Prepare data custodians for litigation response

Fifth in a series of best practices for litigation readiness.

The legal department may spearhead the company’s litigation response strategy, but success is dependant upon the cooperation of custodians. Every potential data custodian at your organization — from the receptionist to the CEO — needs to be ready to acknowledge and comply with legal holds when litigation is anticipated. Given that, it’s incumbent upon legal to educate, prepare, and support employees in their data preservation obligations.

In our eight-part litigation readiness blog series, we’re discussing best practices to ensure that your organization can instantly and defensibly respond to the threat of litigation. Our fifth in this series of best practices includes tips to extend litigation readiness to everyone in your organization. After all, your legal holds are only as strong as the weakest link in your response chain!

Everyone Is a Potential Data Custodian — But Not Everyone Knows It

Depending on the matter at hand, data could be scattered across a variety of locations and anyone could be a potential data custodian.

Chances are, you have some custodians who are subject to multiple legal holds and are accustomed to the process. They likely acknowledge legal holds promptly, seamlessly putting them into effect to preserve potentially relevant information. But it’s also likely that you have some employees who have never been required to preserve data as a custodian and may delay taking action. And all it takes is one reluctant procrastinator to undercut an otherwise effective preservation effort.

Trained and Prepared Staff Ensure a Defensible Litigation Response

On the other hand, imagine having an educated staff that understands why legal holds matter, what data they’re responsible for, where that data is, and how to preserve it. That culture of compliance virtually guarantees a rapid, defensible response to potential litigation.

The first step is to identify who handles different types and categories of data in your organization. Much in the same way you created a data map, prepare a corresponding map of custodians so you know who to talk with first about specific types of data. Once you know who your key staff are and who your infrequent players are, target your training efforts to make sure you fill in the knowledge gaps without wasting savvy custodians’ time.

Top Tips for Training Staff in Litigation Readiness

  • Lean on your experienced custodians. Get help from your serial custodians. They may be able to act as mentors or resources for inexperienced custodians in their departments. Alternatively, they may be willing to alert the legal department when they see a compliance problem brewing.
  • Be available for novice custodians. Establish and maintain an open-door policy and open-office hours so that custodians who have questions can get to you. And consider developing resources that don’t require human interaction, like tip sheets, quick-start guides, and video tutorials. Not everyone wants to directly seek advice; your company’s introverts may thank you (silently, of course) for saving them an awkward conversation.
  • Offer a variety of training methods at different times. Recognize flexible schedules and learning styles as you develop your litigation readiness training materials. Consider offering group training sessions over lunch, one-on-one coaching, or automated training modules. In addition to your initial onboarding training, develop refresher courses and demonstrations so your infrequent custodians can stay up to speed.

When all of your staff are on the same page with the legal department, your entire organization will be able to respond quickly, completely, and defensibly to litigation. Taking the time to develop training programs and reference resources will not only save you time down the road by preparing your potential custodians, but it will also help you prevent any spoliation of evidence.

Next up in our eight-part series, we’ll talk about how you can streamline legal holds using automated cloud-based software.

Questions about how to get your staff on board? We’re here to help everyone in your organization master ediscovery.

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