|Assessing Legal Threats
reprinted with permission from HPIf you’re like most companies, as much as 90 percent of your corporate communications and business activities take place electronically. And, like most companies, you must live with the threat of legal actions that could trigger sweeping requests for this kind of information. Your current records retention programs may not adequately address the creation, management and disposition of all your electronic records. To be prepared for potential litigation and e-discovery requests, your executives must be able to deliver accurate records at any time. This requires an e-discovery program that includes tight records management policies, clearly defined processes that are known throughout your organization, and solutions that enable you to manage your company records throughout their lifecycle.Building a Comprehensive Program
To create a cross-enterprise program for litigation preparedness, you must bring together the right people, processes and technology that allow your company to manage risks. From a people and process perspective, there are five key steps that should be followed:
- Create an e-discovery team – Establish a team of legal, records management, IT and business unit personnel from across your company. These people must understand the business context of your company data, as well as how and when they use it. This team will define your information management policies and processes and identify the right technologies and solutions for your business. It should be led by a senior executive who serves as chief liaison to top management and your legal team.
- Develop well-defined records retention policies – Create rules that provide clear guidance on document lifecycle policies by document type and the business context of the documents. These policies should focus on data retention and destruction, clearly outlining what records should be preserved, how long they should be preserved, and when and how information should be purged from your systems.
- Design an action plan – Create a plan that outlines what should happen when your company receives e-discovery requests or notice of pending litigation. The plan should include who coordinates your e-discovery activities, who supports those efforts, and the processes and procedures that should be followed.
- Train personnel on data retention policies – Communicate all the information management policies your e-discovery team puts in place across your enterprise. This helps ensure that all personnel understand and adhere to your company’s data retention and destruction policies.
- Know what other companies are doing – Learn what other companies are doing and share experiences and best practices by joining industry groups that focus on e-discovery issues.
Deploying the Right Technology
Creating the right processes and procedures is only part of the equation. That’s because all of your company information – whether it’s a paper document, an electronic document or an electronic record – is discoverable and must be captured on creation and managed throughout its lifecycle. Choosing the right technology to make that happen is key to successfully addressing litigation and e-discovery requests.
There are several steps your company should take to help ensure the technology you use is right for your business.
- Create a records authority – Build a scalable records authority that serves as your organization’s data retention system. It should automatically manage all your data types according to your retention policies and be able to continuously record information. Data should be protected so it cannot be modified or deleted during the retention period, and they should be purged automatically at the end of the period. And, of course, this system should be capable of rapid search and retrieval across millions of elements to produce only those that your lawyers require.
- Include paper records – Create an electronic index of paper records as part of your records authority and label them accordingly. This will help you find paper records and implement a scan-on-demand policy that requires legacy information be digitized when it needs to be retrieved. When your organization receives new paper documents, digitally capture them and retain a copy within the records authority.
- Exploit your corporate memory – Use your records authority for business purposes beyond e-discovery, such as data mining for common product, customer or staff trends. Since your records authority houses and encapsulates business records from multiple systems, it acts as a library of all your corporate data.
- Use sophisticated tools for processing, review and analysis – Choose intelligent software tools that use proven culling techniques to eliminate redundant and clearly unrelated files; to find links between documents; and to identify the information that could be relevant to a particular legal action. These tools will help you reduce your attorneys’ workload and respond faster to requests related to litigation.
- Leverage technology expertise – Work with technology professionals who focus on issues central to litigation preparedness and e-discovery. These in-house or outside specialists can help you create an e-discovery program that is aligned with your broader strategic technology plans.
By following these steps, your company can establish a cross-organizational program that helps you prepare for e-discovery and litigation. Through this work, you can reduce the risks associated with litigation, enable more efficient and effective information retrieval, and exploit your data for other business purposes.