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The Practical Guide to Managing e-Discovery in a Crisis

Whenever we watch major crises unravel on our TV screens, we find ourselves drawn to the work of the first responders rushing to the scene to save lives or preventing further disastrous consequences. However, while interviews with emergency service personnel grip viewers, there are entirely different teams being assembled to deal with the crisis behind the scenes.

These teams are focused on preparing for the extensive legal and investigative process that will inevitably follow once the dust settles. Legal departments will quickly arrange short-term e-discovery to find out who knew what in the moments leading to the crisis and in the immediate aftermath. They will also try to get a handle on critical issues such as the scale of injury, and whether there are any possible claims of wrongdoing or negligence.

Sifting through crisis data is a labor-intensive task with e-discovery data often running into double-digit terabytes. Deadlines are also tight, especially if there is a concurrent government investigation into the events. Once more, there’s a much higher chance of staff members communicating with each other through official channels with observations that are much better suited for “off the record” methods.

So how can you effectively prepare for a crisis? What steps can legal teams take to minimize the potentially negative repercussions? Here are a few tips for handling e-discovery in high-pressure situations.

Remain Calm and Start Formulating a Plan

In crises, legal teams will be pulled in several directions. So it’s crucial to step back at the outset to assess each component and then construct a plan of action. By taking a moment to breathe and think carefully about the matter, you can prevent plenty of headaches further down the line.

Take the time to assess which sets of data will be most critical, and how they can be successfully shared amongst team members. Undertake interviews with key staff members who can point you toward data locations and owners.

Assemble a Strong Multi-Faceted Team

Crisis response requires several areas of expertise to move as one toward the common goal. Start by drafting a communications team that can formulate an account of the events that took place in and around the crisis, which can then be distributed to all key internal and external stakeholders (including the media).

Next, look at bringing in compliance experts who can help to clear up the picture from a regulatory standpoint. Not only can they tidy up issues of compliance, but they can also interface with regulators to help with their investigations. To work toward a satisfactory outcome, you will need e-discovery, compliance, and communications teams all on the same page. Thus, a constant dialogue is vital to success.

Preserve All That You Can

Collecting e-discovery can be a mammoth task. Every computer, mobile phone, email, USB drive, and asset-based data system must be examined for pertinent information. While you will have planned your early focus at the onset of the crisis, everything must be carefully preserved for future use. By safely storing the data, you guarantee future access for reviewing purposes in the coming months, and you avoid the scrutiny (and potential punishment) attached to “lost” data.

Lean on Outside Expertise

The evolving developments of investigations and potential litigation proceedings can leave legal teams floundering on multiple fronts. That’s why it’s always a good idea to bring in specialized crisis management teams. Not only can they provide vital on-the-ground support, but they’ve also literally “got the t-shirt,” meaning they can provide timely insights on strategy and planning. Their experience in dealing with crisis scenarios can prove pivotal, particularly if the incident is the first one that a company has ever had to contend with.

Crises Require Rapid Planning and Subsequent Mobilization

While no company intentionally plans to have a crisis, legal teams must be prepared should disaster strike. Mobilize and allocate teams as quickly as possible, after first taking a moment to survey the landscape and pinpoint where the bulk of the e-discovery work needs to be undertaken.

Once a plan of action is in place, it’s time to bring in outside help. Strategic communications teams, compliance experts, and even outside counsel well-versed in crisis management can all play their part in achieving a satisfactory outcome during what will undoubtedly be an emotional and distressing time.

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