As employees are increasingly working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many communications that would typically occur face-to-face are now taking place over chat systems, such as Skype, Bloomberg Messaging, and Slack. Chats are often more informal and unfiltered than other forms of written communication such as email, and often do not provide context for the conversation. And with that comes legal risk.
This is because chats may qualify as business documents subject to discovery in litigation—especially when those chats discuss business topics. See, e.g., LBBW Luxemburg S.A. v. Wells Fargo Sec. LLC, Case No. 12-CV-7311, 2016 WL 1660498, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 29, 2016) (ordering production of Bloomberg instant messages); JUUL Labs, Inc. v. 4X PODS, Civ. No. 18-15444, 2020 WL 747405, at *14-15 (D.N.J. Feb. 13, 2020) (ordering quarterly reporting during the pendency of a lawsuit based on internal Skype messages indicating defendants would take steps to avoid payment of any judgment that was ultimately entered); West Publ’g Corp. v. LegalEase Solutions, LLC, Case No. 18-cv-1445, 2019 WL 8014512, at *8 (D. Minn. Nov. 22, 2019) (ordering non-party’s production of Slack messages).
Companies are therefore left with the difficult question: how can you best protect against the risks of online chats, while balancing the business need for them? The answer may lie in the concept of proportionality.