Tips for an Effective Custodian Interview

Mike Hamilton is a senior manager of e-discovery programs at Exterro. He is a legal and marketing professional with a passion and focus for creating thoughtful, out-of-the-box campaigns that advance e-discovery education and best practices. He holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Oregon School of Law. Find him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

Exterro provides e-discovery software specifically designed for in-house legal and IT teams at global 2000 organizations. Built on an open architecture platform, Exterro's software integrates with existing IT, HR, and EDRM systems to deliver complete visibility into all critical data, as well as the flexibility to scale beyond e-discovery to encompass larger legal, compliance, and information governance initiatives.

A case comes across your desk, your mind immediately jumps to what are the key issues and keywords that will help you identify responsive documents.

In reality, it’s not you who possesses the clues needed to locate this relevant information, it's the custodians involved in the case. Interviews with these custodians should be the first step in formulating your keyword list.

To effectively conduct custodian interviews and unearth the vital information required to drive the e-discovery process forward, here are some best practices:

  • Create an Interview Template: Questions asked to each custodian regarding the location of potentially responsive data should remain consistent to ensure a defensible audit trail.
  • Get Background Information: First, ask about the custodian’s background and how the custodian is related to the case.
  • Confirm receipt of the Legal Hold: Confirm the custodian received and understood the legal hold notice. Also, verify that the custodian understands how to properly preserve the data they are required to hold.
  • Find the WHERE: Ask questions that will help you find out what devices may hold responsive data (laptop, desktop, file share, mobile device, file cabinet, etc.). Also try to decipher where responsive is located on that device (desktop, email archive, google drive, etc.).
  • Find the WHAT: Ask what unique terms and keywords were used in referencing the subject matter in the case. For example, how does a custodian refer to instant messaging, AIM, gchat, IM, chat, etc.?
  • Find Others: Ask if they know anyone else who may have other relevant knowledge or electronic information that may be different from what they’ve provided.
  • Automate the Process: Streamline the interview process and consider sending out the custodian interviews with your legal hold notices. This will help you quickly identify key custodians, as well as remove custodians who aren’t relevant to the case.
  • Don’t Forget: Remember, these interviews can distract custodians from their day-to-day activities, so try and gather as much information on the first interview as possible to avoid taking up more of the custodian’s time in the future.

To learn more interview and other e-discovery tips from Fortune 500 paralegals and lit support members, watch Exterro’s recent webcast “4 Case Management Techniques that Prevent E-Discovery Fire Drills.”

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