A Case Study on Privilege Logs

Privilege logs require more than merely saying a prospectively privileged document is an “attorney-client communication.” This requires litigants to conduct privilege review with far more analysis than simply tagging discovery “Attorney Client Privilege” or “Work Product Conduct.” The case of United States v. State & La. Dep’t of Health & Hospitals highlights the importance of effective discovery review in creating privilege logs.

The Defendant produced a 2,941 PAGE privilege log that claimed the discovery was protected by the attorney-client privilege and/or the work product doctrine. United States v. Louisiana, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100238, *3 (M.D. La. July 31, 2015).

Following in the wake of a nearly 3,000 page privilege log came a motion by the Plaintiff to compel a “Proper Privilege Log,” which was answered with a new privilege log of only 2,302 pages, plus a new 259 page privilege log. US v. Louisiana, *3-4.

Before discussing any privilege review, it is important to define the privileges in a case. As the Court explained, “[t]he attorney client privilege generally protects confidential communications made by a client to his lawyer for the purpose of obtaining legal advice. The work product doctrine protects materials prepared in anticipation of litigation that reveal the “mental impressions, conclusions, opinions, or legal theories of an attorney.” Id, at *14, citing Hodges, Grant & Kaufmann v. United States Gov’t, 768 F.2d 719, 720-21 (5th Cir. 1985) and Conoco Inc. v. Boh Bros. Construction Co., 191 F.R.D. 107, 118 (W.D. La. 1998).

The Plaintiff challenged the privilege log as being “insufficiently specific,” citing examples that privileged claims were simply “NVRA” or “NVRA Spreadsheet,” “Voter Registration Form,” “Final NVRA-2013,” “NVRA Documents.” The NVRA is an acronym that the Defendant had to follow. Needless to say, the Court agreed these claimed privileges were insufficient. Id., at *9-10.

Rule 26(b)(5) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a privilege log to: “(i) expressly make the claim” of privilege; and “(ii) describe the nature” of the withheld information in a way that “will enable other parties to assess the claim.” The test for determining whether a privilege log is adequate is whether each entry states sufficient facts that establish each element of the privilege. This requires a specific description of why something is privileged, not a “conclusory invocations of the privilege or work-product rule.” Id., *6-7. Simply put, lawyers cannot say, “work product doctrine” like they are magic words to ward off opposing counsel.

The privilege log also lacked detail with the identities and roles of each sender and recipient. Id., *11. As such, there was no way for the Plaintiff to determine whether the claimed privileged information was actually covered by the privilege. Simply put, you need to state that a attorney-client communication is actually with an attorney either seeking or receiving legal advice.

The Court’s in-camera review of 40 claimed privileged documents showed serious problems with the privilege log, because there were communications not with any attorneys, emails regarding scheduling of training, reports with factual information, messages on compliance procedures, and apparently unrelated email. Id., at *13-14.

The Court held that many of the sampled documents did not fall under the attorney-client privilege or work-product doctrine, because the communications were internal communications. Many of the communications did not involve any lawyers, did not suggest an attorney-client relationship, and were not seeking legal advice. Moreover, the messages did not contain mental impressions of any lawyers. Id., at *15-18.

Bow Tie Thoughts

Privilege review cannot be haphazard. The litigation team should define the possible privileges in the case, whether there are spouses texting each other or someone emailing their pastor for spiritual advice. This further requires setting up the document review issue coding, so information is properly identified, tagged, and defined in a way to “enable other parties to assess the claim” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 26(b)(5).

There are several ways to set up issue coding where a party can “(i) expressly make the claim” of privilege; and “(ii) describe the nature” that “will enable other parties to assess the claim” under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 26(b)(5). For example, let’s code for the attorney-client privilege. While state laws vary, the attorney client privilege requires at least an email between a client and lawyer, with the client seeking legal advice, or the lawyer providing legal advice. Coding could be set up as follows: Attorney Client Communications, with sub-issues, “Communication from Client to Lawyer Seeking Legal Advice, or “Communication from Lawyer to Client Providing Legal Advice.”

These tags would give detail to the privilege log, but still more is required. An additional free text note field would need to be added that could contain “sufficient facts that establish each element of the privilege.” A review team would need to decide at what stage of review they want reviewers adding such detail to the database. Some might find it is advantageous to have lawyers go into such detail while conducting their initial review, others might elect to have a privilege review team review everything tagged as privilege to provide sufficient facts in the notes to explain the claimed privilege.

The privilege log can be exported from most litigation support databases in Excel. The privilege log should include fields such as the Production Number (or Bates), Email From, Email To, Subject, Date Sent, Date Received, and any other relevant field, minus the body of the message. This information should provide both the requesting party and the Court enough information to evaluate whether the claimed privilege applies to the withheld discovery.

There are multiple ways to build a privilege log in a discovery review application. However, whichever method you select, think it through with the requirements for privilege logs and the privileges in mind.

The Advantages of Contacting Opposing Counsel 34 Minutes After Inadvertent Disclosure of One Email

Ahhhhhhh!!What happens when a lawyer inadvertently produces an email protected by the attorney-client privilege? A Magistrate Judges and District Court Judge orders the receiving party to destroy the inadvertently produced email.

Iowa is the home of where John Atanasoff invented the first computer in 1939. It is also the home of Federal Judges who conduct excellent legal analysis of whether an inadvertent production waives the attorney-client privilege over an email.

Defense counsel inadvertently produced a privileged email and once learning of the production, called Plaintiff counsel within 34 minutes. Pick v. City of Remsen, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128411, at *2-4, 11 (N.D. Iowa Sept. 15, 2014).

The Plaintiff refused to destroy the email and instead offered to redact the attorney-client advice.

The Court applied the following test for determining whether a privilege had been waived:

(1) The reasonableness of the precautions taken to prevent inadvertent disclosure in view of the extent of document production,

(2) The number of inadvertent disclosures,

(3) The extent of the disclosures,

(4) The promptness of measures taken to rectify the disclosure, and

(5) Whether the overriding interest of justice would be served by relieving the party of its error.

Pick at *7-8, citing Gray v. Bicknell, 86 F.3d 1472, 1484 (8th Cir. 1996), (citing Hydraflow, Inc. v. Enidine Inc., 145 F.R.D. 626, 637 (W.D.N.Y. 1993)).

The Court spent the most time analyzing the reasonableness of the precautions Defense counsel undertook to preserve the confidentiality of the email message. The Court quickly dismissed the argument it was unreasonable to not include a privilege log, since the attorney did not find any privileged emails in his review. Pick at *8.

The inadvertently produced email was “inconspicuously located among various non-privileged email messages.” Pick at *7-8.

The Court summarized that the defendants provided their attorney with 440 pages of documents. This included 183 email messages, with some pages containing more than one email. Id.

The suspect email was under a non-privileged email and started in the middle of a page that ran onto the next page. There was no marking that the email was privileged. Moreover, the printed email had no borders defining where one email began and the other began. Id. 

The other factors were quickly decided in favor of the producing party, given that this was only a single message and it took less than an hour for the attorney to catch the inadvertent production. Pick at *9-12.

The Court held the email contained “classic legal advice that should be protected by the attorney-client privilege” and ordered the receiving party to destroy the inadvertently produced email.

Bow Tie Thoughts

The Court made the right decision in this case. However, part of the reason the production happened was because the production was on paper (based on the content of the opinion). If the discovery had been reviewed in a review application, there is a high chance the confidential message would have been found during review.

Reviewing discovery as “paper” requires reading each and every email. When email is maintained in its native format, it can be searched based on keywords, dates, senders, and other objective information. Moreover, leveraging advanced analytics or predictive coding, the producing party can identify not just responsive information, but privileged as well.

Code-ReviewThere is also the very direct approach for determining whether there are emails that could be protected by the attorney-client privilege: search for any emails to or from a lawyer. Determine whether the email is providing legal advice or if a client is requesting legal advice. If these conditions are met, the attorney-client privilege could apply.

There are many types of privileges, from spousal, to clergy, to tax, and medical advice. The first step in privilege review is determining which privileges apply to your case. It is also wise to determine if your case contains confidential information, such as medical records or personal identifiable information.

Once the privileges and confidential information is determined, the review team can set-up the appropriate issue coding. It is important to know that Judges want to see more than an email is “attorney-client privilege.” The issue coding can have sub-issues, such as “Email from Client Requesting Legal Advice” or “Email to Client Providing Legal Advice.” Depending on the needs of the case, a lawyer might need to include more information to comply with the rules for creating a privilege log.

After document review is completed, a lawyer can search for all privilege information. Based on these results, a privilege log can be created by exporting the necessary objective coding and subjective issue coding to an Excel spreadsheet for production to the requesting party.

How Not to Be Progressive: Court Rejects Predictive Coding Not Agreed to By Parties

RichardNixonStampFighting over discovery search methodology makes me think of President Richard Nixon’s resignation speech: “Always remember, there are those who hate you. And the only way to keep them from winning is to hate them right back. And then you destroy yourself.”

Attacking a party who used predictive coding to reduce discovery review time to save money and time, only to result in a larger collection of ESI produced upon the requesting party, means the requesting party now has more to review. This is the end result of Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. v. Delaney.   

I have never been a fan of agreeing to the use of predictive coding in ESI Protocols. I do not believe such agreements are required at all by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The issue is whether or not a production is adequate. That requires the requesting party offering evidence that the production is somehow delinquent with facts. That discussion does not happen without first having a production.

Parties do not have a veto power over which review application is used by a reviewing party and what features they may or may not use.  The requesting party should not attack a review methodology, unless there is a production to challenge. The entire discussion is premature and the issue is not ripe for the Court.

In the case at bar, the original dataset was narrowed by search terms to 565,000 “hits” from the original 1.8 million dataset. This search term methodology had been agreed to in an ESI Protocol by the parties. After one month of document review, the producing party realized that it could take 6 to 8 months to manually review the narrowed dataset for responsiveness or privilege. The party unilaterally decided to use predictive coding instead. Moreover, after telling the other side about their change in technology, motion practice followed. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. v. Delaney, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69166.

The Requesting Party wanted the Producing Party to 1) produce the 565,000 culled from the 1.8 million data set using the parties’ agreed-upon search terms subject to a clawback for privileged documents, or 2) the Producing Party apply the predictive coding methodology to the entire 1.8 million record dataset. Progressive, at *12 and *15.

The Producing Party did not want to do either approach, specifically concerned that searching the entire dataset would result in a larger privilege review.

The Court noted what has been judge-made law on using technology assisted review: Courts require the producing party to provide the requesting party with “full disclosure about the technology used, the process, and the methodology, including the documents used to “train” the computer.” Progressive, at *27-28, citing Da Silva Moore 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23550 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2012).

The Court ordered the producing party to follow the original agreed to protocol and produce the “hit” documents to the Requesting Party within fourteen days without further review. Progressive, at *30.

The Court stated that following the Requesting Party’s protocol, the cost of review would be shifted to them. Progressive, at *31. Moreover, the Requesting Party believed they had the manpower to complete the review within one month. Id. 

The Requesting Party could apply privilege filters before production and produce a privilege log. Id. 

Bow Tie Thoughts

I do not encourage clients to have ESI Protocols that limit their ability to review discovery efficiently. I also strongly argue against the idea you need approval from the opposing party on what search methodology you can use to identify responsive discovery. It is the producing party’s right to use keywords, concept search, visual analytics, email threading, clustering, find similar, or any other form of technology-assisted review. That includes predictive coding. The requesting party does not get a veto power over what technology the producing party can use. The requesting party has “the burden of proving that a discovery response is inadequate.” Abt v. Jewell, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50766, 12-14 (D.D.C. Apr. 11, 2014), citing Barnes v. D.C., 289 F.R.D. 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2012) and Equal Rights Ctr. v. Post Props., Inc., 246 F.R.D. 29, 32 (D.D.C. 2007).

You cannot prove a discovery response is inadequate if you do not have a discovery response. The entire idea of attacking the use of predictive coding is premature if there is no production to be reviewed.

The ugly wrinkle in this case is the search and production methodology mandated in the ESI Protocol agreed to by the parties. I strongly encourage parties to not agree to actual technological steps to be used, because it limits the ability to conduct discovery in a cost effective manner. These agreements are often enacted without the advice of an eDiscovery Consultant who knows how the actual technology works.

What parties should discuss and codify in an ESI Protocol is the subject matter of the lawsuit. Who are the key players? What are the relevant date ranges? What are the terms of art used by the parties? What is the data actually making up the case? Those, and many others, are the topics parties need to agree to, not whether you can use visual analytics to identify date ranges or data clustering to determine what was relevant.

The use of predictive coding has been twisted because lawyers think they need permission to use it. They do not. The burden is on the opposing side to prove a production was inadequate, not the fact the producing party used one form of technology-assisted review over another.

 

Clawback Agreements to Eliminate the Burden of Privilege Review

F14DiveI am gonna to hit the brakes, he’ll fly right by me.

Maverick, Top Gun

You’re gonna do what?

Merlin, Top Gun

Attorneys feel compelled by their duty of competency to their clients to have eyes on every document that might be privileged.

SurprisedWoman

Given cases such as J-M Manufacturing it is easy to see why attorneys are concerned about privilege review in large document review cases.

If an associate attorney were to tell a partner she could rely on a clawback agreement and not conduct privilege review, it is a safe bet the partner would respond as Merlin did to Maverick in Top Gun.

In re Coventry Healthcare, Inc. v. This Document Relates involved issues of undue burden in producing electronically stored information. The Defendants argued that the Plaintiff’s proposed search terms produced “hits” of nearly 200,000. The Defendants claimed the estimated cost to process, host and review the data for responsiveness and privilege was approximately $388,000. In re Coventry Healthcare, Inc. v. This Document Relates, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39050, at *14 (D. Md. Mar. 21, 2013). Accordingly, the Defendants sought relief under the proportionality principles of Rule 26(b)(2)(C)(iii).

The parties to their credit had negotiated over search terms to ease the burden on the Defendants (and ultimately themselves in what the Plaintiffs would have to review).

The Court made what some would consider a surprising statement: [A] clawback order can protect Defendants against a claim of waiver, such that Defendants need no longer bear the cost of reviewing the ESI for responsiveness and privilege. In re Coventry Healthcare, Inc., at *16. As such, the Defendants failed to show undue burden in producing electronically stored information.

Crusher Claw

The Court’s ruling is not the first time such an order was given. As stated in footnote 6, former Magistrate Judge (now District Court Judge) Paul Grimm found that “the more practical approach is to avoid the necessity of an expensive and time-consuming privilege review by entry of a court order with a clawback provision that protects against a claim of waiver by production of a privileged document.” In re Coventry Healthcare, Inc., at 14-15, fn 6, citing Hopson v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 232 F.R.D. 228 (D. Md. 2005).

The Court granted the Plaintiff’s motion to compel and invited the Defendants to confer with the Plaintiffs on a clawback order if they wanted one.

Bow Tie Thoughts

There are several thought leaders who have argued that the cost of privilege review can be eliminated with protective orders and clawback agreements. While having both is definitely a good idea, many attorneys feel terrified at not conducting some sort of privilege review.

One option to privilege review is to leverage technology-assisted review in identifying potentially privileged ESI. I would still always recommend a clawback agreement and potentially a protective order, depending on the subject matter of the ESI. However, TAR such as predictive coding could be used to identify potentially privileged material. Generally speaking, many attorneys have an idea what sort of communications or files will be protected by a privilege. Leveraging technology to identify attorney-client communications, intellectual property, or personal identifiable information can enable the data to be organized based on both privilege and responsiveness. This allows the attorneys to review data that is potentially privilege, if they are so inclined to have eyes on such ESI.