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Insurers should consider following these steps to establish a good records management program, according to CaseCentral Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting firm.
1. Establish a definable and defensible IT process. The new rules require all companies to clearly spell out their information technology processes to opposing counsel and articulate the process far earlier in a legal action at the first meet-and-confer meeting. To achieve this objective, companies need to implement a fixed business process for managing all electronic discovery requests. The process should establish permanent rules, including rules that minimize the duplication of data and prevent the inadvertent disclosure of privileged documents. In satisfying this obligation under the new rules, insurers should not provide opposing parties with so much access to information systems that they might compromise security or divulge trade secrets.
2. Centralize corporatewide data collections for all legal actions into a single, enterprisewide repository. The new rules impose a greater responsibility on companies to ensure the integrity of data and avoid the inadvertent spoliation of electronic information. To minimize risk, insurers need systematic storage protocols to create a single complete copy of all data to eliminate the duplication of records and demonstrate that corporate data is reasonably accessible. The best way to achieve that objective is to establish an independent, online data repository that can be used by hundreds of legal teams and create a discovery life-cycle management protocol.
3. Standardize the form of production for all electronically stored information. The new rules reward companies that have a single production format for all electronic discovery requests. The production format is central to the electronic discovery process because it defines whether the documents are to be prepared in Microsoft Word as an image file or some other format. The format decision is very important because it has a direct bearing on cost and speed with which the documents can be produced. Under the new rules, companies now have a real incentive to establish a consistent, corporatewide production format. This will enable insurers to reasonably reject requests from opposing counsel for alternative production formats that increase cost and risk.
4. Establish corporate control over data. Insurance companies typically engage a large number of law firms to represent them in legal matters, and today those firms frequently control the electronic documents. Because of the greater process imposed by the new rules, insurance companies have a unique opportunity to more closely manage their repository of electronic documents. Better control of sensitive corporate documents reduces the risk of losing documents or inadvertent disclosure to opposing counsel. It will also eliminate the risk in having vital corporate information disbursed among the IT systems of dozens or even hundreds of outside law firms.
5. Focus on cost control. The new rules add to the cost of managing and storing millions of electronic documents over potentially many years. An effective way to reduce the overall cost is to eliminate unnecessary duplication of privilege reviews. Once a document has been reviewed for privilege, the results of that review can be captured and reused in subsequent proceedings in which such documents might be relevant. Streamlining the process can result in substantial cost savings. The highest single cost of discovery is the attorney time required to review data prior to it being turned over.