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Electronic disclosure is set to become a major issue for UK law firms, following the changes to the Practice Direction under Part 31 of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) in October. The changes will require a much more rigorous approach to the way electronic documents are created, stored, searched and retrieved. Many of the ‘smoking gun’ communications that can undermine the strength of a case tend to start life as an electronic document. Casual or instinctive responses by e-mail to a problem with another contracting party, a regulator or even an employee can often be highly significant in the context of formal legal proceedings perhaps months or years down the line. With the scope of electronic disclosure as it now stands, there is an increased likelihood these kinds of documents will see the light of day in court. Regulatory agencies, such as the Financial Services Authority and the Office of Fair Trading, are also becoming increasingly sophisticated and demanding in the information they will seek in the course of an investigation, as well as in the timeframe for its production. Lengthy timescales for collation and review of documents may no longer be feasible when they are stored electronically and can be searched easily.

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