Companies Need To Develop & Communicate
Information Management Plan To All Employees
Amendments to the rules governing federal court litigation that went into effect late last year strengthened the need for businesses to store and preserve their electronic documents, as well as educate their employees about their electronic document policies, according to Pepper Hamilton, a multi-practice law firm with 450 attorneys in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York, Michigan, California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.
"The federal rules amendments recognize the reality that almost all lawsuits today involve documents and information stored in electronic format," said Steve Harvey, a partner with Pepper Hamilton LLP (www.pepperlaw.com).
E-discovery - or the retrieval, review, and production of electronic documents during the discovery phase of litigation - is a burgeoning area that can have a significant impact on the outcome of a case. "Electronic discovery can no longer be one of the last things companies involved in litigation think about. Instead, it now must be made a high priority for most cases," said Harvey. "Businesses have lost cases and millions of dollars by neglecting to preserve information relating to a lawsuit."
Affected by the increased importance of e-discovery are:
-- Candid and off-handed comments employees make in e-mails and in instant messages. "These casual conversations can prove to be detrimental in litigation," said Harvey. "When employees talk via instant messages, they are creating records and documents that the company is not aware of," said Harvey. "A plaintiff's lawyer, searching for the 'smoking gun' document that may win a case, will often look into Instant Messenger conversations first."
-- Adequate storage and preservation of electronic documents. "The new rules are designed to establish guidelines to ensure both parties are storing documents that can be used to support their claims or defenses," said Harvey. "Companies should have a database of relevant documents that can be used by both sides during the trial, as well as a cost-effective strategy for reviewing and managing them."
-- The need to develop a comprehensive information management plan and communicate it to all employees. "Although it is customary to delete unneeded files, companies need to be careful not to inadvertently erase documents. Once litigation is reasonably anticipated, all parties are obligated to preserve relevant documents," said Harvey. "Companies need to develop a policy that clearly defines how they will retain old documents, where those documents will be stored, and how long they will be maintained. The plan should then be communicated to all employees."
About Pepper Hamilton
Pepper Hamilton LLP (www.pepperlaw.com) is a multi-practice law firm with 450 lawyers in seven states and the District of Columbia. The firm provides corporate, litigation and regulatory services to leading businesses, government entities, nonprofit organizations and individuals throughout the nation and the world. The firm was founded in 1890.