E-discovery professionals use a variety of checklists in their practices, and among the most important checklists are those used during document collection interviews with company employees ("custodians"). By asking the right questions, e-discovery team members are able to accurately identify sources of relevant information.

There are standard questions that most attorneys ask during document collection interviews, including questions pertaining to the custodian's employment and whether the custodian has particular documents. Although these questions are important, they often do not tell the whole story.

While this list certainly is not exhaustive, following are examples of additional questions attorneys may want to ask during a custodian interview. These questions will enable e-discovery teams to gather the information necessary to make informed and defensible decisions regarding data collection.

  1. Did you receive the legal hold notice for this matter, and are you preserving documents that are subject to the hold notice? This question allows the opportunity to discuss document preservation with the custodian, stress the importance of preservation and remind the custodian of his obligations under the hold notice. The custodian's response to this question also indicates whether the client's legal hold protocol is effective.
  2. Do you have the ability to create .PST files? A .PST file (Personal Storage Table) is a format used to store e-mail messages and calendar events within Microsoft systems such as Outlook. PST files are usually stored on a computer hard drive but could be stored on any number of portable media (see Question #3). Companies have varying protocols regarding e-mail preservation. While some companies may not have a policy regarding .PST files, companies with enterprise e-mail archiving systems often restrict or limit employees' ability to create .PST files. However, some custodians may have .PST files from before the enterprise system was employed. Also, sometimes employees save .PST files in violation of company policies. In addition to ascertaining if the custodian has .PST files, it is important to know where they are stored for document collection purposes.
  3. Do you have relevant information saved on portable media? Portable media includes CDs, DVDs, external hard drives, floppy disks, and so on. During document collection interviews, e-discovery professionals tend to focus on large data environments such as Exchange servers, structured databases, off-site paper repositories, and individual computers. However, custodians often maintain relevant information on portable media. Identifying information stored on portable media is a critical component of the document collection, review and production process.
  4. Do any of your documents contain privileged information such as communications with the legal department or outside counsel? Identifying privileged documents at the time of collection can help create a more efficient document review process and ensure that privileged documents are not inadvertently produced. If a custodian's documents contain a large volume of privileged information, expedite the review process and have a senior attorney perform a privilege review of these materials.