the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, found that 83 percent of the nearly 1,500 lawyers responding found costs, not the merits of a case, the deciding factor in settling.

The unfairness cuts both ways: some low-merit cases become worth filing because of their discovery imposition value, while some high-merit cases are made uneconomic to file because of the discovery burden they bring (Pamela A. MacLean, National Law Journal, Sept. 10).

Corporate archaeology and the “insanity of retention policies”

Pete Warden (Aug. 14) is reminded of Dickens’ line about the great purpose of the law being to make business for itself, even as it gives everyone else reason to vandalize potentially invaluable data:

…Retention policy is a euphemism for deletion policy. Emails over a certain age are deleted, even from backups, usually after 6 or 12 months. The sole reason for this is so that if you’re sued, you aren’t able to hand over older documents, and there’s no question that you deleted them specifically out of a guilty conscience, it’s just your blanket policy. …

There’s no good technical reason for deleting old emails. You’ve made those backup tapes, it’s actually more work to make sure that old ones are destroyed. …

Email is the collective memory of an organization, and removing old emails is deliberate corporate amnesia. It’s needed because so many recent court cases have hinged on ‘incriminating’ memos, and with thousands of messages written every day, it’s almost certain that somebody’s dry sarcasm could be painted as deadly serious in front of a jury.

Why does this matter? You’re losing the history of the company. Unless you have explicitly copied them, all those old conversations and attachments you might need to refer back to one day are gone. It’s like putting a back-hoe through an archaeological site, you can never get that information back. Just like archeology, I’m convinced that there will be new techniques in the future that can pull more information out of that data than we can today. Old email should be an asset, not a liability. Unfortunately as long as the legal climate keeps companies terrified of losing the litigation lottery, they’ll keep deleting.

“People want to find out what the other person is Googling”

And so the divorce case winds up generating massive demands for hard drive contents and other electronic discovery. Draconian spoliation sanctions, as exemplified in the Morgan Stanley-Perelman and Zubulake-UBS Warburg cases, make a potentially fatal trap for the unwary:

Defense lawyers complain that their clients often are forced to supply voluminous information at great cost with little benefit. And because there is so much more information potentially subject to a discovery order, the chances are greater that a client might violate the order by inadvertently deleting data.

“Does this enhance justice? Not usually,” said Tess Blair, a partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius L.L.P., who heads the 1,350-lawyer firm’s electronic-data-discovery unit. “It becomes a weapon in many cases.”

(Chris Mondics, “Ediscovery profoundly changing lawyering”, Philadelphia Inquirer, Jun. 8).

Why they call it discovery

“A lot of plaintiff lawyers simply use the litigation process to find out whether it’s a good case as opposed to trying to find that out before they sign it up,” Mr. Johnston says.

— from a profile of Randy Johnston, a Dallas lawyer who specializes in plaintiff’s legal malpractice work. (Cheryl Hall, “Randy Johnston is a lawyer who sues other lawyers”, Dallas Morning News, Aug. 20).

“How To Increase Liberty In America”

National Review’s 50th Anniversary Issue is on the newsstands (table of contents) and one of its features is a mini-symposium by ten writers on the topic “How To Increase Liberty In America” (more: “Corner”, Jacob Sullum at Reason “Hit and Run”, criticizing Robert Bork’s entry). I’m one of the contributors; my piece calls for reviving the vital old principle of assumption of risk in our courts. The piece is online to subscribers only at the moment.

Speaking of symposium entries that are online to subscribers only: the October issue of The American Lawyer ran a supplement on the cost of litigation, again with contributions from numerous authors. My piece focused on the cost of the discovery (information-demanding) phase of lawsuits.

At some future date I may get around to posting these pieces. In the mean time, readers should consider supporting both these fine publications, whether by subscribing or by buying single copies.