I spent a good bit of my time last week reviewing discovery provided by the other side in a large business litigation. By far, the most illuminating reading came from the reams of the other side’s internal e-mails.
Think about that as you’re reading this. How bad would it be if someone from the outside had a chance to read all of the e-mails that fly around and within your office on any particular day? Sure, a lot of them are boring and the reader’s eyes my just glaze over, but there’s almost always one or two gems waiting to be discovered. These are the nuggets that can kill lawsuits and derail initiatives.
The continuing flap over Benghazi, once again put the issue of electronic discovery (known as “e-discovery”) right back on the nation’s radar screens. E-mail turned over to Congress by the Obama administration revealed dialogue over talking points. Some point to these exchanges as a smoking gun for a cover-up.
Representative Steve King (R. NY) went on the morning talk shows over the weekend to state that he was “not willing to take impeachment off the table.” Others have reacted with a collective yawn, proclaiming the latest “find” as much ado about nothing.
As regular readers know, this is a business blog, not a political one. The lessons I draw from the Benghazi investigation are the same ones placed in stark relief by the discovery I waded through last week. Companies, both large and small, routinely fail to talk to their people about the staying power of e-mail.
In my opinion, Microsoft Outlook should come with a pop-up Miranda warning: “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” At least people would think twice before x’ing out the message. Failing that, my recommendation to anyone with a supervisory role would be to take 10 minutes, gather your people together, and talk about…well…what’s being talked about.
As Will Rogers once said almost a century ago: “Live so you would not be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”