Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Settling ESI disputes with Mediators

Now that we are more than a year into Florida's E-Discovery rules, disputes over electronically stored information are coming to a head. E-neutrals or mediators specializing in complex cases involving electronic evidence can shape discovery plans, allocate costs and suggest and create efficiencies. The mediation process may focus the confidential conference solely on managing ESI, or the neutral may broaden the discussion, reminding parties of the merits and perhaps dissuading them from merely using E-discovery as a sword or shield. Mediation is an avenue that can present parties with significant cost-savings in ESI cases, if performed early enough in the litigation.

For example, though counsel are urged to reach a rational agreement on what must be preserved, taking into account costs and burdens incurred by modifying or suspending document retention systems can be difficult. Implementing even narrowly tailored litigation holds to preserve crucial ESI can be difficult without the assistance of an e-neutral during negotiations. Under the safeguards of a confidential mediation, limited discovery from custodians or other key persons with special knowledge of a company’s computer systems may be particularly useful. Lawyers can then self-determine sources from which relevant information is to be obtained, while the neutral facilitates agreement on the time-frame at issue, search protocols, accessibility of stored information or the cost and burden of restoring inaccessible information.

An e-neutral or mediator can also facilitate the electronic discovery process by helping parties to agree on the form in which they want information produced and the extent to which metadata will be produced. Mediation can feature caucuses with experts or IT liaisons that may help conduct discovery proportionally, minimizing motion practice, and avoiding unpredictable judicial outcomes on IT and ESI. Cooperation under this rubric may also encompass settling procedures to be followed when discovering privileged information that has been inadvertently produced in the course of discovery, including clawback agreements or agreed confidentiality orders. If the parties reach an agreement, they may ask the court to include the agreement in their scheduling order.