Industry Experts: Proportionality Principles Apply to ESI Preservation and Collection
By John Patzakis
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1), parties may discover any non-privileged material that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case. Lawyers that take full advantage of the proportionality rule can greatly reduce cost, time and risk associated with otherwise overbroad eDiscovery production. In a recent webinar, eDiscovery attorney Martin Tully of Redgrave LLP, addressed how to use processes and best practices to operationally attain this goal, particularly in the context of preservation and collection. In addition to being a partner at the Redgrave firm, Tully is currently the chair of the Steering Committee of the Sedona Conference Working Group on Electronic Document Retention and Production (WG1), providing additional import to his comments on the subject.
During the webinar, Tully noted that the “duty to preserve is directly aligned with what is within the scope of discovery….so if something is not within the scope of discovery – that is its either not relevant or its not proportional to the needs of the case — then there should not be an obligation to preserve it in the first place.” Tully discussed at length the recent case of Raine Grp. v. Reign Capital, (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2022), which holds that under FRC 26(a), parties “have an affirmative obligation to search for documents which they may use to support their claims or defenses.” In meeting these obligations, the court provided that a producing party may utilize search methodologies, specifically mentioning search terms. Tully explained that the court—in addressing the concept of reasonable, proportional discovery under the Rules – provides that producing parties are obligated to search custodians and locations it identifies on its own as sources for relevant information as part of its obligations under Rule 26, but that such identification and collection efforts should be proportional.
Further to these points, Tully weighed in on overbroad practice of full-disk imaging, noting that it should not be the default practice for eDiscovery collection: “Too often there is a knee jerk approach of ‘let’s just take a forensic image of everything – just because.’” According to Tully, alternative and more targeted search and collection methods were more appropriate for eDiscovery and can better effectuate proportional efforts: “Indexing in-place is key because it doesn’t just preserve in-place and reduce costs, but it can give you insight (into the data) to further justify your decision not to collect it in the first place, or if you need to, you are in much better shape to go back and collect the data in a tailored and focused way.”
Co-presenter Mandi Ross, CEO of Insight Optix also provided keen insight, outlining her typical workflow applying the aforementioned proportionality concepts through custodian and data source ranking and keyword searching performed in an iterative manner to identify key custodians, data sources, and the potentially relevant data itself. To effectuate this, Mandi noted that the enterprise eDiscovery collection and early data assessment process should enable a targeted, remote, and automated search capability, with immediate pre-collection visibility into custodial data.
In fact, both Tully and Ross emphasized in their comments that none of the cost-saving, targeted collection efforts permitted under the Federal Rules can be realized without an operational capability to effectuate them. Ideally, the producing party can employ a defensible, targeted, and iterative search and collection process in-place, prior to collection to effectuate the proportional discovery process approved by the court in this decision. However, without such a capability, the alternative is an expensive, over-collection effort, where the data is searched post collection. Enabling the search iteration and targeted collection upstream brings dramatic cost savings, risk reduction, and other process efficiencies.