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.

Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg from 2013 to 2016 and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.