Judge Goes Where Angels Fear To Tread: Tells the Parties What Keyword Searches to Use

June 24, 2018

John Facciola was one of the first e-discovery expert judges to consider the adequacy of a producing parties keyword search efforts in United States v. O’Keefe, 537 F. Supp. 2d 14 (D.D.C. 2008). He first observed that keyword search and other computer assisted legal search techniques required special expertise to do properly. Everyone agrees with that. He then reached an interesting, but still somewhat controversial conclusion: because he lacked such special legal search expertise, and knew full well that most of the lawyers appearing before him did too, that he could not properly analyze and compel the use of specific keywords without the help of expert testimony. To help make his point he paraphrased Alexander Pope‘s famous line from An Essay on Criticism: “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

Here are the well-known words of Judge Facciola in O’Keffe (emphasis added):

As noted above, defendants protest the search terms the government used.[6]  Whether search terms or “keywords” will yield the information sought is a complicated question involving the interplay, at least, of the sciences of computer technology, statistics and linguistics. See George L. Paul & Jason R. Baron, Information Inflation: Can the Legal System Adapt?; 13 Ricn. J.L. & TECH. 10 (2007). Indeed, a special project team of the Working Group on Electronic Discovery of the Sedona Conference is studying that subject and their work indicates how difficult this question is. See The Sedona Conference, Best Practices Commentary on the Use of Search and Information Retrieval, 8 THE SEDONA CONF. J. 189 (2008).

Given this complexity, for lawyers and judges to dare opine that a certain search term or terms would be more likely to produce information than the terms that were used is truly to go where angels fear to tread. This topic is clearly beyond the ken of a layman and requires that any such conclusion be based on evidence that, for example, meets the criteria of Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. Accordingly, if defendants are going to contend that the search terms used by the government were insufficient, they will have to specifically so contend in a motion to compel and their contention must be based on evidence that meets the requirements of Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Many courts have followed O’Keffe, even though it is a criminal case, and declined to step in and order specific searches without expert input. See eg. the well-known patent case, Vasudevan Software, Inc. v. Microstrategy Inc., No. 11-cv-06637-RS-PSG, 2012 US Dist LEXIS 163654 (ND Cal Nov 15, 2012). The opinion was by U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul S. Grewal, who later became the V.P. and Deputy General Counsel of Facebook. Judge Grewal wrote:

But as this case makes clear, making those determinations often is no easy task. “There is no magic to the science of search and retrieval: only mathematics, linguistics, and hard work.”[9]

Unfortunately, despite being a topic fraught with traps for the unwary, the parties invite the court to enter this morass of search terms and discovery requests with little more than their arguments.

More recently, e-discovery expert Judge James Francis addressed this issue in Greater New York Taxi Association v. City of New York, No. 13 Civ. 3089 (VSB) (JCF) (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 11, 2017) and held:

The defendants have not provided the necessary expert opinions for me to assess their motion to compel search terms. The application is therefore denied. This leaves the defendants with three options: “They can cooperate [with the plaintiffs] (along with their technical consultants) and attempt to agree on an appropriate set of search criteria. They can refile a motion to compel, supported by expert testimony. Or, they can request the appointment of a neutral consultant who will design a search strategy.”[10] Assured Guaranty Municipal Corp. v. UBS Real Estate Securities Inc., No. 12 Civ. 1579, 2012 WL 5927379, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 21, 2012).

I am inclined to agree with Judge Francis. I know from daily experience that legal search, even keyword search, can be very tricky, depends on many factors, including the documents searched. I have spent over a decade working hard to develop expertise in this area. I know that the appropriate searches to be run depends on experience and scientific, technical knowledge on information retrieval and statistics. It also depends on tests of proposed keywords; it depends on sampling and document reviews; it depends on getting your hands dirty in the digital mud of the actual ESI. It cannot be done effectively in the blind, no matter what your level of expertise. It is an iterative process of trial and errors, false positives and negatives alike.

Enter a Judge Braver Than Angels

Recently appointed U.S. Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing in Albuquerque, New Mexico, heard a case involving a dispute over keywords. United States v. New Mexico State University, No. 1:16-cv-00911-JAP-LF, 2017 WL 4386358 (D.N.M. Sept. 29, 2017). It looks like the attorneys in the case neglected to inform Judge Fashing of United States v. O’Keefe. It is a landmark case in this field, yet was not cited in Judge Fashing’s order. More importantly, Judge Fashing did not take the advice of O’Keefe, nor the many cases that follow it. Unlike Judge Facciola and his angels, she told the parties what keywords to use, even without input from experts.

The New Mexico State University opinion did, however, cite to two other landmark cases in legal search, William A. Gross Const. Assocs., Inc. v. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co., 256 F.R.D. 134, 135 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) by Judge Andrew Peck and Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 250 F.R.D. 251, 260, 262 (D. Md. May 29, 2008) by Judge Paul Grimm. Judge Fashing held in New Mexico State University:

This case presents the question of how parties should search and produce electronically stored information (“ESI”) in response to discovery requests. “[T]he best solution in the entire area of electronic discovery is cooperation among counsel.” William A. Gross Const. Assocs., Inc. v. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co., 256 F.R.D. 134, 135 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). Cooperation prevents lawyers designing keyword searches “in the dark, by the seat of the pants,” without adequate discussion with each other to determine which words would yield the most responsive results. Id.

While keyword searches have long been recognized as appropriate and helpful for ESI search and retrieval, there are well-known limitations and risks associated with them, and proper selection and implementation obviously involves technical, if not scientific knowledge.

* * *

Selection of the appropriate search and information retrieval technique requires careful advance planning by persons qualified to design effective search methodology. The implementation of the methodology selected should be tested for quality assurance; and the party selecting the methodology must be prepared to explain the rationale for the method chosen to the court, demonstrate that it is appropriate for the task, and show that it was properly implemented.

Id. (quoting Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 250 F.R.D. 251, 260, 262 (D. Md. May 29, 2008)).

Although NMSU has performed several searches and produced thousands of documents, counsel for NMSU did not adequately confer with the United States before performing the searches, which resulted in searches that were inadequate to reveal all responsive documents. As the government points out, “NMSU alone is responsible for its illogical choices in constructing searches.” Doc. 117-1 at 8. Consequently, which searches will be conducted is left to the Court.

Judges Francis, Peck and Facciola

Judge Laura Fashing had me in the quote above until the final sentence. Up till then she had been wisely following the four great judges in this area, Facciola, Peck, Francis and Grimm. Then in the next several paragraphs she rushes in to specify what search terms should be used for what categories of ESI requested. Why should the Court go ahead and do that without expert advice? Why not wait? Especially since Judge Fashing starts her opinion by recognizing the difficulty of the task, that “there are well-known limitations and risks associated with them [keyword searches], and proper selection and implementation obviously involves technical, if not scientific knowledge.” Knowing that, why was she fearless? Why did she ignore Judge Facciola’s advice? Why did she make multiple detailed, technical decisions on legal search, including specific keywords to be used, without the benefit of expert testimony? Was that foolish as several judges have suggested, or was she just doing her job by making the decisions that the parties asked her to make?

Judge Fashing recognized that she did have enough facts to make a decision, much less expert opinions based on technical, scientific knowledge, but she went ahead and ruled anyway.

Although NMSU argues that the search terms proposed by the government will return a greater number of non-responsive documents than responsive documents, this is not a particular and specific demonstration of fact, but is, instead, a conclusory argument by counsel. See Velasquez, 229 F.R.D. at 200. NMSU’s motion for a protective order with regard to RFP No. 8 is DENIED.

NMSU will perform a search of the email addresses of all individuals involved in salary-setting for Ms. Harkins and her comparators, including Kathy Agnew and Dorothy Anderson, to include the search terms “Meaghan,” “Harkins,” “Gregory,” or “Fister” for the time period of 2007-2012. If this search results in voluminous documents that are non-responsive, NMSU may further search the results by including terms such as “cross-country,” “track,” “coach,” “salary,” “pay,” “contract,” or “applicants,” or other appropriate terms such as “compensation,” which may reduce the results to those communications most likely relevant to this case, and which would not encompass every “Meaghan” or “Gregory” in the system. However, the Court will require NMSU to work with the USA to design an appropriate search if it seeks to narrow the search beyond the four search terms requested by the United States.

Judge Fashing goes on to make several specific orders on what to do to make a reasonable effort to find relevant evidence:

NMSU will conduct searches of the OIE databases, OIE employee’s email accounts, and the email accounts of all head coaches, sport administrators, HR liaisons working within the Athletics Department, assistant or associate Athletic Directors, and/or Athletic Directors employed by NMSU between 2007 and the present. The USA suggests that NMSU conduct a search for terms that are functionally equivalent to a search for (pay or compensate! or salary) and (discriminat! or fair! or unfair!). Doc. 117-1 at 13. If NMSU cannot search with “Boolean” connectors as suggested, it must search for the terms “pay” or “compensate” or “salary” and “discriminate” or “fair” or “unfair” and the various derivatives of these terms (for example the search would include “compensate” and “compensation”). The parties are to work together to determine what terms will be used to search these databases and email accounts.

Judge Laura Fashing hangs her hat on cooperation, but not on experts. She concludes her order with the following admonishment:

The parties are reminded that:

Electronic discovery requires cooperation between opposing counsel and transparency in all aspects of preservation and production of ESI. Moreover, where counsel are using keyword searches for retrieval of ESI, they at a minimum must carefully craft the appropriate keywords, with input from the ESI’s custodians as to the words and abbreviations they use, and the proposed methodology must be quality control tested to assure accuracy in retrieval and elimination of “false positives.” It is time that the Bar—even those lawyers who did not come of age in the computer era—understand this.

William A. Gross Const. Assocs., Inc., 256 F.R.D. at 136.

Conclusion

Of course I agree with Judge Fashing’s concluding reminder to the parties. Cooperation is key, but so is expertise. There is a good reason for the fear felt by Facciola’s angels. They wisely  knew that they lacked the necessary technical, scientific knowledge for the proper selection and implementation of keyword searches. I only wish that Judge Fashing’s order had reminded the parties of this need for experts too. It would have made her job much easier and also helped the parties. Sometimes the wisest thing to do is nothing, at least not until you have more information.

There is widespread agreement among legal search experts on such simplistic methods as keyword search. They would have helped. The same holds true on advanced search methods, such as active machine learning (predictive coding), at least among the elite. See TARcourse.com. There is still some disagreement on TAR methods, especially when you include the many pseudo experts out there. But even they can usually agree on keyword search methods.

I urge the judges and litigants faced with a situation like Judge Fashing had to deal with in New Mexico State University, to consider the three choices set out by Judge Francis in Greater New York Taxi Association:

  1. Cooperation with the other side and their technical consultants to attempt to agree on an appropriate set of search criteria.
  2. Motions supported by expert testimony and facts regarding the search.
  3. Appointment of a neutral consultant who will design a search strategy.

Going it alone with legal search in a complex case is a fool’s errand. Bring in an expert. Spend a little to save a lot. It is not only the smart thing to do, it is also required by ethics. Rule 1.1: Competence, Model Rules of Professional Conduct. The ABA Comment two to Rule 1.1 states that “Competent representation can also be provided through the association of a lawyer of established competence in the field in question.” Yet, in my experience, this is seldom done and is not something that clients are clamoring for. That should change, and quickly, if we are ever to stop wasting so much time and money on simplistic e-discovery arguments. I am again reminded of the great Alexander Pope (1688–1744) and another of his famous lines from An Essay on Criticism.

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After I wrote this blog I did a webinar for ACEDS about this topic. Here is a one-hour talk to add to your personal Pierian spring.

 

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Disproportionate Keyword Search Demands Defeated by Metric Evidence of Burden

June 10, 2018

The defendant in a complex commercial dispute demanded that plaintiff search its ESI for all files that had the names of four construction projects. Am. Mun. Power, Inc. v. Voith Hydro, Inc. (S.D. Ohio, 6/4/18) (copy of full opinion below). These were the four projects underlying the law suit. Defense counsel, like many attorneys today, thought that they had magical powers when it comes to finding electronic evidence. They thought that all, or most all, of the ESI with these fairly common project names would be relevant or, at the very least, worth examining for relevance. As it turns out, defense counsel was very wrong, most of the docs with keyword hits were not relevant and the demand was unreasonable.

The Municipal Power opinion was written by Chief Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Preston Deavers of the Southern District Court of Ohio. She reached this conclusion based on evidence of burden, what we like to call the project metrics. We do not know the total evidence presented, but we do know that Judge Deavers was impressed by the estimate that the privilege review alone would cost the plaintiff between $100,000 – $125,000. I assume that estimate was based on a linear review of all relevant documents. That is very expensive to do right, especially in large, diverse data sets with high privilege and relevance prevalence. Triple and quadruple checks are common and are built into standard protocols.

Judge Deavers ruled against the defense on the four project names keywords request, and granted a protective order for the plaintiff because, in her words:

The burden and expense of applying the search terms of each Project’s name without additional qualifiers outweighs the benefits of this discovery for Voith and is disproportionate to the needs of even this extremely complicated case.

The plaintiff made its own excessive demand upon defendant to search its ESI using a long list of keywords, including Boolean logic. The plaintiff’s keyword list was much more sophisticated than the defendants four name search demand. The plaintiff’s proposal was rejected by the defendant and the judge for the same proportionality reason. It kind of looks like tit for tat with excessive demands on both sides. But, it is hard to say because the negotiations were apparently focused on mere guessed-keywords, instead of a process of testing and refining – evolved-tested keywords.

Defense counsel responded to the plaintiff’s keyword demands by presenting their own metrics of burden, including the projected costs of redaction of confidential customer information. These confidentiality concerns can be difficult, especially where you are required to redact. Better to agree upon an alternative procedure where you withhold the entire document and log them with a description. This can be a less expensive alternative to redaction.

When reading the opinion below note how the Plaintiff’s opposition to the demand to review all ESI with the four project names gave specific examples of types of documents (ESI) that would have the names on them and still have nothing whatsoever to do with the parties claims or defenses, the so called “false positives.” This is a very important exercise that should not be overlooked in any argument. I have seen some pretty terrible precision percentages, sometimes as low as two percent.

Get your hands in the digital mud. Go deep into TAR if you need to. It is where the time warps happen and we bend space and time to attain maximum efficiency. Our goal is to attain: (1) the highest possible review speeds (files per hr), both hybrid and human; (2)  the highest precision (% of relevant docs); and, (3) the countervailing goal of total recall (% of relevant docs found). The recall goal is typically given the greatest weight, with emphasis on highly relevant. The question is how much greater weight to give recall and that depends on the total facts and circumstances of the doc review project.

Keywords are the Model T of legal search, but we all start there. It is still a very important skill for everyone to learn and then move on to other techniques, especially to active machine learning.

In some simple projects it can still be effective, especially if the user is highly skilled and the data is simple. It also helps if the data is well known to the searcher from earlier projects. See TAR Course: 8th Class (Keyword and Linear Review).

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Below is the unedited full opinion (very short). We look forward to more good opinions by Judge Deavers on e-discovery.

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO, EASTERN DIVISION. No. 2:17-cv-708

June 4, 2018

AMERICAN MUNICIPAL POWER, INC., Plaintiff, vs. VOITH HYDRO, INC., Defendant.

ELIZABETH A. PRESTON DEAVERS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE. Judge Algenon L. Marbley.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

This matter came before the Court for a discovery conference on May 24, 2018. Counsel for both parties appeared and participated in the conference.

The parties provided extensive letter briefing regarding certain discovery disputes relating to the production of Electronically Stored Information (“ESI”) and other documents. Specifically, the parties’ dispute centers around two ESI-related issues: (1) the propriety of a single-word search by Project name proposed by Defendant Voith Hydro, Inc. (“Voith”) which it seeks to have applied to American Municipal Power, Inc.’s (“AMP”) ESI; 1 and (2) the propriety of AMP’s request that Voith run crafted search terms which AMP has proposed that are not limited to the Project’s name. 2 After careful consideration of the parties’ letter briefing and their arguments during the discovery conference, the Court concluded as follows:

  • Voith’s single-word Project name search terms are over-inclusive. AMP’s position as the owner of the power-plant Projects puts it in a different situation than Voith in terms of how many ESI “hits” searching by Project name would return. As owner, AMP has stored millions of documents for more than a decade that contain the name of the Projects which refer to all kinds of matters unrelated to this case. Searching by Project name, therefore, would yield a significant amount of discovery that has no bearing on the construction of the power plants or Voith’s involvement in it, including but not limited to documents related to real property acquisitions, licensing, employee benefits, facility tours, parking lot signage, etc. While searching by the individual Project’s name would yield extensive information related to the name of the Project, it would not necessarily bear on or be relevant to the construction of the four hydroelectric power plants, which are the subject of this litigation. AMP has demonstrated that using a single-word search by Project name would significantly increase the cost of discovery in this case, including a privilege review that would add $100,000 – $125,000 to its cost of production. The burden and expense of applying the search terms of each Project’s name without additional qualifiers outweighs the benefits of this discovery for Voith and is disproportionate to the needs of even this extremely complicated case.
  • AMP’s request that Voith search its ESI collection without reference to the Project names by using as search terms including various employee and contractor names together with a list of common construction terms and the names of hydroelectric parts is overly inclusive and would yield confidential communications about other projects Voith performed for other customers. Voith employees work on and communicate regarding many customers at any one time. AMPs proposal to search terms limited to certain date ranges does not remedy the issue because those employees still would have sent and received communications about other projects during the times in which they were engaged in work related to AMP’s Projects. Similarly, AMP’s proposal to exclude the names of other customers’ project names with “AND NOT” phrases is unworkable because Voith cannot reasonably identify all the projects from around the world with which its employees were involved during the decade they were engaged in work for AMP on the Projects. Voith has demonstrated that using the terms proposed by AMP without connecting them to the names of the Projects would return thousands of documents that are not related to this litigation. The burden on Voith of running AMP’s proposed search terms connected to the names of individual employees and general construction terms outweighs the possibility that the searches would generate hits that are relevant to this case. Moreover, running the searches AMP proposes would impose on Voith the substantial and expensive burden of manually reviewing the ESI page by page to ensure that it does not disclose confidential and sensitive information of other customers. The request is therefore overly burdensome and not proportional to the needs of the case.

1 Voith seeks to have AMP use the names of the four hydroelectric projects at issue in this case (Cannelton, Smithland, Willow and Meldahl) as standalone search terms without qualifiers across all of AMP’s ESI. AMP proposed and has begun collecting from searches with numerous multiple-word search terms using Boolean connectors. AMP did not include the name of each Project as a standalone term.

2 AMP contends that if Voith connects all its searches together with the Project name, it will not capture relevant internal-Voith ESI relating to the construction claims and defenses in the case. AMP asserts Voith may have some internal documents that relate to the construction projects that do not refer to the Project by name, and included three (3) emails with these criteria it had discovered as exemplars. AMP proposes that Voith search its ESI collection without reference to the Project names by using as search terms including various employee and contractor names together with a list of generic construction terms and the names of hydroelectric parts.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: June 4, 2018

/s/ Elizabeth A. Preston Deavers

ELIZABETH A. PRESTON DEAVERS

UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

 

 


Project Cost Estimation Is Key To Opposing ESI Discovery as Disproportionately Burdensome Under Rule 26(b)(1)

May 6, 2018

If you are opposing ESI discovery as over-burdensome under Rule 26(b)(1), then you MUST provide evidence of the economic burden of the requested review. You cannot just say it is over-burdensome. Even if it seems obvious, you must provide some metrics, some data, some hard evidence to back that up. That requires the ability to estimate the costs and burdens involved in a document review. In the old days, the nineties, almost every litigator could estimate the cost of a paper review. It was not a tough skill. But today, where large volumes of ESI are common, everything is much more complicated. Today you need an expert to accurately and reliably estimate the costs of various types of ESI reviews.

Requiring proof of burden is nothing new to the law, yet most lawyers today need outside help to do it, especially in large ESI projects. For example, consider the defense team of lawyers representing the City of Chicago and other defendants in a major civil rights case with lots of press, Mann v. City of Chicago, Nos. 15 CV 9197, 13 CV 4531, (N.D. Ill. Sept. 8, 2017); Chicago sued for ‘unconstitutional and torturous’ Homan Square police abuse (The Guardian, 10/19/15). They did not even attempt to estimate the costs of the review they opposed. They also failed or refused to hire an expert who could do that for them. Sine they had no evidence, not even an estimate, their argument under Rule 26(b)(1) failed miserably.

Mann v. City of Chicago: Case Background

The background of the case is interesting, but I won’t go into the fact details here; just enough to set up the discovery dispute. Plaintiffs in later consolidated cases sued the City of Chicago and the Chicago police alleging that they had been wrongfully arrested, detained and abused at “off the books” detention centers without access to an attorney. Aside from the salacious allegations, it does not look like the plaintiffs have a strong case. It looks like a fishing expedition to me, in more ways than one as I will explain. With this background, it seems to me that if defendants had made any real effort to prove burden here, they could have prevailed on this discovery dispute.

The parties agreed on the majority of custodians whose ESI would be searched, but, as usual, the plaintiffs’ wanted more custodians searched, including that of the mayor himself, Rahm Emanuel. The defendants did not want to include the mayor’s email in the review. They argued, without any real facts showing burden, that the Mayor’s email would be irrelevant (a dubious argument that seemed to be a throw-away) and too burdensome (their real argument).

Here is how Magistrate Judge Mary M. Rowland summarized the custodian dispute in her opinion:

Plaintiffs argue Mayor Emanuel and ten members of his senior staff, including current and former chiefs of staff and communications directors are relevant to Plaintiffs’ Monell claim. (Id. at 5).[2] The City responds that Plaintiffs’ request is burdensome, and that Plaintiffs have failed to provide any grounds to believe that the proposed custodians were involved with CPD’s policies and practices at Homan Square. (Dkt. 74 at 1, 6). The City proposes instead that it search the two members of the Mayor’s staff responsible for liasoning with the CPD and leave “the door open for additional custodians” depending on the results of that search. (Id. at 2, 4).[3]

Another Silly “Go Fish” Case

As further background, this is one of those negotiated keywords Go Fish cases where the attorneys involved all thought they had the magical powers to divine what words were used in relevant ESI. The list is not shared, but I bet it included wondrous words like “torture” and “off the books,” plus every plaintiff’s favorite “claim.”

The parties agreed that the defendants would only review for relevant evidence the ESI of the custodians that happened to have one or more of the keyword incantations they dreamed up. Under this still all to common practice the attorneys involved, none of whom appear to have any e-discovery search expertise, the majority of documents in the custody of the defense custodians would never be reviewed. They would not be reviewed because they did not happen to have a “magic word” in them. This kind of untested, keyword filtering agreement is irrational, archaic and not a best practice in any but small cases, but that is what the attorneys for both sides agreed to. They were convinced they could guess that words were used by police, city administrators and politicians in any relevant document. It is a common delusion facilitated by Google’s search of websites.

When will the legal profession grow up and stop playing Go Fish when it comes to a search for relevant legal evidence? I have been writing about this for years. Losey, R., Adventures in Electronic Discovery (West 2011); Child’s Game of ‘Go Fish’ is a Poor Model for e-Discovery Search. Guessing keywords does not work. It almost always fails in both precision and recall. The keyword hits docs are usually filled with junk and relevant docs often used unexpected language, not to mention abbreviations and spelling errors. If you do not at least test proposed keywords on a sample custodian, then your error rate will multiply. I saw a review recently where the precision rate on keywords was only six percent, and that is with superficial feedback, i.w. – unskilled testing. You never want to waste so much attorney time, even if you are reviewing at low rates. The ninety-four irrelevant docs to find six is an inefficient expensive approach. We try to improve precision without a significant loss of recall.

When I first wrote about Go Fish and keywords back in 2010 most everyone agreed with me, even if they disagreed on the significance, the meaning and what you should do about it. That started the proportionality debate in legal search. E-Discovery search expert Judges Peck and Scheindlin joined in the chorus of criticism of negotiated keywords. National Day Laborer Organizing Network v. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, 877 F.Supp.2d 87 (SDNY, 2012) (J. Scheindlin) (“As Judge Andrew Peck — one of this Court’s experts in e-discovery — recently put it: “In too many cases, however, the way lawyers choose keywords is the equivalent of the child’s game of `Go Fish’ … keyword searches usually are not very effective.” FN 113“); Losey, R., Poor Plaintiff’s Counsel, Can’t Even Find a CAR, Much Less Drive One (9/1/13). Don’t you love the quote within a quote. A rare gem in legal writing.

Judge Rowland’s Ruling

I have previously written about the author of the Mann v. City of Chicago opinion, Judge Mary Rowland. Spoliated Schmalz: New Sanctions Case in Chicago That Passes-Over a Mandatory Adverse Inference. She is a rising star in the e-discovery world. Judge Rowland found that the information sought from the additional custodians would be relevant. This disposed of the defendants first and weakest argument. Judge Rowland then held that Defendants did not meet the burden of proof “—failing to provide even an estimate—” and for that reason granted, in part, Plaintiffs’ motion to compel, including their request to add the Mayor. Judge Rowland reviewed all six of the proportionality factors under Rule 26(b)(1), including the importance of the issues at stake and the plaintiffs’ lack of access to the requested information.

On the relevance issue Judge Rowland held that, in addition to the agreed-upon staff liaisons, the Mayor and his “upper level staff” might also have relevant information in their email. As to the burden argument, Judge Rowland held that the City did not “offer any specifics or even a rough estimate about the burden.” Judge Rowland correctly rejected the City’s argument that they could not provide any such information because “it is impossible to determine how many emails there may be ‘unless the City actually runs the searches and collects the material.’” Instead, the court held that the defendants should have at least provided “an estimate of the burden.” Smart Judge. Here are her words:

The City argues that it will be “burdened with the time and expense of searching the email boxes of nine (9) additional custodians.” (Dkt. 74 at 5). The City does not offer any specifics or even a rough estimate about the burden. See Kleen Prods. LLC 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 139632, at *48 (“[A] party must articulate and provide evidence of its burden. While a discovery request can be denied if the `burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit,’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii), a party objecting to discovery must specifically demonstrate how the request is burdensome.”) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

As the Seventh Circuit stated in Heraeus Kulzer, GmbH, v. Biomet, Inc., 633 F.3d 591, 598 (7th Cir. 2011):

[The party] could have given the district court an estimate of the number of documents that it would be required to provide Heraeus in order to comply with the request, the number of hours of work by lawyers and paralegals required, and the expense. A specific showing of burden is commonly required by district judges faced with objections to the scope of discovery . . . Rough estimates would have sufficed; none, rough or polished, was offered.

The City argues in its sur-reply that it is impossible to determine how many emails there may be “unless the City actually runs the searches and collects the material.” (Dkt. 78-1 at 4). Still, the City should have provided an estimate of the burden. The Court is not convinced by the City’s argument about the burden.

Judge Rowland also held that the City should have addressed the “other Rule 26 factors—the importance of the issues and of the discovery in resolving the issues, and the parties’ relative access to information and their resources.” She noted that these other factors: “weigh[ed] in favor of allowing discovery of more than just the two custodians proposed by the City.”  However, the court declined to compel the search of four proposed custodians based on their “short tenure” or the “time during which the person held the position,” concluding the requested searches were “not proportional to the needs of the case.”

Judge Rowland’s opinion notes with seeming surprise the failure of the City of Chicago to provide any argument at all on the five non-economic factors in Rule 26(b)(1). I do not fault them for that. Their arguments on these points were necessarily weak in this type of case, but a conciliatory gesture, a polite acknowledgement showing awareness, might have helped sweeten the vinegar. As it is, they came across as oblivious to the full requirements of the Rule.

What Chicago Should Have Done

What additional information should the defendants have provided to oppose the search and review of the additional nine custodians, including the Mayor’s email? Let’s start with the obvious. They should have shared the total document count and GB size of the nine custodians, and they should have broken that information down on a per-custodian basis. Then they should have estimated the costs to review that many emails and attachments.

The file count information should have been easy to ascertain from the City’s IT department. They know the PST sizes and can also determine, or at least provide a good estimate of the total document count. The problem they had with this obvious approach is that they wanted a keyword filter. They did not want to search all documents of the custodians, only the ones with keyword hits. Still, that just made the process slightly more difficult, not impossible.

Yes, it is true, as defendant’s alleged, that to ascertain this supporting information, they would have to run the searches and collect the material. So what? Their vendor or Chicago IT department should have helped them with that. It is not that difficult or expensive to do. No expensive lawyer time is required. It is just a computer process. Any computer technician could do it. Certainly any e-discovery vendor. The City could easily have gone ahead and done the silly keyword filtering and provide an actual file count. This would have provided the City some hard facts to support their burden argument. It should not be that expensive to do. Almost certainly the expense would have been less than this motion practice.

Alternatively, the City could have at least estimated the file count and other burden metrics. They could have made reasonable estimated based on their document review experience in the case so far. They had already reviewed uncontested custodians under their Go Fish structure, so they could have made projections based on past results. Estimates made by projections like this would probably have been sufficient in this case and was certainly better than the track they chose, not providing any information at all.

Another alternative, the one that would have produced the most persuasive evidence, would be to load the filtered ESI of at least a sample of the nine custodians, including the Mayor. Then begin the review, say for a couple of days, and see what that costs. Then project those costs for the rest of the review and rest of the custodians. By this gold standard approach you would not only have the metrics from the data itself — the file counts, page counts, GB size — but also metrics of the document review, what it costs.

You would need to do this on the Mayor’s email separately and argue this burden separately. The Mayor’s email would likely be much more expensive to review than any of the other custodians. It would take attorneys longer to review his documents. There would be more privileged materials to find and log and there would be more redactions. It is like reviewing a CEO’s email. If the attorneys for the City had at least begun some review of Emanuel’s email, they would have been able to provide extensive evidence on the cost and time burden to complete the review.

I suspect the Mayor was the real target here and the other eight custodians were of much less importance. The defense should have gauged their response accordingly. Instead, they did little or nothing to support their burdensome argument, even with the Mayor’s sensitive government email account.

We have a chance to learn from Chicago’s mistake. Always, at the very least, provide some kind of an estimate of the burden. The estimate should include as much information as possible, including time and costs. These estimates can, with time and knowledge, be quite accurate and should be used to set budgets, along with general historical knowledge of costs and expenses. The biggest problem now is a shortage of experts on how to properly estimate document review projects, specifically large ESI-only projects. I suggest you consult with such an cost-expert anytime you are faced with a disproportionate ESI review demands. You should do so before you make final decisions or reply in writing.

 Conclusion

Mann v. City of Chicago is one of those cases where we can learn from the mistakes of others. At least provide an estimate of costs in every dispute under Rule 26(b)(1). Learn to estimate the costs of document reviews. Either that or hire an expert who can do that for you, one that can provide testimony. Start with file counts and go from there. Always have some metrics to back-up your argument. Learn about your data. Learn what it will likely cost to review that data. Learn how to estimate the costs of document reviews. It will probably be a range. The best way to do that is by sampling. With sampling you at least start the document review and estimate total costs by projection of what it has actually cost to date. There are fewer speculative factors that way.

If you agree to part of the review requested, for instance to three out of ten custodians requested, then do that review and measure its costs. That creates the gold standard for metrics of burden under Rule 26(b)(1) and is, after all, required in any objections under Rule 34(b)(2)(B)&(C). See: Judge Peck Orders All Lawyers in NY to Follow the Rules when Objecting to Requests for Production, or Else ….

For more on cost burden estimation listen to my Ed-Talk on the subject, Proportional Document Review under the New Rules and the Art of Cost Estimation.

 


e-Discovery and Poetry on a Rainy Night in Portugal

April 17, 2018

From time to time I like read poetry. Lately it has been the poetry of Billy Collins, a neighbor and famous friend. (He was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003.) I have been reading his latest book recently, The Rain in Portugal. Billy’s comedic touches balance the heavy parts. Brilliant poet. I selected one poem from this book to write about here, The Five Spot, 1964. It has a couple of obvious e-discovery parallels. It also mentions a musician I had never heard of before, Roland Kirk, who was a genius at musical multi-tasking. Enjoy the poem and videos that follow. There is even a lesson here on e-discovery.

The Five Spot, 1964

There’s always a lesson to be learned
whether in a hotel bar
or over tea in a teahouse,
no matter which way it goes,
for you or against,
what you want to hear or what you don’t.

Seeing Roland Kirk, for example,
with two then three saxophones
in his mouth at once
and a kazoo, no less,
hanging from his neck at the ready.

Even in my youth I saw this
not as a lesson in keeping busy
with one thing or another,
but as a joyous impossible lesson
in how to do it all at once,

pleasing and displeasing yourself
with harmony here and discord there.
But what else did I know
as the waitress lit the candle
on my round table in the dark?
What did I know about anything?

Billy Collins

The famous musician in this poem is Rahsaan Roland Kirk (August 7, 1935[2] – December 5, 1977). Kirk was an American jazz multi-instrumentalist who played tenor saxophone, flute, and many other instruments. He was renowned for his onstage vitality, during which virtuoso improvisation was accompanied by comic banter, political ranting, and, as mentioned, the astounding ability to simultaneously play several musical instruments.

Here is a video of Roland Kirk with his intense multimodal approach to music.

One more Kirk video. What a character.

____

The Law

There are a few statements in Billy Collins’ Five Spot poem that have obvious applications to legal discovery, such as “There’s always a lesson to be learnedno matter which way it goes, for you or against, what you want to hear or what you don’t.” We are all trained to follow the facts, the trails, wherever they may lead, pro or con.

I do not say either pro or con “my case” because it is not. It is my client’s case. Clients pay lawyers for their knowledge, skill and independent advice. Although lawyers like to hear evidence that supports their client’s positions and recollections, after all it makes their job easier, they also want to hear evidence that goes against their client. They want to hear all sides of a story and understand what it means. They look at everything to craft a reasonable story for judge and jury.

Almost all cases have good and bad evidence on both sides. There is usually some merit to each side’s positions. Experienced lawyers look for the truth and present it in the best light favorable for their client. The Rules of Procedure and duties to the court and client require this too.

Bottom line for all e-discovery professionals is that you learn the lessons taught by the parties notes and documents, all of the lessons, good and bad.

The poem calls this a “… joyous impossible lesson in how to do it all at once, pleasing and displeasing yourself with harmony here and discord there.” All lawyers know this place, this joyless lesson of discovering the holes in your client’s case. As far as the “doing it all at once ” phrase, this too is very familiar to any e-discovery professional. If it is done right, at the beginning of a case, the activity is fast and furious. Kind of like a Roland Kirk solo, but without Roland’s exuberance.

Everybody knows that the many tasks of e-discovery must be done quickly and pretty much all at once at the beginning of a case: preservation notices, witness interviews, ESI collection, processing and review. The list goes on and on. Yet, in spite of this knowledge, most everyone still treats e-discovery as if they had bags of time to do it. Which brings me to another Billy Collins poem that I like:

BAGS OF TIME

When the keeper of the inn
where we stayed in the Outer Hebrides
said we had bags of time to catch the ferry,
which we would reach by traversing the causeway
between this island and the one to the north,

I started wondering what a bag of time
might look like and how much one could hold.
Apparently, more than enough time for me
to wonder about such things,
I heard someone shouting from the back of my head.

Then the ferry arrived, silent across the water,
at the Lochmaddy Ferry Terminal,
and I was still thinking about the bags of time
as I inched the car clanging onto the slipway
then down into the hold for the vehicles.

Yet it wasn’t until I stood at the railing
of the upper deck with a view of the harbor
that I decided that a bag of time
should be the same color as the pale blue
hull of the lone sailboat anchored there.

And then we were in motion, drawing back
from the pier and turning toward the sea
as ferries had done for many bags of time,
I gathered from talking to an old deckhand,
who was decked out in a neon yellow safety vest,

and usually on schedule, he added,
unless the weather has something to say about it.

Conclusion

Take time out to relax and let yourself ponder the works of a poet. We have bags of time in our life for that. Poetry is liable to make you a better person and a better lawyer.

I leave you with two videos of poetry readings by Billy Collins, the first at the Obama White House. He is by far my favorite contemporary poet. Look for some of his poems on dogs and cats. They are especially good for any pet lovers like me.

One More Billy Collins video.

 


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