E-Records Policies: What's Your 'Straw That Broke the Camel's Back' Story?

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Earlier this month, I wondered whether Vicki Walker and her wrongful termination case caused New Zealand's ProCare Health to establish or revise its e-mail use policies. Regardless, I suggested it might serve as impetus for readers to review their company policies and procedures.


Then I asked some of my regular contacts whether they had -- or knew someone who had -- similar stories of situations that forced a company to finally address employee e-mail or Web use. Not surprisingly, few were willing to talk at all, let alone on the record. As one corporate counsel put it, most were "a little leery of going on the record-or even giving any information-about something like this for fear of legal/PR repercussions. It's just the nature of the type of folks we work with."


Marie-Charlotte Patterson, VP of marketing at electronic records management specialist AXS One, however, was able to share a couple of stories without divulging too much information about her company's clients. And though Patterson's stories concern electronic records generally rather than e-mail specifically, they prove instructive.


"We worked with one company in the financial services sector," she said, "whose representatives told us they had, at one point, literally destroyed a printer trying to print more than 18 gigabytes of e-mail to be produced as evidence in a case. After they shipped the first 15 reams of paper to an outside law firm, the case was settled."


Undoubtedly, the experience frightened them enough that they decided they needed not only policies addressing e-records storage and management, but the technology that could help automate enforcement of those policies.


The second story involved a health insurance company that was involved in litigation. The straw that broke the camel's back in its case was a discovery order under which it had to produce all of the electronically stored information from 23 different custodians within the company from a particular seven-year period. The company at the time used tape backups and had received a quote on the order of $1 million for a third party to go through the tapes to find relevant information.


She notes, "Thankfully for them, they hadn't actually signed the piece of paper to say, 'Yes, go ahead and do the work,' because they received an order that the number of custodians subject to discovery had increased from 23 to 42. Had they already gone through the first search, they would have then paid $1 million yet again to go through effectively the same set of tapes for a broader number of custodians."


Since the nature of this company's work lends itself to several lawsuits at the same time, company officials knew they couldn't continue with the status quo of tape backups and outsourced review.


Interestingly, Patterson's stories illustrate what a new study from the Association for Information and Image Management also found: The majority of companies still don't manage electronic records effectively. In fact, e-records are twice as likely to be unmanaged as paper records.


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