Anybody Here Seen my Old Friend, E-Discovery?

Phillis_wheatley_frontpiece_1834In 1829, Georgia made it a crime to teach slaves to read.  Literate slaves threatened the control of their masters.  If a slave could read the Bible, a slave could also circulate an inflammatory pamphlet or forge a pass.  Literacy was a step to freedom.  So, with Georgia on my mind, I ask, Are e-literate requesting parties a threat to the status quo?  Is dat why we ain’t teachin’ dem shiftless plaintiffs’ lawyers what de oughta know ’bout ESI?

In June, I was fortunate to be invited to serve on the faculty of a new e-discovery conference set in Atlanta.  It was called “e-Discovery for Trial Lawyers,” the brainchild of a fine lawyer and Georgetown E-Discovery Training Academy graduate, Drew Ashby. Drew’s employer, The Cooper Firm, generously underwrote the event, and the small faculty included large talents, Ariana Tadler, Paul McVoy, Tom O’Connor and Jeff Kerr.  Drew wanted to bring some of the material Tom and I teach at Georgetown to his colleagues in Georgia.  We geared the curriculum to the needs of requesting parties because those needs are unsurprisingly different from those of producing parties, even if those differences spring more from perception and prejudice than practice.

Clearly, every party is both requesting and producing party; but for too long, we’ve been sold the fake news that requesting parties are the avaricious plaintiffs wielding discovery like an axe in a slasher film, and producing parties are the put-upon corporate job-creators pummeled by sanctions despite heroic efforts to meet murky legal duties.  It’s all so much bullshit. Continue reading

Mobile to the Mainstream

Mobile data burden and relevance scorecard

Click f/ PDF

Once you’ve preserved the contents of a mobile device, how do you extract responsive content in forms that are searchable and amenable to review?  Most information items on mobile devices aren’t “documents” that can be printed to a static format for review.  Instead, much mobile content is fielded data that must retain a measure of structural integrity for intelligibility.  This article looks at simple, low-cost approaches to getting relevant and responsive mobile data into a standard e-discovery review workflow, and offers a Mobile Evidence Scorecard designed to start a dialogue leading to a consensus about what forms of mobile content should be routinely collected and reviewed in e-discovery, without the need for digital  forensic examination. Continue reading

Nigel Murray

With a heavy heart, I share the report that my delightful friend and colleague Nigel Murray (left) died last night from the brain cancer that has plagued him for two years. Nigel was a soldier, a gentleman and a rascal in the best sense of each. To lift a glass with Nigel at events here and abroad to discuss the state of e-disclosure was always a pleasure.

Nigel first learned he was ill after my birthday party in Washington DC during ILTACON 2016. He blacked out driving and the doctors discovered a brain tumor. From that day forward, Nigel’s scope was constrained by his illness, but he never let it define him. His absence from the big conferences where so many enjoyed his company diminished those events for all who looked forward to the tradition of Drinks with Nigel.

Nigel knew what the cancer was up to; but, he was the picture of courage, dignity and grace in the side he showed the world. Nigel epitomized the Briton’s famously stiff upper lip as he soldiered on. When I travelled to London in December expressly to see Nigel, I worried that the witty warrior I knew might be diminished; but, he was himself, only slightly subdued with a touch more introspection.

There is much more I could say about Nigel’s trailblazing in the e-disclosure industry as head of Trilantic or his dedicated efforts in support of Help for Heroes; but, this is just a short, sad notice to Nigel’s many, many friends who are readers here. We loved him, and really, isn’t that the eulogy that serves him best? Sympathies to his family and other friends.


I’m advised that Nigel’s family have asked that donations be made to Trinity Hospice in his memory. If you would like to donate or know anyone who would, the details to do so follow:

Website –
· Telephone – 020 7787 1084
· Bank transfer:
o Account Name: Trinity Hospice
o Bank: C Hoare & Co
o Sort Code: 15-99-00
o Account Number: 73600020
o Reference: NMURRAY279554

· International Transfers
o IBAN: GB77 HOAB 1599 0073 6000 20
o Reference: NMURRAY279554
· Cheque / in person – Royal Trinity Hospice, 30 Clapham Common North Side, London SW4 0RN. Please quote Reference: NMURRAY279554

On the Road Again: PREX and FEST

PREXFEST_SMThe Texan in me can’t hear the phrase “on the road again” without also hearing Willie Nelson’s nasal voice singing it.  But, the life I love IS making music with my friends, if by “music” we mean bringing “aha” moments to lawyers and others interested in e-discovery and forensic technology.

Today, I head to Portland, for the 2018 Preservation Excellence or PREX Conference put on annually by the good folks at Zapproved.  It’s a splendid faculty congregated in an always-lovely venue and punctuated by good conversation, fine food and the splendor that is Oregon in September.  PREX is always worth the trip; so, if you have the chance to go, by all means, attend.

This year I have a lot to do at PREX.  I have the privilege to host a keynote discussion with CNN and The New Yorker magazine legal commentator, Jeffrey Toobin.  You can be sure that the U.S. Supreme Court, the Mueller investigation and Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing will all come up.  Toobin is a bestselling author of seven books, including several on the Supreme Court and on the O.J. Simpson murder case and kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst.  Talking with Toobin rounds out my opportunity to do Charlie Rose-style conversations with Doris Kearns Goodwin and Nina Totenberg at earlier Zapproved events.

I’ll also moderate a “People’s Court” debate between Brett Tarr and Dan Nichols.  Brett is Chief Counsel for E-Discovery and Information Governance at gaming conglomerate Caesars Entertainment, and Dan is a partner with Redgrave LLP, the far-flung corporate e-discovery consultancy.  These two really despise each other, so there’s sure to be a lot of eye-gouging and attacks on legitimate parentage.  (That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it).

Finally on Wednesday, I’ll be doing a little speaking of my own in a lonely breakout session where we will talk about preserving and discovering evidence on mobile phones.  They’ve titled it, OMG, SMS & ESI: Preserving & Collecting from Mobile Devices.  The session description reads:

How does one craft a discovery request for text messages? What are the different techniques for preservation, collection and review of mobile data? When does it make sense to complete a full forensic collection on a mobile device? This session will deliver foundational information and practical examples of process and policy management for mobile devices in ediscovery.

if you haven’t yet come to grips with mainstreaming mobile devices into day-to-day e-discovery, know you’re not alone–everyone is struggling, or more likely closing their eyes, hoping mobile will go away.  Perhaps we can make some progress together.

PREX  September 25 – 27, 2018  |  Portland, OR

Then, no-rest-for-the-dreary, I wing to the Windy City of Chicago (so-called NOT due to weather, but for the propensity of its politicians to pontificate at length).  I’m heading to the annual Relativity Fest, a stupendous amalgamation of e-discovery education and evangelical tent meeting cum rock concert.  If there were the slightest doubt that Relativity dominates the e-discovery review space (and is hungry to gobble up the rest of the EDRM), such foolish doubt will be crushed by the power of Fest.

I enjoy Fest for many reasons, not the least of which is the chance to work with the always-engaging David Horrigan, Relativity’s discovery counsel and legal content director.  David is a fine writer, insightful commentator and skilled teacher.  Eclipsing that is his distinction as a great guy, someone always fun to be around and adept at eliciting the best from those he hosts.

At Fest, David will moderate a panel I’m on called The Internet of Things from a Legal, Regulatory, and Technical Perspective.  I’m fortunate to join Gail Gottehrer, Partner and Co-Chair of the Privacy, Cybersecurity, and Emerging Technology Practice at Akerman, who will give the regulatory perspective, and Ed McAndrew, Partner at Ballard Spahr and former DOJ cybercrime coordinator, who’s charged with the legal point of view.  I guess that leaves the technical stuff to me, which is where I’m happiest anyway.

Relativity Fest  Sep. 30 – Oct. 3, 2018 | Hilton Chicago

I hope to see you at one or both of these exciting confabs, enjoying two fine faculties in wonderful venues.  The joy and value of these events isn’t just what’s planned, but the interactions around and outside of the sessions, too.

Meet Tom O’Connor

toc_smallAnyone who’s been around electronic discovery for long is sure to know my old friend, Tom O’Connor of New Orleans. Understand, I don’t call Tom “old friend” because we’ve known each other for a long time (though we have).  I do it because Tom’s OLD.  He’s freaking ancient. But, the centuries haven’t been entirely wasted on Tom because in addition to a three-foot ponytail and a beard to rival Santa’s, Tom has acquired a surfeit of wisdom and friends.  Tom has his finger squarely on the pulse of the e-discovery industry and possesses a refined sense of what’s coming and the personalities pulling strings.  People enjoy talking to Tom, and Tom listens.  He’s a guy to have on your team; someone who makes things better just by being part of them.

I mention Tom (and will now quit yanking his chain age-wise) because he often invites me to join him on a YouTube series called The eDiscovery Channel.  I took over co-hosting from the late, great Browning Marean.  Browning’s are big shoes to fill, but the stakes are low: we reach less than 100 viewers.  It’s just for the fun of it, and we have a lot of fun.  We record in offbeat NOLA venues like Tom’s favorite cigar shop or sitting in a park.  Our production values rival the Zapruder film and, despite a topic in mind when we start recording, we inevitably stray with antic results.  At least we’re laughing.

In our latest one-hour episode on drafting forensic examination protocols, we digressed to a discussion of innovation in litigation, touching the obligatory stations of the cross, predictive coding, artificial intelligence and blockchain.  I’m deeply concerned by diminished resources for lawyers to gain basic technical competency.  Buzzword technologies have sucked the air from the room when it comes to e-discovery education.  Lawyers have abdicated responsibility for the left side of the EDRM.

The problem I see is this:

Advanced review technologies like predictive coding and AI are routinely deployed against data lousy with errors in collection, culling and processing—errors born of poor e-discovery skills and fostered by a rush to apply fancy joinery to rotten wood.  As a requesting party, do you think that your interests are best served by a contentious push for predictive coding when you haven’t scrutinized the effectiveness of collection and exclusion?  E-discovery needn’t be a choice between bad collections and good tools or good collections and bad tools.

Lawyers must fight for quality before review.  Sure, review is the part of e-discovery most lawyers see and understand, so the part many fixate on.  As well, review is the costliest component of e-discovery and the one with shiny new tools. But here’s the bottom line: The most sophisticated MRI scanner won’t save those who don’t survive the trip to the hospital.  It’s more important to have triage that gets people to the hospital alive than the best-equipped emergency room. Collection, culling and processing are the EMTs of e-discovery.  If we don’t pay close attention to quality, completeness and process before review, review won’t save us.

We need balance and a focus on fundamentals.  We’ve lost the first; we never had enough of the second.  And if you need more e-discovery mirth and merriment, stop by the E-Discovery Channel and meet Tom O’Connor, REALLY FAMOUS consultant,  speaker,  writer.

P.S. I think I owe an explanation of the photo of Tom that begins this post.  Tom told a story about an author who always came to the ABA Techshow carrying a banner inviting attendees to meet him in person.  As a prank, I had a tongue-in-cheek banner made for Tom and was surreptitiously hanging it off his porch in New Orleans when he caught me red-handed,  Tom would never toot his own horn that way; but, he was a great sport about it .  And as for Tom being old, I have to concede that he’s not that far ahead of me.  I’m 20 in my mind’s eye, so that makes Tom around 25.

Easing the Pain of Protective Orders

protective_orderDoes anyone read what they sign anymore?  We all click through EULA’s; but shouldn’t lawyers and experts pay close attention to the terms of protective orders?

Here’s a familiar scenario:

Client says, “we have discovery responses you need to review, sign this acknowledgement to be bound by a protective order.”  I read the order and respond, “I can’t,” adding, “Like you, I have work product to protect, and like you, I back up my data.  I can’t ‘return’ data residing on backups.  I’ll carefully protect the data, but I can’t commit to destroy or return it when the case concludes.”

I’m the bad guy because everyone else signs.

First, let me further explain the conundrum.  Continue reading

Drafting Digital Forensic Examination Protocols

A computer or smart phone under forensic examination is like a sprawling metropolis of neighborhoods, streets, buildings, furnishings and stuff–loads of stuff.  It’s routine for a single machine to yield over a million discrete information items, some items holding thousands of data points.  Searching so vast a virtual metropolis requires a clear description of what’s sought and a sound plan to find it.

In the context of electronic discovery and digital forensics, an examination protocol is an order of a court or an agreement between parties that governs the scope and procedures attendant to testing and inspection of a source of electronic evidence.  Parties and courts use examination protocols to guard against compromise of sensitive or privileged data and insure that specified procedures are employed in the acquisition, analysis, and reporting of electronically-stored information (ESI).

A well-conceived examination protocol serves to protect the legitimate interests of all parties, curtail needless delay and expense and forestall fishing expeditions.  Protocols may afford a forensic examiner broad leeway to adapt procedures and follow the evidence, or protocols may tightly constrain an examiner’s discretion, to prevent waiver of privilege or disclosure of irrelevant, prejudicial material.  A good protocol helps an examiner know where to start his or her analysis, how to proceed and, crucially, when the job is done.

As a litigator for over 35 years and a computer forensic examiner for more than 25 years, I’ve examined countless devices and sources for courts and litigants.  In that time, I’ve never encountered a forensic examination protocol of universal application.  “Standard” procedures change over time, adapted to new forms of digital evidence and new hurdles–like full-disk encryption, solid-state storage and explosive growth in storage capacities and data richness.  Without a protocol, a forensics examiner could spend months seeking to meet an equivocal examination mandate.  The flip side is that poor protocols damn examiners to undertake pointless tasks and overlook key evidence.

Drafting a sensible forensic examination protocol demands a working knowledge of the tools and techniques of forensic analysis so counsel doesn’t try to misapply e-discovery methodologies to forensic tasks.  Forensic examiners deal in artifacts, patterns and configurations.  The data we see is structured and encoded much differently than what a computer user sees.  The significance and reliability of an artifact depends on its context.  Dates and times must be validated against machine settings, operating system functions, time zones and corroborating events.

Much in digital forensics entails more than meets the eye; consequently, simply running searches for words and phrases “e-discovery-style” is far less availing than it might be in a collection of documents.

If you can conceive of taking the deposition of a computer or smart phone, crafting a forensic examination protocol is like writing out the questions in advance.  Like a deposition, there are basic inquiries that can be scripted but no definitive template for follow-up questions.  A good examiner–of people or computers–follows the evidence yet hews to relevant lines of inquiry and respects boundaries.  A key difference is, good advocates fit the evidence to their clients’ narrative where good forensic examiners let the evidence tell its own story.

If you’ve come here for a form examination protocol, you’ll find it; but the “price” is learning a little about why forensic examination protocols require certain language and above all, why you must carefully adapt any protocol to the needs of your case. Continue reading

Preserving MAC Times Collecting Files in E-Discovery

MAC timesChecking the mailbag, I received a great question from a recent Georgetown E-Discovery Training Academy attendee.  I’m posting it here in hopes my response may be useful to you.

My student wrote: I have a question in regard to zipping eDiscovery data. We’ve always used 7zip to zip our collections. The filenames are too long for Microsoft to be happy with them in their original state. One of our consultants is now telling me that I’m changing metadata. Can you clear this up for me? Am I changing metadata just by zipping a file? If I am, are there other simple tools that I can use? 

Metadata is always changed in the copying of files within a Windows environment.  Anytime you copy data to new media, Windows changes some of its metadata.  Some e-discovery collection tools change the values back to the originating values as part of the collection process.  Thus, the metadata changes, then changes back to undo the change.  If you want to use such tools, they are out there.

I think the more important concern is whether the tools and methods you employ reconstruct the metadata that matters and preserve the integrity of the evidence files.  There is a simple way for you to assess that: check the MAC (modified/accessed/created) dates and hash the files in and out!  You did some exercises of this nature in my Georgetown Academy workbook. Continue reading

Handy Chart on E-Admissibility

admissibilityI received a fine gift this morning from U.S. District Judge Paul Grimm, and with the authors’ permission, I’m sharing it with you.  It’s a splendid chart on admissibility of electronic evidence that any trial lawyer will want when going to Court.  For younger readers, I will explain what “going to Court” means in a future post. 😉

The chart is the latest iteration of work by Paul Grimm and Kevin Brady, two I admire as much for their sterling characters and kindnesses as for their stunning lawyer intellects.  Judge Grimm needs no introduction here.  He’s the judge behind decisions like Victor Stanley v. Creative Pipe, Mancia v. Mayflower and Lorraine v. Markel, the last a virtual hornbook on admissibility of electronic evidence.  He’s also masterfully guided the evolution of the federal rules of evidence and procedure, notably FRE 502 and FRCP 37(e).  Paul Grimm is simply the finest judge–and gentleman–I know.

Kevin Brady is Of Counsel to Redgrave LLP.  I’ve been privileged to work with Kevin over many years in support of the Georgetown E-Discovery Institute and E-Discovery Training Academy.  Everyone who knows him likes and admires Keven Brady, and Kevin has quietly made countless contributions to e-discovery education.  This chart is just one more instance of Kevin’s largesse.

The chart is handsome to look at and easy-to-use. It covers authentication, relevance, hearsay exceptions and the Original Writing rule (which some like to call the Best Evidence rule).  Click HERE to get your free copy.  Thank you Paul and Kevin!

Preserving Alexa History: Ugly-but-Easy

amazon-alexa-history-angleTwo years ago, I blogged about the challenge of seeking to preserve records of interactions with the Amazon Echo/Alexa family of devices and applications.  I concluded:

“Listen, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and all the other companies collecting vast volumes of our data through intelligent agents, apps and social networking sites, you must afford us a ready means to see and repatriate our data.  It’s not enough to let us grab snatches via an unwieldy item-by-item interface.  We have legal duties to meet, and if you wish to be partners in our digital lives, you must afford us reasonable means by which we can comply with the law when we anticipate litigation or respond to discovery. “

In a testament to my thought leadership, nothing whatsoever has happened since my call-to-arms in terms of the ability to preserve Alexa app history data.  It’s as bad as it was two years ago and arguably worse because Echo products have grown so popular and the Alexa interface has been integrated into so many devices that the problem is bigger now by leaps and bounds.

Don’t get me wrong, I am Alexa’s biggest fan (and adore her sisters, “Amazon” and “Computer,” so-called for the alternate “wake words” I use to trigger voice communication to Amazon’s servers from other Echo devices).  If anything, Craig the Consumer is happier now with the Echo ecosystem than two years ago.  Wearing my user hat, Alexa’s a peach (and, yes, I am perfectly comfortable with her from a privacy point of view).  Wearing my e-discovery propeller beanie, Alexa is a pain in the butt.  She’s a data gold digger who cooks the books to make it supremely difficult to account for what she’s taken. Continue reading