What is a Legal Hold? And Why Should I Care?

Cat Casey
Cat Casey

What is a Legal Hold? And Why Should I Care?

Legal hold, also known as litigation hold or preservation order, plays a pivotal role in eDiscovery. It is a directive issued by a court or an organization to preserve all potentially relevant electronic and physical evidence pertaining to a pending or anticipated legal proceeding. Think of it as a guardian angel for crucial evidence, ensuring it remains intact and accessible.

The primary objective of a legal hold is to prevent spoliation, which refers to the intentional or negligent destruction, alteration, or loss of evidence. By implementing a legal hold, parties involved in a legal matter are obligated to take necessary steps to preserve all potentially relevant information. This ensures that the evidence remains unaltered and available for scrutiny during the litigation process.



When Do Legal Holds Occur?

A legal hold is triggered when a “reasonable anticipation of litigation” arises or when there is a legal obligation to preserve potentially relevant evidence. Consider it a crucial moment when the winds of legal proceedings begin to gust, signaling the need to batten down the hatches and safeguard the Electronically Stored Information (ESI).

Also known as a preservation obligation, this is a result of the trigger event that kicks off the legal hold process.

But what are the specific triggers that set this process in motion?

  1. Reasonable Anticipation of Litigation: When litigation is reasonably anticipated. This occurs when parties have a reasonable expectation of being involved in a legal dispute, a potential lawsuit, arbitration, or regulatory investigation. It's like spotting a storm brewing on the horizon, prompting the need to prepare for the tempest.
  2. Notice of Claims: Another trigger point emerges when parties receive notice of potential claims or threats of legal action. This may come in the form of demand letters, cease & desist notices, or other official communications indicating an intent to pursue legal recourse. When these missives reach your ship, it's time to raise the flag of caution and initiate the preservation process.
  3. Regulatory Investigations: Legal holds are not limited to litigation alone. When regulatory authorities launch investigations or audits that may lead to legal proceedings, the need for preservation arises. Whether it's a government agency, a regulatory body, or an industry watchdog, their investigative activities trigger the obligation to safeguard relevant evidence.
  4. Compliance Obligations: Ah, my friends in heavily regulated industries! Your voyage through the sea of legal holds is intricately tied to compliance obligations. Certain laws and regulations require organizations to preserve specific types of information for a designated period. Failure to comply with these obligations can lead to severe consequences, including fines and penalties. So, stay vigilant and set your course in accordance with these compliance triggers.

Remember, each legal journey is unique, and the triggers for a legal hold may vary depending on the circumstances.


What is the Legal Hold Process?

A trigger event has commenced, Litigation is brewing, and the preservation obligation is in full force. What is a legal professional to do? Easy, kick off your litigation hold process. Unless you are craving spoliation sanctions.

So, what are the steps for a defensible legal hold process?

  • Step 1: Identification

The first step in a legal hold is to identify the key players and data sources relevant to the case. Also known as custodians, identifying these key individuals with access and control over data with a preservation obligation is the first step for any legal team facing threats of litigation or other preservation trigger. Identifying the custodians and data sources is the foundation for a successful legal hold.

  • Step 2: Notification

Once you have identified the custodians, it's time to notify them about the legal hold. This step involves informing the relevant parties about their responsibilities in preserving the required information. Clear and concise communication is key to ensuring everyone understands the importance of complying with the hold. Some organizations rely on legal hold software, like Reveal Legal Hold to increase defensibility and streamline the legal hold notification process.

  • Step 3: Data Preservation

Once notification has been sent, it's crucial to preserve the relevant information. This step involves implementing measures to protect the data from alteration, loss, or destruction also known as Spoliation. Preservation ensures the integrity of the information throughout the legal hold process. And protects your organization from potential sanctions.

  • Step 4: Data Collection

Once the data is preserved, it's time to collect the necessary documents and electronically stored information (ESI). This step involves gathering the identified information from various sources, such as emails, files, and databases. Effective collection ensures that no relevant data is left behind and kicks off the eDiscovery process.

  • Step 5: Documentation

As you progress through the legal hold, it's important to maintain accurate documentation. This involves keeping a record of the steps taken, including the identification of custodians, notification, preservation efforts, and collection activities. Documentation provides a clear trail of compliance and serves as a reference for future reference. It is your shield in the event claims of data mishandling or spoliation are brought up down the road.


  • Step 6: Ongoing Monitoring

Legal Holds are not a one and done event. They require continuous monitoring to ensure compliance throughout the process. This step involves keeping an eye on custodians and data sources to ensure they adhere to the hold requirements. Ongoing monitoring helps address any issues promptly and ensures that the necessary information remains protected.

  • Step 7: Release the Kraken

Once legal hold is no longer required, it's time to release it... That’s right embrace your inner else and let it go. This last step involves notifying the custodians about the end of the hold and allowing them to resume regular data management practices. Clear communication ensures a smooth transition out of the legal hold phase.

By following these steps, legal professionals can effectively manage the preservation and collection of information during a legal hold. Compliance with the applicable laws and regulations is crucial to protect the integrity of the legal process and ensure a fair outcome.

What is a Legal Hold Notice?

A legal hold notice, also known as a litigation, hold or preservation notice, is a formal communication sent by a party to inform individuals and organizations about the obligation to preserve potentially relevant information for a pending or anticipated legal matter. It serves as a vital tool in ensuring that relevant data is safeguarded and not destroyed, altered, or tampered with.

Imagine this: You receive a legal hold notice in your inbox, like an official summons from the legal realm. This notice is a formal communication that alerts you to the need for preserving valuable information related to a legal matter. Consider it your secret guidebook to safeguard relevant data.

Let's dive into the key parts of a legal hold notice that make it a valuable document:

  1. Introduction: The notice begins with a friendly introduction, informing you of its sender and the legal context at hand. It's like meeting a new colleague who's about to embark on a grand adventure.
  2. Purpose: This section outlines the purpose of the notice, explaining why it's important to preserve information. It reminds you of your legal obligations and the need for a fair and just legal process. No monkey business allowed!
  3. Scope: Picture a spotlight illuminating the relevant information. The scope section defines what kind of data needs to be preserved. It could include documents, emails, electronic files, or any other electronically stored information that may be pertinent to the legal matter.
  4. Preservation Obligations: Here, we set the guidelines. The notice outlines your responsibilities for preserving the precious data. It emphasizes the importance of not deleting, altering, or mishandling any information covered by the hold. We're all about keeping things in order!
  5. Custodian Instructions: this part provides specific instructions on how to comply with the legal hold. It may involve suspending routine document retention practices and taking additional measures to safeguard the data in your possession.
  6. Timeline: Time is of the essence! The notice may include a timeline indicating how long the hold will last and any critical deadlines for preserving the information. It's like having a countdown to ensure everything is handled promptly.
  7. Contact Information: Need guidance or clarification? The notice provides contact details for the legal hold administrators. If you have questions or concerns, they're there to lend a helping hand. Consider them your reliable support team.
  8. Consequences of Non-Compliance: Beware of the ramifications of non-compliance! This section warns of the potential consequences if you fail to adhere to the legal hold. We're talking about possible legal sanctions, unfavorable outcomes, and other undesirable situations.
  9. Confidentiality: Shhh! This part highlights the importance of confidentiality. The legal hold may involve sensitive information, so it's crucial to handle it with care and maintain its confidentiality. Think of it as protecting a valuable secret.
  10. Acknowledgment: Time to show your agreement! The notice may request an acknowledgment to confirm that you've received and understood the legal hold. It's like signing a document to indicate your readiness to comply with the requirements.

With these components in place, a well-crafted legal hold notice ensures that everyone is on the same page, working together to protect the relevant information and navigate through the legal landscape. It's your compass for compliance and your shield against potential legal hurdles.


preserve evidence

When Legal Holds Go Rogue

So... What happens if someone is non-compliant or ignores a legal hold notice? You receive a legal hold notice, instructing you to preserve crucial information related to a legal matter. It's like receiving a special directive to safeguard valuable data. But what if someone chooses to ignore this call to action? Well, my friends, let's delve into the potential repercussions:

  1. Adverse Inferences: When someone disregards a legal hold, it can lead to adverse inferences. The court may assume that the withheld information could have been unfavorable to the non-compliant party's case. i.e., the court assumes the worst! It is a risk that could cast doubt on their position.
  2. Sanctions: Failure to comply with a legal hold can result in sanctions imposed by the court. These sanctions can take various forms, including monetary penalties or adverse evidentiary rulings. It is like being in the penalty box for not playing by the rules.
  3. Spoliation Findings: Spoliation, the intentional or negligent destruction of evidence, is a serious matter. If someone fails to comply with a legal hold and is found to have spoliated evidence, it can have severe consequences. The court may issue spoliation findings, which could lead to adverse inference instructions or exclusion of evidence. It is a situation that can weaken their position significantly.
  4. Reputation Damage: Non-compliance with a legal hold can tarnish one's reputation. It may raise doubts about a person's integrity and adherence to legal obligations. Just like in any professional setting, failing to comply with important directives can damage your reputation and credibility.
  5. Legal Consequences: Non-compliance can have broader legal implications. It may hinder your case strategy, weaken your position, and put you at a disadvantage in the litigation process. Failing to comply with a legal hold can compromise the integrity of your legal proceedings.

So, my friends, let this be a lesson to take compliance with a legal hold seriously. Understand the importance of preserving relevant information and the potential consequences of non-compliance. Remember, a legal hold is not a mere suggestion but a critical component of the legal process that ensures fairness and upholds the principles of justice.

Stay true to the path of compliance, protect the integrity of the legal system, and navigate the waters of litigation with honor and diligence. May your journey be filled with successful outcomes and your commitment to legal obligations unwavering.


What are Best Practices for Litigation Hold or Legal Hold?

So, have I scared you enough about the risk of sanctions, spoliation and more? Well worry not, there are simple things every practitioner can do to mitigate risks of non-compliance in the legal hold process.

  1. Swift Action: Time is of the essence when it comes to implementing a legal hold. As soon as litigation is reasonably anticipated or a preservation obligation arises, set sail promptly by issuing the notice and initiating preservation measures.
  2. Clear Communication: Effective communication acts as the wind in your sails during a successful legal hold. Ensure the notice provides crystal-clear instructions, outlines the scope of preservation obligations, and identifies the parties responsible. Maintain open lines of communication with all involved parties throughout the duration of the hold.
  3. Vigilant Monitoring: Keep a watchful eye on the preservation efforts to ensure unwavering compliance. Regularly follow up with custodians, conduct periodic data sampling, and perform internal audits to verify adherence to the hold. These proactive measures prevent any potential slip-ups and safeguard the integrity of the evidence.
  4. Use the Right Tech: While some people may rely on a trust spreadsheet to keep track of legal holds, that is risky. In the era of high volume and variety of data the risk of spoliation of evidence without the right tool to track and enact legal holds is not a small one. Legal Hold Solutions can supercharge and protect legal Hold obligations are not lessening. Savvy professionals should have up to data retention policies and the right tools to enact them.