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Integrating HR and E-Discovery for Efficient Legal Holds

Created on April 3, 2012

Technology integration is a hallmark of efficient and defensible e-discovery and larger information governance initiatives. It allows organizations to streamline processes and get the very most out of their technology investments. We previously reported on the relationship between e-discovery collection tools and data management systems, such as SharePoint (read here). The same approach can be applied with e-discovery and HR systems to help legal teams identify relevant custodians and monitor legal hold compliance.

Streamlining the legal hold process

One of the first steps for legal teams in the days following the receipt of a complaint or filing of a lawsuit is identifying relevant custodians – the employees who possess responsive electronically stored information (ESI) that must be preserved. The matter may involve a few “key players," but the attorneys and their legal teams must research the facts to determine who all is involved.

The list can be extensive; finding a starting place is key. For example, a typical liability case where a company is being sued for manufacturing and selling a defective product may touch several departments within the organization – engineering, research and development, marketing, sales, customer service, etc. Within each of these departments there may be several employees who hold potentially relevant ESI related to the matter. Preserving this ESI can present a major challenge for legal teams. For large organizations with offices spread throughout the country or even throughout the world, the task can be even more daunting.

Most organizations rely on an electronic HR system to help manage and track employee information for regular business purposes. Tapping into the information stored within these systems can offer a great staring place for legal teams to identify and create the list of relevant custodians based on the general facts of the matter. For instance, a search can be conducted by department or, in some cases, on a particular team within the department. From there, basic information can be garnered, such as email address, location and duration of employment to more granular details, like prior positions within the company and data usage statistics.

The ability to access employee information from a centralized, electronic database can help legal teams scope out the ESI relevant to the legal hold in a systematic, organized way. More significantly, integrating the HR system with a legal hold software application will enable legal teams to begin issuing hold notices right away, thus ensuring compliance with downstream preservation obligations.

Monitoring compliance

After the legal holds are issued, the next challenge for legal teams is monitoring compliance. Organizations that have deployed legal hold software systems can automatically track custodian acknowledgement and acceptance of the hold notice. While important, having a stand-alone system won't necessarily ensure full compliance since employees and the systems in which they work are rarely static. People change positions, acquire new equipment, move offices, leave the company, etc. These changes can have significant e-discovery implications, especially in circumstances where a legal hold is in place for a long duration of time.

Legal teams must have a way to track these movements, or they risk letting responsive ESI fall through the cracks. For example, what if an employee is on an active hold and then leaves the company? He or she may no longer have a direct tie to the litigation, but the ESI could still be highly relevant to the matter. Many organizations have standard procedures in place to wipe employee hard drives after departures. In these instances, it is imperative that IT suspend regular retention policies. Courts have issued rulings addressing this situation (see Pension Committee and SanDisk). By integrating the HR system, employee status changes can automatically be reflected in the legal hold application, triggering notification to legal and IT teams with appropriate actions for defensible preservation and legal hold compliance.

Another common obstacle occurs when employees on hold move to new project teams or departments. Depending on the nature of the matter, the legal hold may need to transfer with them. Without visibility into personnel changes, legal teams have little way of uncovering who serves on what team, where they may be located and where the ESI might be stored without undertaking time-consuming, manual processes or involving precious IT resources.

These are just a few of the many real world examples that demonstrate how an HR-e-discovery integration can greatly enhance an organization's e-discovery process and bolster defensibility.

To learn more about Exterro's e-discovery integration capabilities, click here

Jeremy Montz, Product Specialist at Exterro, also contributed to this article.