Email Now, Pay Later

As eDiscovery methods and tools become more and more sophisticated, and counsel and corporations more willing to spend time and money on more extensive searches, the importance of not just what you write in emails, but the fact that you wrote it…and saved it, becomes more obvious.  So why do so many people insist that they just have to keep their email messages for so long, when embarrassing or harmful results such as this can happen?

Perhaps the answer lies in the time-honored belief that people hold about the email function itself – that email is just another record repository, just like their shared drive at work, or hard drive at home.  People tend not to see email systems (Outlook, for instance) as a messaging tool; they regularly treat the message content as a record in and of itself.  Try telling employees to not put business content in the message, that they should point the recipient to a document residing in actual record repositories, such as a SharePoint site or shared drive folder; I will bet you they will say, “Too much work, are you crazy?”  Which leads me to another possibility – is the way we use email linked to laziness?  It’s so easy to just put the business content in the email, send it and save it forever.  And it’s just as easy to end up on the wrong side of a legal decision because of it.

So what is the best retention recourse – keep emails for just a number of days – 30, 60, 90 days – a few years, 2, 5, 7 years (the most common time frame when companies choose a year) – or forever?  Or do you allow employees to just delete emails…whenever? (as I type that, a shudder shoots up my spine…and opposing counsels would salivate!)  These are all surprising hard questions for a company considering imposing an email retention policy to answer satisfactorily for everyone.  And will be a topic to address in more detail another day.  For now, just considering why we treat email as badly as we do puts enough of a cloud on an already gloomy Houston day.