Data sits at the core of any litigation or investigation, so it’s no wonder companies compile thousands of pieces of data they’re then obligated to preserve. To keep up with regulations, companies must adopt effective data preservation methods. An effective data preservation process is well-defined, defensible, and rests on a balanced litigation strategy and interplay between legal hold, collection, forensics, and evidence management.
Why is Data Preservation Important?
While data preservation has always been an essential aspect of business management, these last few years have created new challenges and pressures in data preservation. Many companies struggle with effective data preservation and are uncertain about how to create consistency and defensibility in their workflow. Additionally, companies struggle with how to set priorities for their data preservation methods.
Data collection is often treated as a reactive task, entirely separate from other business operations. As a result, business owners miss opportunities to gain early data insights from preservation that could aid in preemptive case strategy and reduce potential data loss or unnecessary legal exposures.
Investing in Defensible Data Preservation Methods (H3)
Dependence on digital modes of communication has been on the rise for years. Events in 2020 clinched an already growing use of apps like Zoom, Slack, and Workplace for professional communication.
As a result, companies have produced ever-increasing amounts of data pertinent to potential litigation scenarios. Unfortunately, the growing dependence on digital communication surpassed any improvements in data preservation methods. Increases in remote work have come with increases in devices per user. That reality has demanded that data preservation methods evolve.
Savvy business owners must invest in defensible processes, strategic partnerships with discovery experts, and technologies designed to eliminate risks associated with these new data sources. Future litigation will require collaborative data preservation methods today with data collection and preservation processes that stand up to scrutiny. An effective data retention methodology mitigates risk, improves efficiency, and avoids costs in both money and time.
Discovery practitioners and attorneys should consider the following points critical to designing effective preservation methods:
- Retention Policies and Practices – Your company’s retention policies must account for the influx of mission-critical data created by collaboration platforms, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, Google Meet, etc.
- Talent, Training, and Testimony – Your team must train on defensible preservation and collection. Collection and preservation teams must be able to testify that processes and procedures satisfy industry best practices.
- Preservation Options – Data must be preserved in place to prevent data deletion.
- Collection Options – Use metadata to target data collection. Ask yourself, “what does a collection include and exclude and why?”
- Reviewability – Make collected data user-friendly. Wherever possible, avoid conversion or manipulation steps in the reviewability process.
As communication technologies evolve, so do changes in legal obligations. Companies must evolve with the times. Prepare your legal teams to understand the changing functions of data in litigation, what data must be included and where it’s produced, and the ever-changing sources of data.
Legal Hold and Data Preservation Best Practices
Retaining too much data has just as much risk as retaining too little. Legal hold and data preservation best practices provide guiding principles to assist in creating processes that prevent data from piling up. These same best practices help teams protect companies against future litigation.
To prevent holding on to data beyond the recommended data preservation period, our experts recommend you implement a “Garage” clean-up system into your preservation program.
Somewhere in every company, there is a storage room where old post-it notes, laptops, and notebooks pile up. Many IT departments nickname this room the garage or the cave. It’s where IT assets get stacked because they don’t know what data legal will need.
If this sounds familiar, your legal department can help proactively determine what data needs collecting and communicate those parameters to IT, permitting old devices to be wiped and reused or papers destroyed. Converting to well-organized digital files improves security and efficiency and frees up storage space. Garage clean-ups have an immediate positive effect on the whole company.
There are several steps to this data clean-up process. Legal departments can accomplish them remotely before communicating their needs to IT.
Here’s a “Garage” clean-up checklist to get started:
- Create an inventory of devices
- Verify legal hold collection needs
- Collect data remotely (removing the need to travel on-site or ship devices off-site)
- Release devices for IT to re-use
- Centralized data storage and evidence management tracking
- Prevent Over Preservation (POP) Analysis
At the same time, it’s important to perform a “garage” clean-up of insufficiently structured digitally stored data (e.g., data stored in SharePoint sites, Microsoft Teams channels, etc.) or old company/department network drives and databases. All of these digital “garages” could be full of unneeded data.
Searching through these digital “garages” and inventory can be a remote process too. Legal and business teams can use virtual tools to separate what data to preserve and what to discard. Set a goal of Preventing Over Preservation (POP). It’s helpful to perform a POP Analysis before migrating systems or buying more data storage. If your unstructured data has not been put through this “Garage” style clean-up, there will likely be a lot of it ready for deletion.
Legal hold and data preservation methods’ best practices may appear stressful and complicated. However, getting it right saves a lot of time and money in the long run, while improving data integrity and reducing risk from potential litigation situations.
UnitedLex Data Preservation Solutions
UnitedLex has dedicated data preservation teams that provide data preservation solutions. This includes consulting, execution, managing clients’ preservation processes, and improving discovery workflow and related costs.
UnitedLex supports any part of the process, wherever our clients need the most help. Whether your company needs on-demand resources or to fully outsource the process, we provide data preservation solutions to assist.
Legal departments need comprehensive solutions connecting data preservation solutions with technical workflows to defensibly manage data preservation. We support teams across the full data lifecycle, ensuring priority is placed on data preservation. We help our clients make decisions to mitigate the risk of spoliation, reduce costs, and elevate visibility for legal.