Post Process

Everything to do with E-discovery & ESI

Case Summary: William A. Gross Constr. Assocs.; Court Issues ‘wake up’ call to counsel on keywords

Posted by rjbiii on March 28, 2009

William A. Gross Constr. Assocs. v. Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22903 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2009)

The opinion addressed the creation of a search protocol in this case over “alleged defects and delay in the construction ofthe Bronx County Hall of Justice.” The court began by lecturing counsel, and the district’s bar in general, over its (evidently perceived lax) attitude toward formulating search criteria:

This Opinion should serve as a wake-up call to the Bar in this District about the need for careful thought, quality control, testing, and cooperation with opposing counsel in designing search terms or “keywords” to be used to produce emails or other electronically stored information (“ESI”). While this message has appeared in several cases from outside this Circuit, it appears that the message has not reached many members of our Bar.

The lesson began, the court complained that counsel had not adequately communicated in order to arrive at a suitably agreed-upon search criterion, and the protocol that had been formulated was not the result of a sufficiently methodological process:

This case is just the latest example of lawyers designing keyword searches in the dark, by the seat of the pants, without adequate (indeed, here, apparently without any) discussion with those who wrote the emails.

The court then stated that it found itself in the “uncomfortable position of having to craft a keyword search methodology for the parties, without adequate information…”

After making certain additions to the keywords comprising the search criterion, the court then cited opinions from Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 250 F.R.D. 251, 260, 262 (D. Md. May 29, 2008) (Grimm, MJ.) and United States v. O’Keefe, 537 F. Supp. 2d 14, 24 (D.D.C. 2008) (Facciola, MJ.) for supporting the supposition that formulating keywords “requires careful advance planning by persons qualified to design effective search methodology” and designing search protocols “is a complicated question involving the interplay, at least, of the sciences of computer technology, statistics and linguistics.” The court continued by noting that the “best solution” was for opposing counsel to cooperate in formulating a search protocol, and strongly endorsing the Sedona Conference’s Cooperation proclamation.

Lessons learned:

  1. The formulation of search protocols is to be taken seriously, and accomplished with careful thought, quality control, and testing.
  2. Initial assumptions should not be generated blindly or in an arbitrary fashion, and should be tested and, if necessary, modified.
  3. Counsel should be prepared for greater levels of communication, cooperation, and transparency than in the past.
  4. Even an admittedly imperfect protocol, if the above elements are present, may suffice.
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