Being faced with a regulatory inquiry or a lawsuit is nothing short of a potential disaster for a small company. Legal fees, looming penalties, and time away from work take a significant toll. And in today’s electronic age, discovery request for electronically stored information (ESI) like e-mails, documents, and spreadsheets can account for between 60% and 90% of costs. Fortunately, the legal industry has made strides in addressing this problem, which has plagued large enterprises for years. That knowledge is now starting to spill over into smaller organizations, and is summarized, in tip form, below:
1. Understand the problem. More than 90% of new business records are created electronically, and 40% of them are never converted to paper. Therefore, the odds of receiving a request that involves some form of e-discovery are high even for small businesses. By understanding the complexity of ESI and being prepared in advance to produce electronic documents if needed, companies can reduce the overall impact of a last-minute fire drill. A good place to get started is the industry-accepted Electronic Discovery Reference Model at www.edrm.net.
2. Find help. Even some of the largest corporations still lack an experienced e-discovery team, despite the importance of having support from people with core expertise in that area. Identify a reputable service provider who specializes in e-discovery and e-forensics to guide the process and conduct the bulk of the discovery.
3. Acknowledge technology’s role. Even with an experienced service provider in your camp, costs can quickly get out of control especially when conducting the most time-consuming and painstaking part of e-discovery—processing, analysis, and review. Today, top litigation support organizations are adopting advanced technology solutions to automate this step and prevent review costs from spiraling out of control.
4. Scrutinize your risk. The information contained in electronic records can be a powerful resource for both sides of a case. The legal team should analyze the evidence as early in the case as possible to determine the best case strategy moving forward. This type of proactive effort can minimize risk going into court and save significant time and cost.
Today’s business environment is fraught with litigation and regulatory investigations. While the majority of the burden remains on large, global corporations, small businesses are by no means immune. By understanding e-discovery from a bird’s-eye view, and knowing the basic steps to take if such an event occurs, small and midsize businesses can protect their assets and reduce financial exposure.
Dean Gonsowski Vice-President for E-Discovery Services Clearwell Systems Mountain View, Calif.