E-mail discovery saves construction firm money

Company learns missing e-mail can raise attorney fees – and lose cases.

When your company is involved in nine or 10 lawsuits a year, the lack of an effective e-mail discovery system can easily cost you thousands of dollars, John Buraczyk says, from personal experience.

A senior IT manager for the construction company CF Jordan, Buraczyk says litigation is just a fact of life in his industry. Sometimes, CF Jordan screws up, and other times clients misinterpret contracts, he says. No matter what the problem, the US Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require litigants to produce electronic documents including e-mails in their "native format," or original form.

CF Jordan is involved in one lawsuit with a school district that has stretched more than five years -- and Buraczyk believes it would have ended long ago if he could have just found a single e-mail that may have exonerated the construction company.

So last August, Buraczyk led an e-discovery project involving new storage along with software from C2C that archives and searches e-mail needed in litigation.

The software cost US$25,000 plus ongoing maintenance fees, and CF Jordan paid another US$4,000 for two Infrant network-attached storage devices, but the project will more than pay for itself, Buraczyk says.

"If we save 10 per cent on attorneys' fees this will pay for itself very quickly. It probably already has," he says. "[Legal fees] can run into a million dollars a year."

Before last August, when CF Jordan needed to find e-mails for litigation it relied on PST files in Microsoft Exchange -- personal files that store an employee's messages.

In the aforementioned litigation involving a school system, Buraczyk says a school district that had problems with a remodeling project blamed CF Jordan. The construction company believes one e-mail from several years ago would have shown that it wasn't involved in the portion of the project in question, but the e-mail was never found.

"Although I'm confident we'll be exonerated, in the meantime we're paying a lot of legal fees," Buraczyk says.

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Even when CF Jordan found e-mails, it could take hours and require the company to pay out lots of money in legal fees. The risk of losing a lawsuit was the biggest problem, though.

"Our industry, because of rising insurance premiums, has begun to assume a greater risk related to our projects," Buraczyk says. "To help mitigate that risk we felt we needed better control over e-mail, given its legitimacy and importance related to any type of litigation you might encounter."

The company has been helped out a few times already by its new e-discovery system.

In one instance, opposing lawyers in a mediation case in Florida demanded e-mails in their native format, and Buraczyk says he was able to produce them in less than an hour.

The C2C software gathers new e-mail every night and adds it to an archive for compliance purposes, he says, so the company has a record of every e-mail sent in or out of the company since August when the software was deployed.

The software also helped improve Exchange server performance, he says, because each month it archives any message more than 90 days old and leaves just a stub in a user's in-box. The actual message is stored in an Infrant storage device.

That leads to another small benefit -- users aren't barraged with messages warning them that their mailbox has exceeded its size limit.

"We don't care how many messages they have in a mailbox. The reason is that anything over 90 days is automatically archived and anything left is a stub," Buraczyk says.

CF Jordan analyzed several software companies before settling on C2C, which Buraczyk describes as mid-range in terms of price. There's a big market for e-discovery -- just last week at the Legal Tech conference in the US, companies such as Fios, PSS Systems, Kazeon, AXS-One and RenewData announced upgrades to their e-discovery services. The enterprise search vendor Recommind made e-discovery a centerpiece of its offerings as well.