Ediscovery 101 For Collaboration: What does a company have to do with its Slack data to meet its discovery obligations?

| May 26 2020

As the world embraces a more collaborative way of working and uses new applications like Slack to communicate with one another, there is a corollary impact on other areas of the business such as how does a company meet its discovery obligations. 




The key step that companies need to take is to preserve potentially relevant information for use in discovery. If we were talking about paper discovery, preservation would mean setting those boxes aside somewhere safe where their contents wouldn’t be shredded. For email, it would mean preventing a user—or anyone else—from deleting the contents of their inbox or email folders. 

Most of these preservation efforts are initiated by what’s called a legal hold (also known as a litigation hold). A legal hold starts with a hold notice that goes to the people who might have relevant information. Those people (known as custodians) are directed to hold on to any information they have that might be related to the dispute. They’re also usually asked to fill out a questionnaire or interview to help the legal team identify other custodians and where relevant data is being retained. 

Let’s unpack that paragraph a little.

Who are custodians, anyway?

Suppose we’re talking about something fairly straightforward like an employment dispute. There, the important custodians might include these people:

  • the human resources manager, 
  • the employee in question, and
  • the employee’s supervisor. 


Ediscovery attorneys are used to dealing with legal holds and preservation efforts for things like email. They identify the custodians, lock down access to the email archives for those people, and presto, they’re good to go. 

With Slack, it’s a bit more complicated. An ediscovery attorney might still know exactly which custodians  they’re interested in—Beth, Bob, and Sally—and might be able to figure out what channels those custodians have been active on in Slack. With some effort, they can pull together a list of messages that those custodians have written in Slack. But what if those messages are just one-word responses or emojis? How can they tell what messages those custodians have read in Slack or identify the full context of their posts? This is where people start to get into trouble with Slack discovery. 


Bear in mind that the process of discovery is about more than just identifying and preserving information. Those are preliminary steps that ensure that information is available for parties to actually use later. They’re definitely necessary steps, but they’re not the whole enchilada. Parties also need to be able to search through preserved information, analyze it, export it, review it, and produce it to an opponent and perhaps even a court. We’ll talk more about these later steps in a minute. 

For starters, though, parties need to find all of the relevant messages within Slack and hang onto them. 

This is where Slack Enterprise Grid becomes important. First of all, unlike the free version with its limited message storage, it lets users access their entire history of messages. More importantly, though, by unlocking the discovery API, it allows litigants to fold Slack information into their existing ediscovery workflows. That means they can preserve Slack data, export it, and review it just like they would any other electronically stored discoverable information. 

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