Coming to Terms with Defensible Disposal; Part 1


Last week at LegalTech New York 2013 I had the opportunity to moderate a panel titled: “Defensible Disposal: If it doesn’t exist, I don’t have to review it…right?” with an impressive roster of panelists. They included: Bennett Borden, Partner, Chair eDiscovery & Information Governance Section, Williams Mullen, Clifton C. Dutton, Senior Vice President, Director of Strategy and eDiscovery, American International Group and John Rosenthal, Chair, eDiscovery and Information Management Practice, Winston & Strawn and Dean Gonsowski, Associate General Counsel, Recommind Inc.

During the panel session it was agreed that organizations have been over-retaining ESI (which accounts for at least 95% of all data in organizations) even if it’s no longer needed for business or legal reasons. Other factors driving this over-retention of ESI were the fear of inadvertently deleting evidence, otherwise called spoliation. In fact an ESG survey published in December of 2012 showed that the “fear of the inability to furnish data requested as part of a legal or regulatory matter” was the highest ranked reason organizations chose not to dispose of ESI.

Other reasons cited included not having defined policies for managing and disposing of electronic information and adversely, organizations having defined retention policies to actually keep all data indefinitely (usually because of the fear of spoliation).

One of the principal information governance gaps most organizations haven’t yet addressed is the difference between “records” and “information”. Many organizations have “records” retention/disposition policies to manage those official company records required to be retained under regulatory or legal requirements. But those documents and files that fall under legal hold and regulatory requirements amount to approximately 6% of an organization’s retained electronic data (1% legal hold and 5% regulatory).

Another interesting survey published by Kahn Consulting in 2012 showed levels of employee understanding of their information governance-related responsibilities. In this survey only 21% of respondents had a good idea of what information needed to be retained/deleted and only 19% knew how  information should be retained or disposed of. In that same survey, only 15% of respondents had a general idea of their legal hold and eDiscovery responsibilities.

The above surveys highlight the fact that organizations aren’t disposing of information in a systematic process mainly because they aren’t managing their information, especially their electronic information and therefore don’t know what information to keep and what to dispose of.

An effective defensible disposal process is dependent on an effective information governance process. To know what can be deleted and when, an organization has to know what information needs to be kept and for how long based on regulatory, legal and business value reasons.

Over the coming weeks, I will address those defensible disposal questions and responses the LegalTech panel discussed. Stay tuned…

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The Dangers of Infobesity at LegalTech


LegalTech just concluded in New York and one of the popular hot buttons many vendors were talking about was the idea that too much corporate, especially valueless, ungoverned, unstructured information is both risky as well as costly to organizations… I agree. The answer to this “infobesity” (the unrestricted saving of ESI because storage is supposedly cheap and saving everything is easier than checking with others to see if its ok to delete) is a defensible process to systematically dispose of information that’s not subject to regulatory requirements, litigation hold requirements or because it still has business value. In a 2012 CGOC (Compliance, Governance and Oversight Counsel) Summit survey, it was found that on the average 1% of an organization’s data is subject to legal hold, 5% falls under regulatory retention requirements and 25% has business value. This means that 69% of an organization’s ESI can be disposed of.

Several vendors at LegalTech were highlighting Defensible Disposal solutions, also known as defensible disposition and defensible deletion, as the answer to the problem of infobesity. Defensible Disposal is defined by many as a process (manual, automated or both) of identifying and permanently disposing of unneeded or valueless data in a way that will standup in court as reasonable and consistent. The key to this process is to be able to identify valueless information (not subject to regulatory retention or legal hold) with enough certainty to be able to actually follow through and delete the data. This may sound easy… its not. Many organizations are sitting on huge amounts of data because their legal department doesn’t want to be accused of spoliation, so has standing orders to “keep everything forever”. Corporate legal has to be convinced that the defensible disposal processes and solutions billed as being the answer to infogluttony can actually tell the difference, accurately and consistently, between information that should be kept and that information that’s truly valueless.

To automate this defensible disposal process, the solution needs to be able to be able to understand and differentiate content conceptually; that an apple is a fruit as well as a huge high tech company. The automated classification/categorization of content cannot accurately or consistently differentiate the meaning in unstructured content by just relying on keywords or simple rules.

An even less consistent approach to categorization is to base it on simple rules such as “delete everything from/to Bill immediately” or “keep everything to/from any accounting employee for 3 years”. This kind of rules based retention/disposition process will quickly have your GC explaining to a Judge why data that should have been retained was “inadvertently” deleted.

To truly automate disposal of valueless information in a consistently defensible manner, categorization applications must have the ability to first, conceptually understand the meaning in unstructured content so that only content meeting your intended intentions, regardless of language, is classified as “of value” to the organization not because it shares a keyword with other records but because it truly meets your definition of content that needs to be kept. Second, because unstructured data by definition is “free-flowing” (not structured into specific rows and columns) extremely high categorization accuracy rates and defensibly can only be achieved with defensible disposal solutions which incorporate an iterative training processes including “train by example” in a human supervised workflow.