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What Should Related Foreign Entities Do When Facing Spoliation Sanctions After Providing The SEC With A Complete Image Of Its Corporate Servers? Comply With Court Orders.

Regulatory leviathan incompetency may lead to preclusion sanctions. But this doesn’t matter if the sanctions preclude two directors of alleged foreign shell entities from “offering testimony, affidavits or declarations in connection with a dispositive motion or trial,” and the sanctions are partially based on the very same two directors’ refusals to offer such testimony, affidavits or declarations in connection with depositions. In other words, the defendants have no interest in testifying, are being reprimanded for not testifying, and their punishment is to preclude them from testifying. (“Continue Reading…”) Here, the SEC froze the assets of more than a half-dozen entities which conduct business from Hong Kong based on pyramid scheme allegations. Prior to the freeze, at least a few of the defendant entities used third-party vendors to control their IT departments and these defendants were no longer capable of paying the outside vendors, post-freeze. During the course of discovery, the defendants, now without an IT department, provided the SEC with a “complete image of all information maintained on the corporate server”. Next, the defendants, fearful of adverse action by authorities in their own nation, refused to attend depositions and instead offered to attend remote videoconference depositions. Soon thereafter, the leviathan sought sanctions for spoliation, which were later recommended. Months later, the incompetent SEC figured out how to read the original hard drive provided during discovery, which had been in the SEC’s possession the entire time. The preclusion sanction still stands because the defendants did not comply with the court order to attend the depositions. In the future, if you’re a foreign businessman who finds yourself under the SEC’s radar, remember to formally request depositions to be electronically conducted, formally request asset freezes to be lifted so your third party vendor can assist the incompetent SEC to understand the information you provided in discovery, or ignore the laws of your home state, put your entire family in jeopardy, and attend the deposition. Law Suit Exposer, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2016), focuses his studies in the area of NJ foreclosure defense.  Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Document Refinement and its Apparent Prejudices

On December 16, 2015, the Honorable Susan D. Wingenton granted GDC’s Motion to Quash Defendants William Baroni and Bridget Kelly’s subpoena duces tecum, which asked the GDC to produce “Any and all handwritten or typed notes, stenographic transcripts and audio and/or video recordings of witness interviews conducted by Gibson Dunn during its representation of the Office of the Governor of New Jersey from on or about January 16, 2014 to the present.”  Defendants also included a request to produce any and all metadata and document properties for all typed notes and interviews as well.  In her Opinion, Judge Wingeton took certain issue with the ethically questionable document preparation methods of the GDC, yet ultimately decided to grant the Motion to Quash.  The GDC had a somewhat perplexing response to Defendant’s first requests as to notes, transcripts and recordings of witness interviews conducted by the GDC during its representation of the OGNJ.  They claimed that no such materials currently existed.  Here, the GDC deviated from normative interview information collecting techniques; here witness interviews were summarized electronically by one attorney while the interviews were being conducted and then edited electronically into a single, final version.  This differed greatly from their former methods of practice, where contemporaneous notes were taken by GDC interviewers and that those notes were preserved after the summaries were completed.  By contrast, the GDC clearly intended that contemporaneous notes of the witness interviews and draft summaries would not be preserved, as they were overwritten during revisions and in preparing the final summary.  The Court found this to be “unorthodox” at the least, and noted its disapproval of their actions, likening them to have the same effect as deleting or shredding documents.  Unfortunately, however, the Court had no reason to doubt the GDC’s honesty with respect to their methods or their responses to Defendant’s request for documents.  The Court did sympathize with the both Baroni and Kelly, but granted the motion anyway. It is clear to see that the GDC’s actions, though ultimately condoned by the Court, were not done with the intent to deliver a full and honest discovery of the requested materials.  While the Court may have deemed such actions as legal, GDC’s document preparation methods raise many ethical implications, and could have clearly been used to destroy important information that Defendants here were entitled to.  Indeed, this method of refining interview summaries and information could have easily omitted details the defense may have found useful.  Doing so did not provide the defense with the transparent information they should have received by request; instead they had to make due with the GDC’s white-washing of the information.  In all, the GDC should have been more responsible and fair with the way it conducted and kept record of it’s interviews. This method of refining information can only seek to unfairly hurt their opposing counsel.  Garrett Keating received his Bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (2011) and majored in both Political Science and Public Policy and Law; he will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2016.  He has worked primarily in the legal fields of Medical Malpractice, Personal Injury, and Class Action law

In a Discovery Request, Can a Party Gain Autonomous Access to the Opposing Party’s Social Media Accounts? Not Necessarily, a Party Is Only Entitled To Discovery To the Extent That the Information Is Relevant To Litigation

This case involves an employment discrimination claim that the plaintiff, Anthony Smith, levied against his former employer, Hillshire Brands, under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The plaintiff was an employee of Hillshire Brands and in a letter dated August of 2013, he was given time off of work under the FMLA until February of 2014, but Smith’s employment was terminated in September of 2013.  During the course of this suit, both parties became engaged in various discovery disputes, one of which is the subject of this order dated June 20, 2014. The defendant served the plaintiff with documents requests, which would show the plaintiff’s activity on social media websites. The defendant’s request was, Request No. 15: All documents constituting or relating in any way to any posting, blog, or other statement you made on or through any social networking website, including but not limited to Facebook.com, MySpace.com, Twitter.com, Orkut.com, that references or mentions in any way Hillshire and/or the matters referenced in your Complaint. Request No. 18: Electronic copies of your complete profile on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter (including all updates, changes, or modifications to your profile) and all status updates, messages, wall comments, causes joined, groups joined, activity streams, blog entries, details, blurbs, and comments for the period from January 1, 2013, to present. To the extent electronic copies are not available, please provide these documents in hard copy form. In response to these document requests, the plaintiff refused to provide his complete profile on social media websites because most of the information had no relevance to the defendant’s claims or defenses in this case. So, the defense filed a motion to compel and stated the social media profile could offer a diary of the plaintiff’s activities, thoughts, mental condition, and actions, which relate to the plaintiff’s claims for emotional distress. Also, the defendant claims the information stored in the plaintiff’s profile may provide insight as to whether the plaintiff abused his FMLA leave, which was cited as the reason for his termination. The legal standard for discovery requires that any information sought to be relevant. This seems ambiguous, but luckily, the Federal Rules of Evidence provide further details regarding what is relevant. Rule 26 requires any document requests to be tailored so that it appears to be reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. The court here states that allowing the defendant unfettered access to the social media profiles of the plaintiff would allow the defense to case “too wide a net for relevant information.” The court here cites another case, Ogden v. All-Star Career School, 2014 WL 1646934, at *4 (D. Kan. 2014), which stated, Ordering plaintiff to permit access to or produce complete copies of his social networking accounts would permit defendant to cast too wide a net and sanction an inquiry into scores of quasi-personal information that would be irrelevant and non-discoverable. Defendant is no more entitled to such unfettered access to plaintiff’s personal email and social networking communications than it is to rummage through the desk drawers and closets in plaintiff's home. In addition to the problem of casting “too wide a net,” the court also stated that social network activity might not be as relevant to an emotional distress claim as one might think. The reason is that a severely depressed person may have a good day or several good days and choose to post about those days and avoid posting about moods more reflective of his or her actual emotional state. As a result of this analysis the court granted the defendant’s document request as it relates to only information that references the plaintiff’s emotional state and potential reasons for that emotional state. Daniel received a B.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice from The University of Maryland. He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015. Presently Daniel is serving as counsel in the Juvenile Justice Clinic. After graduation Daniel will clerk for a trial judge in the Superior Court of New Jersey.  Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

When is Paper Proof Proper Preservation?

In April 2014, the Honorable Dominic J. Squatrito from the District Court for the District of Connecticut handed down a decision that dismissed all but one of plaintiff Ray Tedeschi’s claims against defendant Kason Credit Corporation (“KCC”), a collections agency that wrongfully targeted Tedeschi based on a telephone mix-up.  On Both parties moved for summary judgment on claims of invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  Tedeschi’s claims were largely unsupportable – not the least of which being his assertion that Kason Credit Corporation should face an evidentiary adverse inference instruction based on spoliation of electronic evidence. In sum and substance, Tedeschi claimed that KCC was harassing Tedeschi with nearly twenty phone calls over the course of a yearlong period, seeking to collect a debt from a consumer who listed Tedeschi’s new home phone number as a means of contact.  Tedeschi continually informed KCC that he was not the debtor, and asked that KCC stop calling.  Tedeschi v. Kason Credit Corp., No. 3:10CV00612 DJS, 2014 WL 1491173 *2-3 (D. Conn. Apr. 15, 2014). KCC, on the other hand, denied the volume of calls asserted by the plaintiff, and instead asserted that only two phone calls took place over that same period of time.  Id.  KCC further alleged that the behavior met the standards of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15. U.S.C. § 1692, and was not actionable. Recognizing a dispute of fact, the Court left this claim intact.  However, it’s unlikely that Tedeschi’s claim will pass muster with any jury.  Here’s why: When deposing the CEO of KCC, Karl Dudek, plaintiff learned that a “fact sheet” was generated for Tedeschi’s matter that tracked calls from KCC employees to Tedeschi’s phone number.  In response to an inquiry, Dudek indicated that the fact sheet “has probably been printed out 20 times.” Id. at *16.  Tedeschi argued that the print-out produced at the time of the deposition did not satisfy discovery requirements, since the print-out was dated December 2010, and that the original print-out must have been destroyed. KCC was able to demonstrate that the print-out was unchanged in substance or form from the first request date in June 2010 to the produced copy in December 2010.  Relying on Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Financial Corp., 306 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 2002), the court outlined the criteria for an adverse inference: the moving party must demonstrate that the party having control over the evidence had a duty to preserve it at the time of destruction, that the evidence was destroyed with a culpable state of mind, and that the destroyed evidence would support the moving party’s claim or defense.  Judge Squatrito found that KCC did not have a duty to preserve print-outs, since the print-outs “merely duplicate ‘original evidence.’” Id. at *17.  Since Tedeschi was unable to support a claim that the electronic data was destroyed with any culpable state of mind, the claim necessarily fails.  See Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 220 F.R.D. 212, 218 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (“A party . . . must retain all relevant documents[,] but not multiple identical copies[,] in existence at the time the duty to preserve attaches, and any relevant documents created thereafter.”). Plaintiff’s claims against KCC were doomed from the start, and Tedeschi would have been smart to see the writing on the wall – if not the words on the print-outs. Kevin received a B.S. in Political Science from the University of Scranton (2009), and will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.  Prior to joining the Seton Hall community, Kevin worked as an eDiscovery professional at two large “white-shoe” law firms in Manhattan. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Deleted Documents? Improper Withholding of Evidence?

Larry Klayman sued six separate journalist defendants for defamation. This case is about Klayman wanting more discovery from the defendants. Specifically, Klayman’s motion is to compel the production of documents and to hire a computer expert. In this case, Klayman has conceded the fact that he is a public figure. So, in order to win in a defamation suit, he must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the journalists published the statements about him with actual malice. Thus, Klayman made this discovery motion to try to obtain “any and all documents, discussions and/or publications that refer or relate in any way to Plaintiff Larry Klayman within the past five years,” as well as several other document requests. Klayman contends this information is relevant to state of mind of the journalists. However, the defendants represent that they have already provided Klayman with all relevant information. Based on this representation, the court denied Klayman’s request to compel document production. Klayman also petitioned for a computer retrieval expert to be hired to go through each defendant’s computer files. Klayman claimed that the defendants had improperly withheld documents. However, the court ruled that the plaintiff must show good cause in order to compel a forensic expert, and here he has failed to do so. The court further stated that his assertions were “conclusory and unpersuasive.” Jessie is a third year student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015). She graduated from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2012 with a B.A. in philosophy and political science.    Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Protection For Blogs Can Stop Discovery On Personal Blogger Information!

This case involves ACT, a career guidance service firm that assists job seekers throughout their job search, suing Daniel Drasin, the administrator of a blog known as Random Convergence. According to ACT, Drasin exercises editorial control over the blog. ACT complains that the blog disparage ACT's services and damages ACT's business and reputation. On March 11, 2013, Magistrate Judge Kristin Mix granted ACT's motion to serve third party subpoenas on Drasin, demanding that he produce the name and contact information for each of the people who posted disparaging remarks on Drasin’s blog. On April 18, 2013, Drasin, then self-represented, filed a third-party motion to quash the subpoenas, stating that they violated the bloggers’ rights to First Amendment right to anonymous speech. He also argued that most individuals who posted comments on the Blog did so anonymously, and he explained that he had no records of those who chose to remain anonymous. The court sided with Drasin and quashed the subpoena. The court found that the Subpoena imposes two types of burden on Drasin. First, in order to comply with the subpoena, Drasin must surrender his personal hard drives to ACT for up to thirty days. Personal computers generally cannot function without their hard drives, so this requirement would force Drasin to spend up to thirty days without the use of his personal computer. Second, forcing Drasin to surrender his hard drives to ACT would give ACT access to Drasin's personal files. Moreover, ACT has alternative means to obtain the information it seeks, such as serving a subpoena on Google. The court also found persuasive that the benefits of the Subpoena appear to be minimal, as there is no indication in the record that Drasin possesses any information that would be relevant in the Colorado Action beyond that which he has already provided. The takeaway message is that subpoenas can be quashed if discovery imposes an undue burden, if the information is irrelevant to the action, and if there are other avenues from which the information can be obtained.   Rebecca Hsu, a Seton Hall University School of Law student (Class of 2015), focuses her studies in the area of Patent Law, with a concentration in Intellectual Property. She is also certified in Healthcare Compliance, and has worked in Compliance at Otsuka America Pharmaceuticals, Inc.  Prior to law school, she graduated cum laude from UCLA and completed graduate work in Biomedical Science. She has co-authored two medical science research articles, as well as completed fellowships through UCLA Medicine and the Medical College of Wisconsin. In addition to awards for her academic achievements, Rebecca has been honored by awards for her community service with disadvantaged communities. In her spare time, Rebecca regularly practices outdoor rock climbing, and can be found camping in the Adirondacks. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here

Take Discovery Seriously

The court first directed the defendant to produce the file of the plaintiff’s insurance claim in 2007, and needless to say, even in 2014 the defendant still had not produced everything.  Over one year later, the court granted the plaintiff’s first motion to compel.  When a flood of documents appeared at a deposition in 2011, discovery was reopened and the defendant was sanctioned.  Another motion to compel was granted in 2012, and this time it was for the deposition of a representative of the defendant who could testify about the efforts the defendant had taken to respond to discovery requests.  Yet another flood of documents appeared, and the representative deposed was unable to describe any of the defendant’s discovery efforts.  The plaintiff moved again for sanctions, which were granted in 2013.  At that time, the court also granted the plaintiff the costs and legal fees due to the late production of documents.  As relevant here, before the court in this motion was the assessment of legal fees and another production request.  The defendant did not want to produce more documents because by this time the defendant said the emails were on backup tapes that were purportedly not reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost.  Can you guess what the court thought of that argument?  We’ll get to that in a moment. Without delving into specifics, the court painstakingly analyzed the plaintiff’s legal bill for the various motions, filings, etc. and awarded $81,997.60 in attorney’s fees.  Some of these costs were attributable to an IT specialist hired by the plaintiff that was to help the attorneys ask proper questions at the defendant’s representative’s deposition so they could ensure protocols were followed during discovery and that sufficient documentation was recovered (and if discovery was delayed because of an honest mistake, the explanation for that could be ascertained).  Even though the individual deposed actually had no knowledge of the defendant’s discovery practices, the defendants couldn’t escape paying for the IT specialist’s and attorney preparation time. On top of the nearly $82,000 awarded in legal fees, the defendant said it would cost $200,000 to recover the backup tapes containing emails.  While the actual cost is unclear, the defendant was ordered to turn over eight weeks of tapes, at its expense, of the thirteen individuals the plaintiff identified.  The judge even left the door open for the the plaintiff to get additional discovery if further exploration is necessary.  However, this isn’t the end. Sometimes, a single well-placed footnote can be unbelievably powerful.  This case illustrates just that, as the judge cleverly observed the defendant’s conduct as such: [c]onsistent with Hartford’s approach to discovery in this case, it has spent more time and resources challenging two entries totaling 1 hour than the amount requested by the plaintiff for those entries.  The court trusts that Hartford’s attorneys will notify their client how much they incurred in attorneys fees on these two entries. So please, take discovery seriously. Samuel is in the Seton Hall University School of Law Class of 2015 pursuing the Intellectual Property concentration. He received his master’s from the Rutgers Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and became a registered patent agent prior to entering law school. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

When Does A Party Have to Produce ESI In Native Format?

The form of ESI production is specified in Rule 34, subject to court-approved agreement between the parties. If a particular format is important to a requesting party, it is critical to stipulate it unambiguously early on. If the party fails to make that stipulation, it will most likely be too late to ask for reproduction of documents that have already been produced although not in the format the requesting party expects, unless the producing party is in violation of the very flexible Rule 34. In Melian Labs v. Triology LLC., the parties filed a case management conference statement (referred as the “Joint Rule 26(f) Report”), and informed the district court that: With respect to the production of electronic data and information, the parties agree that the production of metadata beyond the following fields [is] not necessary in this lawsuit absent a showing of a compelling need: Date sent, Time Sent, Date Received, Time Received, To, From, CC, BCC, and Email Subject. The parties agree to produce documents electronic form in paper, PDF, or TIFF format, and spreadsheet and certain other electronic files in native format when it is more practicable to do so. During a 2-month period following the conference, Melian produced 1,218 pages of documents in PDF format. Triology complained about the format, claiming that these PDFs were stripped of all metadata in violation of the agreement of the parties and that the spreadsheets were not produced in their native format.  Melian disagreed and the parties filed joint letters to the court to address the sufficiency of Melian’s ESI production. As with the e-mail production, Triology contended that Melian’s production of large PDF image documents was violative of FRCR 34(b)(2)(E) because they were not produced in their native format and were not reasonably usable. The court pointed out that Rule 34(b) only requires that the parties produce documents as they are kept in the usual course of business or in the form ordinarily maintained unless otherwise stipulated. The Joint Rule 26(f) Report was a stipulation. But the Report did not require that all ESI be produced electronically. Instead, it stated that ESI may be produced in paper, PDF or TIFF. Production in electronically searchable format certainly would ease Triology’s review, but that was not required by the Report.  E-mails produced by Melian in paper or PDF contained text fields prescribed by the Report and the e-mail production was thus not deficient. To the extent that some e-mails had these fields cut off or it was not apparent from the face of the e-mail, the court instructed Triology to serve a request to Melian for further providing the missing information. As for the spreadsheets, Triology contended that Melian had failed to comply with the Joint Rule 26(f) Report by refusing to produce all spreadsheets in their native format. The court again held against Triology, stating that the Report did not require the production of ESI in their native format. In this case, when some of the spreadsheet printouts were difficult to read, it produced them in native format (Excel) upon request by Triology. The court approved of this remedial procedure and held that Melian did not need to produce all spreadsheets electronically in native format according to the stipulation of the Report. The court was noticeably agitated by this kind of complaint asking for the court’s involvement.  The court believed that these disputes could have been easily resolved by the parties without seeking court intervention. Here is a quote from the last sentence of the opinion: “the parties are ordered to meet and confer in good faith before seeking further court intervention.” The bottom line is that if a requesting party wants to have documents produced in their native format, it should make a clear and unambiguous stipulation as to the form of production in order to override the choices afforded to the producing party by Rule 34. Of course, the stipulation, usually reached at some case management conference, must be agreed upon by both parties and approved by the court after the burden and proportionality issues are considered by the court. And very importantly, stay on the good side of the court by trying to resolve these discovery issues without going to the Court for intervention. Gang Chen is a Senior Segment Manager in the Intellectual Property Business Group of Alcatel-Lucent, and a fourth-year evening student at Seton Hall University School of Law focusing on patent law. Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

Denial of Discovery Request: Can One Refuse to Produce Documents?

Executive Mgmt. Services, Inc. v. Fifth Third Bank is not a riveting case to read. It involves a rather mundane breach of contract claim by the plaintiff alleging wrongdoing by the defendant. Namely, Executive Management Services brought suit against Fifth Third Bank alleging that the bank had made misleading statements regarding interest-rate swaps. While the subject matter of the claim would fail to interest anyone, the procedural elements and motion practice offer a far more interesting and educational prospect. In building their defense, Fifth Third Bank sent Executive Management Services multiple discovery requests, which included tax returns, financial statements, and documents referring or relating to their (EMS) loan applications. However, Executive Management Services refused to produce the requested discovery on three grounds. First, EMS argued that the requested as they have "not claimed to be unsophisticated regarding standard commercial banking," only that they "did not understand the risks of the swap transactions." Second, the EMS argued that the defendant’s discovery requests were "overly board and unduly burdensome." Third, EMS claimed privilege regarding the requested documents under both attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. The court rejected EMS’s first argument right out of the gate. EMS claimed that the documents sought were not relevant to the issue at bar and therefore did not need to be turned over to their adversary. EMS claimed these documents were irrelevant because they had "not claimed to be unsophisticated regarding standard commercial banking," but rather that "did not understand the risks of the swap transactions." However, the court was not persuaded by this argument because even though this was a new area of investment banking, it remained the same procedure and protocol as any form of investment banking. Therefore, EMS’s past actions in commercial banking provided them with a foundation by which to understand this new field of investment and thus the documents proving this foundation were relevant. The court also rejected EMS’s argument that the documents were privileged under attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. While there may have been concerns regarding the confidentiality of these documents the court stated that the protective order in place addressed and negated all of the concerns posed by this argument. EMS’s second argument seems like it could have had the most impact out of the three; however, hardly any effort at all was put forth in crafting it. The plaintiffs simply stated that the production of such documents was unduly burdensome and overbroad and left it at that. There was no further development of this argument and therefore the court rejected it on its face. If the plaintiffs had put forth any evidence regarding why the request was overbroad or unduly burdensome the court may have limited the requested discovery. The plaintiffs should have offered evidence regarding why this request was unduly burdensome and overbroad; their failure to do so resulted in the court rejecting this argument on its face.   A.S. Mitchell received his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Central Florida (2008). He will receive his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 2015.   Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

What Should A Party Do When It Receives A Confusing Discovery Response?

Were the defendants at fault for providing to the plaintiffs a CD containing information confusing to the plaintiffs? A court found that, no, the parties should have communicated with each other in order to facilitate the discovery process. The issue arose when the defendants provided a CD to the plaintiffs containing information the plaintiffs had requested. However, the plaintiffs did not know how the defendants collected the information on the CD, nor did the plaintiffs know how the contents were responsive to their discovery requests. Based on this incident, the plaintiffs filed this motion to appoint a neutral discovery master to oversee the discovery process. The plaintiffs also argued that the defendants had not been timely with their discovery submissions. However, as the court pointed out, the plaintiffs had not been timely. Ultimately, the court found that if the parties had merely taken the time to communicate with each other that this motion likely could have been avoided. The court further stated that the parties must, “meet and confer in good faith in order to communicate about issues of untimely or confusing production and resolve them without judicial intervention.” Thus, the court dismissed the motion. Jessie is a third-year student at Seton Hall University School of Law (Class of 2015). She graduated from Rutgers University, New Brunswick in 2012 with a B.A. in philosophy and Political Science.  Want to read more articles like this?  Sign up for our post notification newsletter, here.

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