Drafting a Legal Hold Notice
Drafting a Legal Hold Notice

Drafting Your Legal Hold Notice: How to Avoid Confusion

A Comprehensive Guide to Drafting and Communicating Effective Legal Hold Notices

Receiving notice of litigation can set off alarms within an organization. What information needs to be provided? Who needs to be providing that information? How do we get everything in order by the deadline?

A well-crafted legal hold notice is essential for ensuring that all relevant information is preserved for litigation or regulatory investigations. Missteps in drafting or communicating this notice can lead to data loss, legal penalties, and adverse outcomes. To avoid this, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to draft and communicate a clear and effective legal hold notice.

What is a Legal Hold Notice?

A legal hold notice, also known as a litigation hold notice or document preservation notice, is a standard document issued by in-house counsel when an organization faces litigation, a government investigation, or an audit. When litigation is reasonably anticipated, the organization must implement a litigation hold. This notice is sent to employees and outlines their responsibility to preserve all relevant information, documents, data, and records. It provides important explanations and aims to protect all relevant evidence from being destroyed or altered, ensuring it is available for the discovery process in litigation.

A litigation hold can be issued internally by the organization or through a litigation hold letter from an attorney. Failure to comply with litigation hold orders can result in significant penalties, including large monetary fines, reimbursement of the opponent’s litigation costs, or adverse inferences against the party failing to meet discovery obligations.

Key Elements of a Legal Hold Notice

A comprehensive legal hold notice is crucial because it ensures that all relevant information is preserved, thereby safeguarding the organization against potential legal pitfalls while also demonstrating its commitment to legal compliance and diligence.

By clearly defining the scope, custodians, and preservation instructions, the notice minimizes confusion, enhances accountability, and mitigates the risk of data loss or destruction, which can lead to severe legal consequences and financial penalties.

To draft an effective legal hold notice, it is important to include the following critical elements:

  1. Clear Identification of the Case: Begin by clearly identifying the case or investigation that necessitates the hold. Include the case name, number, and a brief description of the matter.
  2. Scope of the Hold: Outline the type of information that needs to be preserved. This can include documents, emails, electronic records, physical files, and any other relevant data. Being explicit is important to avoid any ambiguity.
  3. Custodian Identification: Identify who is responsible for preserving the information. This typically includes employees, departments, or external or third party partners who may have relevant data.
  4. Preservation Instructions: Provide detailed instructions to all custodians on how to preserve the required information. It is important that you emphasize the prohibition of the deletion or alteration of documents and outline the steps to secure electronic data.
  5. Compliance Deadline: Clearly outline the deadline by which recipients must comply with the hold notice. This helps ensure timely action and prevents inadvertent data loss.
  6. Contact Information: Include contact information for the person or department responsible for managing the legal hold to enable custodians to ask questions or seek clarification.
  7. Consequences of Non-Compliance: Emphasize the potential legal and organizational consequences of failing to comply with the legal hold notice. This underscores the importance of adherence and helps custodians take the process seriously.

Best Practices for Drafting Your Notice

Now that you are familiar with what should be included in your legal hold notice, it is important to support that with best practices in actually drafting the notice.

Consider the following when drafting your legal hold notice:

  • Clarity and Precision: Use clear and concise language to avoid any confusion. Ambiguities can lead to non-compliance and potential legal ramifications.
  • Consistency: Ensure consistency in the information provided across all communications. Conflicting instructions can create confusion and hinder compliance.
  • Tailored Instructions: Customize the notice for different departments or individuals if necessary. Different custodians may require specific instructions based on the type of data they handle.
  • Legal Review: Have the notice reviewed by legal counsel to ensure it meets all legal requirements and adequately covers all relevant information.
  • Technology Integration: While manual processes can suffice, integrating technology can streamline the process. Legal hold software can automate notifications, track compliance, and manage data preservation more efficiently.

Communicating the Legal Hold Notice

Effectively communicating the legal hold notice is just as crucial as drafting it, and it begins with sending the initial notification through multiple channels, such as email and hard copy, to ensure it reaches all intended recipients. To help employees understand their responsibilities, provide training sessions or informational materials. Regular follow-ups with custodians are necessary to remind them of their obligations and verify compliance, as periodic reminders help maintain awareness. Finally, keeping thorough records of all communications regarding the legal hold notice is vital for demonstrating compliance if the hold is challenged.

Leveraging Best Practices and Technology for an Effective Legal Hold

An effective legal hold process is a bit like insurance — if you don’t invest in it now, you’re sure to need it later (and not having it could be costly).

Litigation's Ultimate Guide to the Legal Hold Process | eBook

Drafting and communicating a legal hold notice is the first step in the critical process. By including all necessary elements and following best practices, organizations can ensure that they meet their legal obligations and avoid the pitfalls of non-compliance. While this guide provides a solid foundation, leveraging technology can further streamline the process. Legal hold software, for instance, can automate notifications, track compliance, and manage data preservation more efficiently, offering an additional layer of assurance and ease in handling legal holds.

Our focus? On your success.

Schedule a demo, or learn more about Mitratech’s products, services, and commitment.