A Trailblazer in E-Discovery
As director of litigation for the US National Archives, Jason R. Baron led the effort to pull White House emails and records for the Philip Morris RICO suit. That eventually led to the development of eDiscovery. Jason's work, alongside late Sedona Conference founder Richard Braman, is now showing on the big screen in the movie The Decade of Discovery.
The White House saved 32 million emails during the Clinton years, and that's since increased staggeringly: Jason projects the Obama White House could end up preserving 1 billion emails. As the first appointed National Archives litigation director from '00-'13, he thought, "If we have to search through millions or billions of emails, we need to have powerful search tools." Nobody was really thinking or talking about this in a comprehensive way in the early 2000s, he says. Jason found a friend in Richard Braman, and along with an academic colleague dreamed up a multi-year research project called TREC (Text Retrieval Conference) Legal Track to test and evaluate different methods. Theirs and others' research, publications and speeches jump-started a conversation about then-novel concepts such as recall, precision, quality control, iteration and sampling, and led to widespread acceptance of technology assisted review.
There is still excitement in the eDiscovery field, says Jason, as data doubles every two to three years and the "Internet of Things" grows to include every smart object emitting data, from our cars to fridges to thermostats to wearables. There are new challenges, as lawyers gather evidence from many sources and have clients with tremendous amounts of data caught up in litigation. Jason's been of counsel in Drinker Biddle's information governance and eDiscovery group since late '13, now advising companies on managing their data and records.
Another adventure Jason had a hand in creating: after Dec. 31, 2019, the federal government is under a mandate to no longer preserve its permanent records in paper form. (All email records after Dec. 31, 2016, are to be managed electronically—no more printing to paper for official record-keeping.) Jason is co-chair of the new Information Governance Initiative, a think tank fostering conversations about managing big data in the private and public sectors. The IGI is part of a new Coalition for Public Sector Information Governance Leadership that'll help advise the government on meeting these mandates. If the future of the US archives is essentially all digital, Jason points out, it raises questions about open government. How do you provide citizens with access to that? Right now, accessing public sector digital records is not effectively possible due to the need to protect private and privileged information embedded in those records. Electronic records essentially are what Jason calls "dark."
The Decade of Discovery was written and directed by Joe Looby, a recovered lawyer who served in the JAG Corps and worked for Deloitte and FTI. When he became a film-maker in 2013 and wanted to create a movie about eDiscovery, Jason encouraged Joe to do a film about Richard Braman, above, and the work of the Sedona Conference (of which Jason is a past co-chair). They interviewed Richard in Sedona in 2013, and that was the last time Jason saw him; Richard passed away the next year. Jason tells us the movie is largely a tribute to Richard and his life's work. The Decade of Discovery has been shown at the National Archives and is being screened around the world.
Jason's been recognized as one of the six "most important e-discovery trailblazers" as part of AmLaw's "Top 50 Big Law Innovators of the Last 50 Years," and awarded top prizes like the Emmett Leahy Award, named for the "father" of records management (award ceremony above). He's had his own foray into movie-making with this six-minute 2009 film about e-discovery with Ralph Losey. Between many astounding facts is wedged one now-humorous tidbit: "One law firm requires its lawyers to check email every hour, 'unless in court, in a tunnel or asleep.' " Those were the days.