eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Trends: eDiscovery Malpractice Case Highlights Expectation of Higher Standards


Normally, eDiscovery Daily reports on cases related to eDiscovery issues after the decision has been rendered.  In this case, the mere filing of the lawsuit is significant.

Friday, we noted that competency ethics was no longer just about the law and that competency in eDiscovery best practices is expected from the attorneys and any outside providers they retain.  An interesting article from Robert Hilson at the Association of Certified eDiscovery Professionals® (ACEDS™) discusses what may be the first eDiscovery malpractice case ever filed against a law firm (McDermott Will & Emery) for allegedly failing to supervise contract attorneys that were hired to perform the client’s work and to protect privileged client records.  A copy of the article is located here.

J-M Manufacturing Co., Inc., a major manufacturer of PVC piping, had hired McDermott to defend against civil False Claims Act charges concerning the quality and sale of its products to federal and state governments. After the case was filed in January 2006, it remained under seal for nearly three years.  According to the complaint, during that time, a large-scale document review ensued (160 custodians) and McDermott hired Stratify, an outside vendor, to cull through the ESI.

J-M retained Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton to replace McDermott in March 2010.  Why?  According to the complaint, McDermott worked directly with the Assistant US Attorney to develop a keyword list for identifying responsive ESI, but, despite this effort, the first production set was returned by the government after they found many privileged documents. The complaint indicates that McDermott and its contract lawyers then produced a second data set again with a large number of privileged documents even though it was filtered through a second keyword list.

J-M contends in the complaint that McDermott's attorneys “performed limited spot-checking of the contract attorneys' work, [and] did not thoroughly review the categorizations or conduct any further privilege review.”  After Sheppard replaced McDermott on the case, they asked for the privileged documents to be returned, but the “relator” refused, saying that McDermott had already done two privilege reviews before giving those documents to the government and, therefore, J-M had waived the attorney-client privilege. In the complaint, J-M contends that 3,900 privileged documents were erroneously produced by McDermott as part of 250,000 J-M electronic records that were reviewed.  It is unclear from the complaint whether McDermott provided the contract reviewers themselves or used an outside provider.  It will be interesting to see how this case proceeds.

So, what do you think?  Have you experienced inadvertent disclosures of privilege documents in a case?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.