There’s No Excuse Anymore Not to Take Up the “Slack” in Discovery of Your Chat Data

Written by Doug Austin, Editor of eDiscovery Today

You’ve undoubtedly heard of the collaboration app Slack at this point – it has become quite popular with organizations as a business communication chat platform.

Unlike some collaboration apps, Slack offers not just public channels for larger group discussions (making it suitable for message boards), it also supports the ability to create private channels to allow for private conversation between smaller sub-groups. This makes it great for communications within an organization overall as well as departments within an organization (e.g., Accounting, Sales, Marketing, etc.). as it it supports direct private messages between up to nine people (which can also subsequently be converted into private channels).

Additionally, it integrates with many third-party platforms, including Google Drive, Trello, Dropbox, Box, GitHub, Zendesk, and Zapier.

This is an eDiscovery blog post, so you see where this is going, right?

Slack data is now discoverable

Data from Slack has become a common source of ESI in litigation, investigations, and other eDiscovery-related use cases. If an organization uses Slack, and it is under a duty to preserve potentially responsive ESI in litigation, Slack (or any collaboration app used within the organization) has to be considered as one of those sources of potentially responsive ESI.

In the 2021 State of the Industry report issued by my blog eDiscovery Today (and sponsored by EDRM), only 26.8% of respondents said they always or usually have mobile device or collaboration data in their cases, while 20.2% said they rarely or never have either of them.

Why is that? Is it because they don’t consider it responsive in their cases?

If you remember this Yogi Berra analogy from a few months ago, people go to texts and chat apps more and more instead of email when they want to reach a colleague in a hurry because all of our email inboxes are overstuffed. Combine that with the fact that collaboration apps like Slack have become a standard communication tool (even more since the pandemic when teams aren’t in the next room anymore) and there can be no question that Slack is a routine source of responsive ESI in cases where the responding party uses Slack.

So, is it because discovery of ESI from Slack isn’t proportional to the needs of the case?

That might be the more likely argument that many legal professionals are making, especially since many companies don’t have standard workflows to support data from Slack and other collaboration apps.

Certainly, in some cases, requesting parties do make overbroad requests for data from Slack (just as they do from other ESI sources) and those requests are typically ruled by courts as not proportional to the needs of the case. But, as a general rule, discovery of Slack data should be proportional if the request is tailored appropriately.

Courts are recognizing Slack data as discoverable

Here are two reasons why the general “undue burden” argument doesn’t work when it comes to discovery of Slack ESI:

  • Slack has a Discovery API: On the Enterprise Grid plan, Org Owners can export data using Slack’s Discovery API. You can then pull messages and files from Slack and store the information in third-party data warehouses.

From the data warehouses, messages and files can be searched, archived, or retrieved. So, Slack does provide the ability to export the messages for discovery purposes. Not all apps do, but you can’t make the argument when it comes to Slack.

  • Courts Are Recognizing that Discovery of Slack Data is Proportional: In the case Benebone v. Pet Qwerks, et al. (that I recently covered on eDiscovery Today here), California Magistrate Judge Alexander F. MacKinnon, in granting the defendants’ motion to compel production of Slack communications responsive to their document requests, found that “requiring review and production of Slack messages by Benebone is generally comparable to requiring search and production of emails and is not unduly burdensome or disproportional to the needs of this case – if the requests and searches are appropriately limited and focused.”

Generally comparable to requiring search and production of emails?!? This signals that courts are starting to reject the notion that discovery of data from Slack is not proportional as a general rule.

So, discovery of ESI from Slack is certainly responsive in many cases and considered proportional as well – assuming an appropriately focused discovery request.

If you haven’t updated your workflows yet to support the discovery of Slack data, it’s time to do so. No more excuses.

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