New rules for electronic delivery of documents in civil cases go into effect in December in the U.S. Lack of compliance could result in significant penalties for companies, according to legal experts and executives.

The new rules were created by an advisory committee to the Judicial Conference of the United States. Unless Congress acts to change the rules, they will become effective on Dec. 1.

The new e-discovery rules are listed in a 300-plus page document that was created by the advisory committee. The rules require that when two companies are involved in civil litigation, they must meet within 30 days of the filing of the lawsuit to decide how to handle electronic data. The parties must agree on which records are to be shared and in which electronic format, as well as on a definition for “accessible data”, said John Bace, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn.

New features in backup and archiving products may make it easier for users to retrieve their own data but could wind up opening corporations to more legal liability, said Deidre Paknad, CEO of PSS Systems Inc. “Anyone in litigation is going to say that storing less data is always better. Retain what they need to – nothing more, nothing less,” because retaining more data than required could give an opposing side more ammunition, Paknad said.

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