ESI Item Tracking Sheet Part 3 : Titles
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
The ESI Item Tracking Sheet has a column for Titles. The title should be a plain but descriptive name for the ESI Item. However, the title of an ESI Item does not provide the entire substance of the document (it is not a summary) and should not reflect attorney thoughts (because it will be disclosed in disclosures and exhibit lists). The title, though, should have enough information to tell the reader what the ESI Item is (without opening the ESI Item) but not enough to tell third-parties what the lawyer thinks of it. This appears to be a delicate balance but reviewing examples and providing feedback to draftes should be enough to set everyone on the right track.
There are two ways a title can be crafted. Either you can use the actual title of a document or provide a descriptive title based on what is in the document. For instance, a contract between Machine LLC and Widget Co would be referred to as "Contract Between Machine LLC and Widget Co." If there is only one such contract in the case, this title would do. However, if there are several contracts, then it would be better to include something a bit more descriptive. For instance, "Operating Agreement between Machine LLC and Widget Co.", or "Software Services Contract Between Machine LLC and Widget Co." If there are several agreements, entered into year after year, it would make sense to at least put in the year: "2020 Supply Agreement Between Machine LLC and Widget Co.," "2018 Supply Agreement Between Machine LLC and Widget Co.", and "2019 Supply Agreement Between Machine LLC and Widget Co."
The same can be said about ESI Items that don't have a formal name but belong to certain categories. Usually, these categories generate numerous iterations of the same types of documents. ESI Items falling into these categories include, but are not limited to, bank statements, balance sheets, phone bills, credit card statements, and payroll. Just as an example, just labeling an ESI Item "Bank Statement" doesn't help. In fact, including the date and bank statement still does not provide enough information to make heads or tails of the ESI Item without opening it. Therefore, bank statements should have a reference to which account they reflect and the time period covered. Again, we want this to be specific enough to give clarity but not so detailed to be burdensome.
Here are examples of titles:
The idea with each one is to provide enough information so that lawyers and staff members reviewing the list can tell which document is which. Let's go through some of the decisions made above:
Bank statements have the last four digits of the account they relate to as well as the month and year of the bank statement.
Medical records reflect the physician (sometimes these should reflect the hospital or institution name rather than a particular physician) as well as the year range they reflect to and the patient they are about.
Text messages and emails bear titles that reflect what they are, who the main interlocutors are, and the general date range. Note that the title does not reflect all CC and BCC. Those will be in the description.
Email titles should contain the exact "Re:" entry from the email chain. However, sometimes these are nondescript. When that is the case, use something that is more descriptive. This is especially true if several email chains all have the same "Re:" and they need to be differentiated somehow.
Items that can otherwise seem generic, such as voicemails and audio files, should have something "extra" to describe them. This is especially true if there is more than one of each in a case. Therefore, the video reflects what it is about (in some cases, it could contain the name of the camera or Internet of Things item). The title of the voicemail contains salient language (a threat, for example) and the title of the WidgetCo_36 video contains what it shows, a physical altercation.
The undated handwritten note is titled with something from the document to pinpoint it. This is especially helpful if there are several similar ESI Items (handwritten notes, post its, sketches).
Titles seem straightforward. They are not. Drafting a title takes common sense and an understanding of what is important in the case. The title should not give away what the lawyer or staff thinks about the document but should be enough to understand how it fits into the case. The title will be shown to third-parties and used to refer to the ESI Item, so it should be presentable, descriptive, but neutral of work product content. The title, though, is also an opportunity to include language that helps your case. For instance, a voicemail with a threat to your client could and should be referred that way, e.g. "The 'Watch Your Back' voicemail."
A Legal Project Manager or E-discovery attorney should work with staff and attorneys to really hone down the art of drafting document titles. This can hugely increase efficiency and efficacy. It will also greatly decrease stress levels and burnout within teams.