Last month this column focused on how complying with electronic data preservation and discovery requirements is a vital concern facing GCs today and how GCs can use technology planning as a way to prepare for e-discovery. This month, I am taking a step back and reviewing how an enterprise content management (ECM) process and system can help GCs manage company data before being faced with litigation and the concomitant discovery burdens.
I have found that using an ECM system and process not only helps to access and preserve relevant records, but also organizes and manages content when preparing for litigation, ultimately saving significant amounts of lawyers' time preparing for litigation. A few of the main benefits of an internal ECM system include the following:
With a comprehensive ECM system and strategy in place, a company is able to reduce the overall volume of content by as much as 50% according to some analyses. Reducing overall volumes greatly benefits a GC because it reduces the amount of potentially discoverable data an organization possesses and the cost and time to review that data. ECM systems also give the ability to manage all forms of content throughout their lifecycle while stored in one central location, ensuring easy access and retrieval.
As I have mentioned before, it is important to match your technology tools to your business and legal needs--technology can organize and streamline content but the basic organizational approach must come first. Once a company has a plan and strategy in place for addressing the organization of content, it can greatly improve a legal department's productivity by giving faster and easier retrieval of relevant information. It is important to establish and enforce policies upfront, including document retention policies and schedules to determine how long a record is kept based on either regulatory requirements or internal business practices. Educating employees on these policies provides them with the knowledge to ensure all content is consistently saved and deleted. Organizing company content creates many benefits, from reducing overall data to improving retrieval and preparation for litigation.
Not surprisingly, the initial investment in an ECM system can be costly, but the benefits can greatly outweigh the cost of not having a system in place. And the cost of not implementing a robust ECM system is often measured too late--after lengthy legal proceedings that include complicated discovery requests and force legal departments to search massive volumes of data in multiple locations. ECM tools can make a legal department more efficient and ultimately drive down the cost of litigation.
Having an ECM repository that's easy to access gives legal departments the ability to search data in many ways, from performing keyword searches to full text queries, drastically saving time in retrieving relevant company data. GCs also see enormous benefits in decreased risk of monetary or other sanctions for spoliation because all enterprise content is centrally stored and assigned a standardized retention and disposition schedule. This ensures information is retained only as long as appropriate and destroyed once that time has elapsed. The benefits of investing in a powerful ECM system are considerable when you compare the cost of searching for relevant data for a large discovery request and paying potentially hefty spoliation sanctions.
Increase Litigation Readiness
For most GCs, the main advantages of having a reliable ECM system are complying with regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and having immediate access to data to become prepared for foreseeable and unforeseeable litigation. Also, having the ability to apply legal holds to content inside an ECM system can significantly increase a GCs ability to prepare for litigation down the road.
One way to streamline a company's litigation readiness is to integrate a litigation support system into an existing ECM system. This approach allows the value of an ECM system to be extended with litigation support tools that seamlessly integrate preservation, review, coding, TIFFing, redaction and production of relevant data in-house, without ever moving records from the ECM environment. This approach helps GCs proactively handle litigation internally--not only for quick access to relevant information at reduced overall cost, but also for handling e-discovery from one ECM environment without having to hire additional third-party vendors. Legal holds can also be placed on relevant records, securing them from intentional or accidental deletion. Then non-responsive documents can be released back to the ECM system once a legal hold has been removed. Integrating litigation support systems with ECM systems allows GCs to prepare for litigation by applying legal holds to content inside an ECM system and handling various stages of e-discovery internally.
There are many benefits of using an integrated ECM process and system, from organizing company content to reducing overall costs to increasing litigation readiness. Taking proactive measures allows GCs to plan strategically for compliance as well as to prepare for litigation.
Charles A. Blixt is a consultant with TCDI, a litigation technology company. He formerly served as executive vice president, general counsel and assistant secretary for Reynolds American, Inc.