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Posted: June 21, 2013

The rise and demise of the digital packrat

How to know if you are one, and what to do about it

Kelly Twigger

These days, keeping electronic information is a whole lot easier than thinking about how not to keep it. Thus, the digital packrat is born. Come on, you know what I'm talking about. Ask yourself if any of these scenarios sound familiar:

  • You keep every email you receive and file them away in neat little folders in Outlook -- you'll need to find that email someday, and you'll know right where it is (in that folder of 300 emails all received from the same five people on the project) RIGHT?  
  • No need to save off attachments from emails, you'll just keep them in email in those neat little folders (see the first bullet).
  • Document management system -- what's that?  
  • You have access to your email on your smartphone, tablet, laptop, desktop and home computers -- you never know when you'll need access to it -- and you have no idea what stays on those devices.
  • You text multiple people using multiple applications from your smart phone and/or your tablet.
  • You use Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, or any other social media site.
  • You save information to your shared drives, your hard drive, multiple Sharepoint sites, various SaaS services for all kinds of business functions (CRM, billing, Dropbox).

If any (or all) of these apply to you, you are not alone. The beauty of information in the cloud is out of sight, out of mind. We don't think about how much we create and store, and the little icons on Dropbox telling us we've used 72 percent of our 7GB barely register in our consciousness.  

We’ve inadvertently become digital packrats.

So who cares? Why is that a bad thing? Well, there are two dangers that come along with being that digital packrat:

  1. The cost of sifting through all of that information and providing it in litigation; and 
  2. Not being able to find what you need and constantly reinventing the wheel.

I work with clients every day on both of these issues. One of my clients creates a marketing plan every year for the Super Bowl. It's one of their biggest marketing expenditures of the year. After the game is over and tangible results of the plan can be evaluated and reported to the higher-ups, more plans and powerpoints are created.  

So, you'd think that those materials would be the first place to start when plans pick up for next year's game, right? Nope. We discovered the individuals who created the brilliant plans stored their documents on their hard drives where no one else had access to them.  Homer Simpson forehead slap – d'oh!  So when the plan has to be done again the following year, there’s no access to last year’s information. Sound familiar? You are missing out on leveraging one of the most important assets of your organization – your information. 

The cost of identifying, collecting, and providing all of that information – and in multiple locations – will also cost you a pretty penny if you are unlucky enough to get hit with litigation. The last cost estimate was $18,000 per gigabyte (GB) of data. Seems like a veritable bargain, right? Well, unless we talk about how many gigabytes you really have. Grab a calculator.

One hard drive is likely between 80 GB to 1 TB (which is 1008 GB). If you printed out the pages in a GB of data, you’d have around 75,000 individual pages. Imagine paying lawyers to review all of that to find what they need for your case. Yikes. 

So, how do you get out of Digital Packratville?

You need a plan for evaluating the information infrastructure at your organization and then a plan for how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Your plan should get the big picture first, identify the roles and staffing for implementing the plan, and then flow down to specific tasks (like policy creation). 

Follow this simple rule:  Keep what you need for the business and what the law says you should keep.

Think about how to organize your information so that you can leverage your information for the best possible outcomes for your business and to reduce costs when/if litigation comes up. While it’s easy to be a digital packrat, it takes strategy to not be one. The upside – it might be one of the most sound strategies in which you’ve ever invested.

Kelly Twigger is a 15-year veteran attorney who has focused on eDiscovery since 2005. As the Principal of ESI Attorneys, a law firm that focuses on eDiscovery and information law, she's also the creator of the eDiscovery Assistant iPad app, the first legal technology solution to bring accessibility and key data to the legal community-at-large. Learn more at esiattorneys.com.

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