Alternate Legal History: If Enron Had DISCO

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Enron: the biggest white-collar criminal trial in history, with an infamously enormous document review. We ediscovery providers love using Enron’s public data set for its size and complexity. 

So a recent demo got me thinking – what if Enron’s attorneys could have accessed our AI-powered legal tech at DISCO?

Let’s start with a quick refresher of what happened that led to Enron’s downfall. Then, we’ll reimagine that history as though Enron’s attorneys had been able to use DISCO for data preservation, ediscovery, document review, and timeline generation. (And that, armed with this information, they would have ceased committing further fraud and acted appropriately.)

What happened at Enron? (The real story)

Enron knowingly committed egregious accounting fraud in the late 1990s and early 2000s. 

How? The company employed complex financial structures and off-balance-sheet entities to conceal its massive debt, inflating profits and stock prices. 

Who was involved? There were a few bad actors responsible for the fraud – mostly executives and top management. Some employees were swept up in the cover-up, and a few others acted as whistleblowers, identifying the accounting discrepancies and alerting the appropriate authorities about the issues. 

All of this ultimately led to Enron's collapse in 2001 – now widely regarded as one of the largest corporate scandals in history.

What legal technology did Enron’s attorneys have?

Legal technologies were limited in the early 2000s, and precedent for large electronic document review protocols didn't exist. Which – considering the Enron case involved tens of thousands of emails, financial statements, memos and other documents – made the subsequent litigation painfully long and drawn out. 

Enron’s attorneys had no ability to draw context from email threads, nor analytics across data suggesting relevant documents. Contemporary modes for collecting ESI (electronically stored information) hadn’t yet been established, and AI-powered ediscovery tools like DISCO were more than a decade in the future.

But what if this story was happening today, with modern communication methods like Slack and text message in addition to email? 

📚Related reading: Preserve Your Sanity and Your Data With Hold’s Collect for Slack 

And what if Enron attorneys had access to modern legal technology and solutions like DISCO? How would that investigation have gone? 

The first line of defense: DISCO Request, Hold, and Case Builder

DISCO Request ensures an audit trail at Enron

If Enron’s corporate legal department could have used DISCO Request, Hold and Case Builder as complaints came in, they very quickly would have known how much trouble they were in. 

In this alternate reality, let’s give Enron the benefit of the doubt. We’ll assume they’d act appropriately given the circumstances, and cease to commit further fraud.

At this stage, the complaint, and subsequent service of process, would be received by Enron’s registered agent, a CT Corp or CSC. 

And imagine if their registered agent were integrated with DISCO Request. The request would have been automatically assigned to appropriate Enron personnel for response, and the response compliance flow would ensure an audit trail – something severely lacking in the Enron days.

DISCO Hold preserves Enron’s crucial ESI

As the request was set into motion, DISCO Hold would send notifications to custodians – or hold their data without notification. Using this solution, Enron’s attorneys could ensure acknowledgement of the notice, identify additional parties involved, and even collect chat data for a cursory understanding of real-time employee conversations. 

📚Related reading: Legal Hold 101: How to Manage Custodians 

Consequently, Enron’s counsel would react more quickly and with certainty, setting in-place preservation for email, chat, file storage, and more with the confidence that crucial ESI would be preserved expediently. 

All of this while potentially avoiding the monetary sanctions and any judicial adverse inferences that piled up. 

Example of a legal hold notice in DISCO's Hold platform

DISCO Case Builder creates a fact-based timeline

To round out their first line of defense, Enron’s lawyers would use DISCO Case Builder to bring complaints into its Timelines feature. 

Enron counsel would swiftly build fact-based timelines of the allegations with assistance from DISCO’s generative AI and large language model, Cecilia. Right away, Enron would have understood exactly the size of the beast they were dealing with. 

Recorded webinar: Meet Cecilia, the AI-Powered Expert Who Can Answer Any Question About Your Documents 🎬

Although it still wouldn’t have been pretty, the opportunity for Enron’s counsel to preserve data in place – and leverage this data to construct a timeline of allegations with blazing speed – may have given them a fighting chance.

Opposition reimagined: Enron with DISCO Ediscovery and Cecilia

As revolutionary as these products – DISCO Request, Hold, and Case Builder – would have been for Enron, they also would have advantaged opposing counsel.

What advantages could Enron’s counsel gain against their opposition?

Ediscovery and Cecilia accomplish months of human work in mere minutes

In our alternate history: As discovery began and mountains of ESI rolled in for the plaintiffs, DISCO Ediscovery would ingest data as documents were produced. Cecilia Q&A, DISCO’s in-platform AI fact expert, would then query and translate the database into a plain language summary, uncovering much more than a simple – or even complex – search ever could. 

Cecilia Q&A in DISCO's Ediscovery platform

Documents that, in reality, took Enron’s human reviewers months to go through would be neatly summarized with sources cited (a feature specially built to prevent AI hallucinations) by Cecilia. This would negate or minimize hours of attorney billables spent synthesizing findings for Enron. Thanks to AI, the plaintiffs would now have an expert witness (Cecilia) with knowledge of every single document in the case

A better case, faster, with Managed Review and TAR 2.0

This case was a whale of a matter, and it would be fair to assume that plaintiffs could have used some outside help. What if these attorneys took the opportunity to utilize DISCO’s Managed Review team to leverage TAR 2.0 (Technology Assisted Review) workflows? 

Related datasheet: DISCO AI for Document Review 📊

DISCO’s seasoned legal professionals with years of experience would train DISCO Ediscovery’s predictive tagging model from the jump, separating the wheat from the chaff early to build a better case faster. 

How? They would harness Cecilia’s prioritization and Continuous Active Learning (CAL) to confirm earlier findings, and each issue in the case would be supported with corresponding documents. Plus, with AI on their side, the review team could review more than 70 documents per hour, dramatically reducing review time compared to the laborious manual process Enron’s legal team actually followed.

Ultimately, the speed to evidence would allow Enron’s attorneys to negotiate from a position of knowledge, producing favorable outcomes rapidly. Is it possible Enron would stand a chance?

DISCO's Cecilia in the Ediscovery platform

From 20/20 hindsight to 21st-century legal tech

In conclusion, hindsight is 20/20. And sure, I may be simplifying everything here for the sake of the hypothetical. But there is no denying that the legal technology landscape has undergone a revolution. 

Today, legal professionals are simplifying and automating tedious processes, interrogating data with powerful generative AI, utilizing modern technology with the oversight of veteran professionals to understand exposure, and ultimately negotiating from a position of knowledge. I should know: We offer all of this in-house at DISCO.

Now think: It’s been nearly 25 years since the Enron case. Are you using 21st-century legal tech? Or do your legal workflows and processes look like the attorneys’ at Enron?

25 years after Enron, if you are not employing modern legal technology like DISCO, you will not be able to catch up to this wave fast enough. Certainly, it's too late for Enron. But it isn’t too late for you.

Step into the present with DISCO’s AI-powered technologies and solutions: Schedule a call to see what we can do for you.

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Rian Kennedy

Rian Kennedy is Director of Legal Hold Sales at DISCO. He has been an industry veteran in the legal and information governance space for close to 20 years, advising his clients in selecting the right technologies to streamline legal and business workflows, minimize risk, and ensure client outcomes are met.