Among data challenges that businesses and their law firms face, those surrounding mergers and acquisitions are arguably some of the most daunting. Fast-paced and demanding, the high-stakes M&A process is like an amped-up litigation and investigation combined, with specific M&A data requirements, massive document productions, fact-finding imperatives, and more.
To add a bit of drama, inflationary pressure and fears of a recession could cool M&A activity, while the impacts of the pandemic continue to make regulatory reaction to the M&A landscape unpredictable, especially as to whether an HSR Second Request will be in the offing. If there is Second Request, document requirements ramp up and so does heightened scrutiny from regulatory agencies, especially in light of the 2021 Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy.
“Providing heightened scrutiny to a broader range of relevant market realities is core to fulfilling our statutory obligations under the law.” – FTC, 2021
Know as much as you can, as soon as you can
In a Second Request (as with any legal matter), the more you know and the sooner you know it, the better. Since technology assisted review (TAR), continuous active learning (CAL), and other eDiscovery technology has largely usurped a linear responsive review process, there is often less need for attorneys to review the majority of the documents that get produced to the government. This is good news for attorneys, who are faced with ever-growing data volumes that would be nearly impossible to tackle using a linear document review process, while still meeting the tight substantial compliance timeframe in a typical Second Request. However, less human review during the eDiscovery process elevates the need for counsel to find a way to uncover key information within the documents for fact development, witness kits, or expert support.
From a data standpoint, what fact-finding can be done early using human expertise, technology, and a specific search workflow? The sophisticated analytics tools available today make any number of assessments possible, even before data is collected. Basic data characteristics gleaned from metadata can reveal important information: email domains, recipients, BCCs, timestamps—such metadata is fodder for data analytics tools that can reveal custodians, relationships, timelines, communications patterns and more, all necessary information in regulatory matters. Companies that have found a way to have previously-assessed characteristics live with a document (think privilege, PII, confidentiality status) are really ahead of the game.
Let’s also not forget that evidence of anti-competitive behavior is really what Second Requests are all about. Although there are plenty of market facts and figures to be scrutinized, communications among people who are knowledgeable about the proposed deal could tell an “interesting” story. Common words and phrases casually bandied about (“dominant player,” “sticky customers”) can be laden with meaning to regulators or attorneys, throwing up red flags for further investigation. Company data stores can thus either be a gold mine or a land mine—and it helps counsel tremendously if they have the information on hand to prepare for either circumstance.
Finding key documents: a surgical strike, not a data dump
Identifying key information requires a precise approach and assessment —it’s not something that can be accomplished with a keyword list created during a brainstorming session. Keywords can’t help much if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.
Rather, finding key documents today can be an elevated process—one that is technology-enabled and executed by a nimble team that can leverage linguistic expertise, proven search algorithms and processes, and proprietary technology to quickly pinpoint and deliver a highly-curated set of documents on target topics. As key information is uncovered, further fact-finding can be curtailed or expanded. A team can adapt to any change in priorities, custodians, subjects, and/or time frames as a regulator changes the focus of the review. This reduces the amount of time counsel must spend going through documents, keeping costs in check, and providing the best ROI.
Between the initial filing and receipt of a Second Request, especially when there is little doubt that the Second Request will be issued, a team executing key document identification can help kick off the fact-finding and development process with whatever data is available—before any responsiveness review has even begun.
And even when no Second Request is issued, a team of experts executing key document identification can play a significant role. In support of an initial filing, they can help identify 4(c) and 4(d) documents that are required as part of the disclosure and get the best instance or latest version of important documents. This is especially helpful in situations where executives or others involved in the deal have massive data populations and don’t know where the relevant documents are.
Identifying key documents is a critical part of a Second Request. If client and counsel are well-prepared—armed with the ability to leverage expertise and advanced technology to find key documents from the get-go—the most challenging hurdles can often be overcome, enabling timely compliance, and avoiding potential complications that could delay resolution—or even kill the deal.