Attorney spearheads Electronic Discovery, Records team

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

B. Jay Yelton III, who leads Miller Canfield's Electronic Discovery and Records Management team, says this niche is often characterized as boring, esoteric or "for techno-geeks only."

Guess again. With the lion's share of litigation costs in document review, Yelton's team makes that universe of information as small as possible.

"If we can assist a client with its records management program, in the long run that client will save money and reduce risk because it will rid itself of information it doesn't need to keep," he says.

His team also helps litigators quickly assess a case and get to the 50-100 key documents needed for deposition or trial.

"No litigator wants to wade through reams --or gigabytes-- of useless information," he says. "The litigator wants the good stuff and yesterday, if possible. The less time spent on getting to the 'good stuff,' the more time spent building a successful case --and from the client's perspective, the less information attorneys have to review, the better."

Yelton entered this field after joining Miller Canfield two decades ago; a commercial litigation attorney, he wanted a firm that would allow him to develop a practice without geographic limitations.

"Miller Canfield was a perfect fit, allowing me to develop an enjoyable and professionally rewarding legal career with clients and attorneys across the country."

Assigned to several discovery intensive pharmaceutical antitrust class action cases, he came to appreciate the value of effective corporate records and discovery management practices, and to learn that the party who can most quickly and effectively identify and understand the relevant documents in a case will have a major strategic advantage.

"I also really enjoyed the business, technology and legal aspects of creating and managing a large quantity of documents on computer databases," Yelton says.

Yelton became involved with, and has supervised, most of the firm's largest discovery cases and government investigations for the last 20 years. He served as national discovery counsel for a pharmaceutical company in price-fixing class actions in 15 states and involving more than 100 complaints and 6,900 plaintiffs; and was appointed Special Assistant Attorney General to serve as lead discovery and trial counsel for a state Department of Human Services in a federal court civil rights class action filed on behalf of the 19,000 children in the state's foster care system.

He also served as discovery counsel for a Fortune Global 100 company in a federal antitrust and copyright infringement case in which his team was responsible for collecting, reviewing and producing more than 80,000,000 pages of discovery documents from the company's worldwide locations.

Miller Canfield has been very supportive of investing in technological solutions and developing a team of e-discovery and records management experts, he says.

"Information governance goes beyond the use of information in litigation - it concerns the entire information life cycle from creation through disposal. To cover this broad scope, our team includes members with expertise in records management, litigation readiness, and litigation discovery support."

If a client wants to develop or update a records management program, the team interviews key stakeholders, reviews existing policies and procedures, and uses that information to create or update a records management program based on current "best practices."

If a client has been served with a government subpoena, expects to be sued or has been sued, the team identifies, collects, preserves, reviews and produces information, developing comprehensive discovery plans with an eye toward maximizing efficiency and minimizing costs, and designing discovery plans to be defensible in court. If a party can convince a court that its opponent has destroyed evidence pertinent to the issues, the court can impose a wide array of sanctions, including barring introduction of evidence, granting an adverse inference jury instruction, dismissing claims or defenses, or entering judgment for or against a party.

"Motions to compel discovery and for discovery sanctions are being used ever more frequently as a way to win cases without addressing the merits," Yelton says. "If nothing else, we want to make sure our clients can successfully defend against these motions."

New issues and challenges in information technology constantly arise, he reports.

"For example, less than 10 years ago, there was no such thing as Facebook or Twitter. Now, these social media can dramatically impact the outcome of a lawsuit. A plaintiff claiming he can no longer work due to injury can lose his case based on photos posted on Facebook that show him dancing the night away. Mistrials are being declared because of 'twittering' jurors. Cloud computing also creates issues with respect to rights of privacy and information security."

Named a Best Lawyer in America for his work in Commercial Litigation, Yelton regularly conducts educational and training seminars on records and discovery management for in-house legal and IT departments, bar and trade associations, and state and local municipalities. He has also written for, and been quoted in, numerous state and national publications.

Yelton, who earned a bachelor's degree in business and political science from Michigan State University, says his initial interest in politics drew him to a career in law.

"Whether it was serving as my high school president, or as an officer in my fraternity or a Resident Assistant at a MSU dormitory, I always assumed I would go into politics and that a law degree would be a valuable asset," he says. He received his J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law then practiced law in Chicago for 6 years.

A Kalamazoo native, Yelton returned to his hometown in 1990 with his wife Lori--a Warren area native--and their son Jayson, the first of four sons.

"Although I love Chicago, I believe Kalamazoo is one of the best places to raise a family," he says.

He gives back to his community in many ways, spending 8 years as cooperating attorney and sponsor for the Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan; serving 10 years on the Board of Directors of Lakeside Beach Corp., and 6 years as director of Hackett Catholic Central Youth Football. He previously was on the board of Catholic Schools of Greater Kalamazoo, and served 2 years as president; was president of the Saint Monica Grade School, Local Advisory Council; and spent 5 years as an attorney coach for the Kalamazoo Central High School Mock Trial Team.

Published: Thu, Apr 19, 2012

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