Inside counsel probably spend very little time thinking about where e-mails and documents are saved, how many have accumulated over time or whether they really need to keep them or not. When employees leave the company, their e-mail accounts and files may be marked inactive, but their e-mails and data still remain stored somewhere and are forgottent. That’s IT’s job (and problem), right? 

However, if the corporation gets hit with a lawsuit, guess what? Poor data management unwittingly becomes the legal department’s problem. All the existing electronic files, including those residing on backup tapes in that off-site storage facility that contains the only existing copy of critical evidence, may become discoverable.

And since the lawyers often have no idea where their data is, when litigation strikes, they have to scramble because their proverbial stores are not in order. In short, if corporate counsel turn a blind eye to data storage locations and content, they are exposing their companies to risk, and that’s a fact.

So what’s the solution to thorny issue? Work with your IT department to create a data map of your organization. Consider a data map the equivalent of the card catalog at the Library of Congress: the one location that gives you a view into all your user content based on specific criteria, such as who owns what, when it was last modified or even accessed, where it is located and more. This corporate data map will provide a view into user desktops, servers, e-mail and even legacy backup tapes. This will allow you to make proactive decisions about what is sensitive and needs to be placed on legal hold and what can be purged since it no longer provides business value. 

Once equipped with an accurate data map, legal and IT can collaborate to determine policy for defensible deletion of some content, archiving of intellectual property and compliance regulations that govern the process. Data maps also control the cost of e-discovery by delivering instant access to the responsive data to support litigation. A data map can tell you the location of custodian mailboxes and sensitive documents, and even uncover unknown data you didn’t know existed, in support of early case assessments.

What are the practical use cases of a corporate data map?

  1. Ex-Employee Data: When employees leave the organization, their files and email typically live on forever, on networks and even legacy backup tape archives. Data mapping will allow you to understand where this data is located and make a decision about what should be kept—as it is required for legal and regulatory purposes—and what can be purged.
  2. Email personal storage tables (.PST): PSTs are mini e-mail archives that individual users create and store.  The average organization can have thousands of PSTs hidden on its networks and servers. A data map simplifies the process of finding and managing PSTs. In fact you can quickly find PSTs that have not been accessed or modified in more than five years. Assuming they are not required for legal purposes, purging these .pst files will eliminate the hidden liability of the email that the organization unknowingly archived and stored.
  3. Controlling e-discovery expenses: Identifying and collecting user data in support of litigation can be extremely expensive, especially if the data is old and scattered about the network. Data mapping provides instant access to responsive data and streamlines the process of placing the content on legal hold. 

This is the essence of corporate responsibility and is the proactive way to create a culture of structure and clear expectations.Without detailed knowledge of the content, creating a sound policy is overwhelming, and executing it is impossible. 

By assuming shared responsibility for the firm’s electronic data, rather than blindly abdicating to IT, inside counsel can protect the organizations they represent and also greatly reduce headaches and expenses stemming from e-discovery requests and old files coming back to haunt them.