New federal rules for document management in the electronic-information age require application of sound policies.
The Information Age presents a mixed bag of blessings and curses for corporate America.
Increasingly we find ourselves lost in an ocean of data. Many companies have responded by creating document management policies. But often these policies are too confusing and cumbersome to enforce. As a result, many companies have lost control over what electronic documents they are creating, keeping or destroying.
This is not good for a variety of business reasons. But the most important legal reason to get a handle on corporate data practices begins Dec. 1, when the federal courts will implement new rules for litigation that will force companies to take better control of their data or suffer the consequences.
The good news is that, absent a reasonably anticipated lawsuit, the new rules allow a company to destroy many types of digital information under a routine, good-faith implementation of a document-management program. Those companies that do not have such programs will randomly destroy data at their own risk or be burdened with the great expense of keeping and ultimately -- if they are involved in litigation -- disclosing unnecessarily retained electronic information.
The new rules result from more than seven years of study of how the federal courts should handle the exchange of electronic information in civil lawsuits. The amendments recognize that electronic information is different than paper documents.
The volume and volatility of electronic data stored on a daily basis far exceed those of the old paper world. Electronic documents are harder to destroy and contain "metadata," or electronic signals on when they were created, by whom, when they last were modified and so on. Without careful planning, all of those differences can drive up the costs of litigation and can even expose a corporation to added liability.
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By: Daniel Oberdorfer and David Axtell