Effective E-Discovery for Small Firms

by James Sikora, YLS Futures Committee member

All litigators, whether in a large, small, or solo practice, must be prepared for electronic discovery due to the prevalence of electronic data. It is commonly estimated that more than 90% of all information is now created electronically. Some cases may involve more electronic documents than others. But electronic discovery cannot be avoided. The prospect of electronically intensive discovery may cause some lawyers and clients to balk at potential costs and complications in the discovery process. When faced with such a case, how does a small or solo practitioner tackle the problem and secure, store, request and work with electronic data in a thorough and cost-effective manner? Several e-discovery experts will answer this question in an upcoming CLE on April 18: E-Discovery - Basics for Small Firms. In anticipation of that program, two of the CLE panelists offered some basic tips for approaching e-discovery and initial planning.

The first step in tackling e-discovery, regardless of the amount of data, is to remember that e-discovery is still discovery. Gary Hardiman, Senior Legal Assistant at Esler, Stephens & Buckley emphasized this fact and explained that e-discovery can be adequately managed with the proper tools and techniques. If the litigator successfully identifies and employs the proper tools and techniques, the always-present factor of cost will not overwhelm the e-discovery process and it will progress much like traditional discovery. A few basic tips are helpful, however, in identifying the proper tools and techniques.

When litigators think about e-discovery, the first things that usually come to mind are technology, software and electronic documents. But it is important to remember that people remain one of the most important elements in managing e-discovery. No e-discovery plan can be successfully developed and implemented without the involvement of the right people. Identifying the people with knowledge of the relevant electronic data, what data exists, and how and where the data is stored is a critical first step in any e-discovery plan, according to Nicole Ciccarello, an e-discovery specialist and consultant who now works for the Federal Public Defenders Office. Ciccarello emphasized the importance of identifying the right people early in the process. Without the assistance of these people, identification and preservation cannot be accomplished, and, consequently, the later stages of collection, processing and production will suffer.

If the amount of electronic data is significant enough to warrant the services of an e-discovery vendor, a thorough understanding of the nature of your clientís electronic data will also help in selecting the best vendor to meet the needs of the e-discovery plan. Knowing how to select the right vendor is important. But it is only the first step in optimum utilization of a vendorís services. Remaining actively involved after the vendor is chosen and throughout the process is vital, according to Ciccarello. Active involvement ensures that the e-discovery plan remains proportional to the needs of the case by allowing continued evaluation of costs and comparison of the costs to the benefits provided to the case, which promotes the goal of cost containment.

With the proper tools and techniques, the small-firm practitioner can successfully manage e-discovery in a cost-efficient manner.

For more information about what tools and techniques are available to assist in achieving this goal, visit www.mbabar.org for details of the April 18 YLS CLE entitled "E-Discovery - Basics for Small Firms." Joshua Ross of Stoll Berne will moderate a panel discussion on techniques and strategies to secure, store, organize, request, and work with electronic documents from the perspective of plaintiffs and defendants. The panel of speakers includes Haze Moss of Bridge City Legal, Nicole Ciccarello of the Federal Public Defenders Office, and Gary Hardiman of Esler, Stephens & Buckley.