eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Best Practices: Hold It Right There!


When we reviewed key case decisions from last year related to eDiscovery, the most case law decisions were those related to sanctions and spoliation issues.  Most of the spoliation sanctions were due to untimely or inadequate preservation of the data for litigation.  As noted in Zubulake, Judge Shira Sheindlin ruled that parties in litigation have an obligation to preserve potentially relevant data as soon as there is a reasonable expectation that data may be relevant to future litigation.  However, even if the party reacts in a timely manner to take steps to preserve data through a litigation hold, but executes those steps poorly, data can be lost and sanctions can occur.  Here are some best practices for implementing a litigation hold.

The most effective litigation hold plans are created before actual litigation arises and applied consistently across all matters. While cases and jurisdictions vary and there are not many hard and fast rules on implementing litigation holds, there are generally accepted best practices for implementing holds.  Implementation of a litigation hold generally includes each of the steps identified below:

Identify Custodians: As we learned in Voom HD Holdings v. EchoStar Satellite LLC, 600292/08, It’s important to completely identify all potential custodians and suspend any automatic deletion policies that might result in deletion of data subject to litigation.  In this case, EchoStar put a litigation hold in place, instructing employees to save anything that they deemed potentially relevant to the litigation, but did not extend this hold to stopping automatic deletion of eMails from EchoStar's computers until four months later in June 2008.  As a result of their untimely and incomplete hold, EchoStar was given an adverse inference sanction (their second one!).

Custodians can be individuals or non-custodial (i.e., not held by a specific individual) sources such as IT and records management departments.  To determine a complete list of custodians, it’s generally best to conduct interviews of people identified as key players for the case, asking them to identify other individuals who are likely to have potentially relevant data in their possession.

Prepare Written Hold Notice: Hold notices should be in writing, and should typically be written in a standard format.  They should identify all types of data to be preserved and for what relevant period.  Sometimes, hold notices are customized depending on the types of custodians receiving them (e.g., IT department may receive a specific notice to suspend tape destruction or disable auto-deletion of emails).

Distribute Hold Notice: It is important to distribute the notice using a communication mechanism that is reliable and verifiable. Typically, this is via email. It’s rare to use paper notices anymore as they are more difficult to track. Distribution should occur only to the selected and specific individuals likely to have potentially relevant information, usually not company-wide, as not everyone will understand the parameters of the hold.  Notices with overly broad distributions have, in some cases, been deemed inadequate by courts.

Track Responses: It is advisable to require recipients of the litigation hold notice to confirm their receipt and understanding of the notice via a method that can be tracked.  Receipt and read notifications or voting buttons in emails could be used for this purpose, but they may not always be acceptable, since there is no guarantee that the recipient actually read or understood the notice.  Perhaps a better approach is to send each recipient an attached form that enables them to acknowledge each instruction within the hold notice to confirm a more complete understanding – these forms can even be set up as enterable PDF forms that even enable digital signatures so that no printing is required.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss follow up on notices, releasing holds when the obligation to preserve is removed and tracking all holds within an organization.  Hasta la vista, baby!

So, what do you think?  Do you have a solid “hold” on your hold process?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine Discovery. eDiscoveryDaily is made available by CloudNine Discovery solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscoveryDaily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.