JSON and Slack: A Few Letters With A Huge Impact On eDiscovery

JSON and Slack: A Few Letters With A Huge Impact On eDiscovery

Business communications in apps like Slack, WhatsApp, Teams, etc., can add tremendous value in a lawsuit. To engage in meticulous eDiscovery, teams need to understand the format, structure, context, and content of digital information silos and repositories within organizations.     

We’re getting a lot of questions from our clients lately about electronically stored information (ESI) and business communications eDiscovery for Slack specifically. So we wanted to share some critical information with eDiscovery and legal professionals. 

We’ll address four critical aspects of Slack eDiscovery in this post:

  • What Slack Is—Including The JSON Format
  • Why It’s Important
  • How To Do Slack Discovery Right The First Time
  • Where To Go For More Information

Let’s start with the basics. We went straight to the source for a definition of Slack. From the company’s website:

Why should my company use Slack?

Excellent question. When your team uses Slack, it becomes your digital HQ. It’s a place where work flows between your people, systems, partners and customers. Slack breaks down communication silos inside and beyond your organization by bringing teams and tools together around common goals, projects and processes in channels and in Slack Connect. It removes the limits of physical walls, giving people the flexibility to do their best work where, when and how they prefer with huddles and clips. And it empowers everyone to automate common tasks with apps and workflows.

That’s a great high-level definition, but we’re going to drill down deeper.

What Slack Is—Including The JSON Format

Slack, an acronym loosely defined by Stewart Butterfield, one of its original corporate users, as a “Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge,” is the dominant technology in modern corporate communications. That sounds like something any eDiscovery team can’t afford to overlook. 

Slack allows for public and private communication channels, chat rooms, segregated groups and teams (by invite only), file attachments, references to third-party information (documents, etc.,) resources, data exchange, and a host of additional features and functions.  

Slack basically has its own IT department. Admins set permissions, access, roles, rules, and additional user rights. Members can invite other members, create groups, invite guests, and share and delete information based on their roles and privileges. You can begin to see how data management can get complicated very quickly. Slack’s deep functionality is also what makes it by far the preeminent player in the space.  

Apps like Slack have completely transformed how business communications and collaboration take place. It can be challenging to sort through a more traditional eDiscovery consisting of tens of thousands of emails, social media, documents, images, electronic records, and associated ESI. 

Slack, however, creates its unique subset of unique new opportunities and challenges. Legal teams can see the wealth of evidentiary information that potentially resides in apps like Slack. The problem lies in meticulously identifying, isolating, and collecting ESI critical to the case.

One of these challenges is Slack’s back-end data format, JavaScript Object Notation or JSON. In a nutshell, it’s a data interchange and encoding specification. JSON is used primarily for data interchange in web development. It’s text-based, so it’s machine-readable and human-readable. But the “human-readable” part can get highly complex. 

Here’s an extremely simple example from the company’s website. This is the JSON format of one Slack user sending a simple text message to another user that reads “Hello World”:

    "type": "message",
    "channel": "C2147483705",
    "user": "U2147483697",
    "text": "Hello world",
    "ts": "1355517523.000005",
    "is_starred": true,
    "pinned_to": ["C024BE7LT", ...],
    "reactions": [
            "name": "astonished",
            "count": 3,
            "users": [ "U1", "U2", "U3" ]
            "name": "facepalm",
            "count": 1034,
            "users": [ "U1", "U2", "U3", "U4", "U5" ]

It’s a simple two-word message. But what does all of the extra information mean in context? Who are the public and private members of the group? Were there attachments or additional referenced documents? How long will this message and associated files be retained? 

This is the format of JSON information that legal teams are required to sift through and decipher. Now imagine thousands of messages, numerous groups, public and private conversations, varying message and data retention cycles, third-party app integrations, etc. And we haven’t even talked about electronic logs yet.   

Why Slack Data Is Important

It’s all about context. And every single message counts.

Slack can provide the context your team needs to develop a winning strategy. Your legal team needs all relevant ESI to perform their early case assessment, and Slack information can be essential to the process. 

The bottom line is you want to win your case. We point out in several recent posts that technology can be the difference between winning, losing, and the size of the outcome.

You need a team of professionals who know where to go to collect Slack ESI, understand what critical information to look for, and have the expertise to capture and interpret that information.

How To Do Slack Discovery Right The First Time

First, it takes an understanding of the Slack subscription plan. There are three types of plans: 

  • Free
  • Pro
  • Business +
  • Enterprise Grid

The plan level defines essential functional aspects of usage like number and type of users, identity and access controls, data retention, amount of storage, file types, integrations, etc. The plan type will have a significant impact on your eDiscovery.

Slack also has its own APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for legal discovery. There are two go-to Slack APIs for eDiscovery: Discovery API and Audit Logs API. Knowing how to leverage these APIs can be your key to victory.

Slack also has thousands of API integrations with third-party companies like Google, Dropbox, Microsoft, Amazon Web Services, etc. Essentially, you name it, Slack supports it. 

Data analysis, production, collection, and processing are at the heart of your optimal eDiscovery effort. Message, file, and data retention policies can be different based on the plan type and the user permissions and preferences. 

Where is the data archived? This depends on the subscription plan. You might need third-party subpoenas for archived information or data from third-party apps. You need to know where all of the case-critical information resides to execute a comprehensive eDiscovery plan. 

Here’s an interesting example. As reported recently by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP:

The Court’s Analysis (regarding Slack data)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) requires that discovery be both relevant and proportional. While the court found that the plaintiffs satisfactorily argued the relevancy of the private channel Slack messages, it determined that the plaintiffs foundered on the proportionality prong of the analysis and ultimately denied the request to compel production of these Slack messages.

The court analyzed and rejected each of the plaintiffs’ arguments as to proportionality. First, the court wrote that since the Slack messages were ESI housed at Slack.com, the defendants did not have possession, custody, or control over them.

Understanding the Slack plan in the context of data location, access, archive, and log restrictions would have circumvented the legal issue.

Does this all sound complicated? Don’t worry, there’s good news on the horizon.

Where To Go For More Information

You need to do Slack eDiscovery right the first time because you won’t get a second bite at the apple. 

Don’t let the message you missed be the one that could have broken the case in your favor.

Our team understands the who, what, why, when, where, and how of Slack eDiscovery. 

Get in touch with our team of experts as soon as you know there’s the potential for Slack information in your case. The initial consultation is complimentary. We’ll let you know what you’re up against.

Your time is valuable and limited. JURIS LTS takes care of the critical, time-consuming, less glamorous eDiscovery details so you and your team can focus on strategy. Slack is one of these critical details. Sensitive information stored in the Slack app can be the difference between winning and losing an important case.

JURIS LTS—A Leader in eDiscovery, Trial, and Arbitration Support

JURIS LTS serves attorneys and their teams with personalized litigation technology services and support for trial and arbitration. Our services include trial presentation, eDiscovery (Slack ESI), and document management.

JURIS LTS is committed to delivering the difference for your case. We do this with a unique, innovative approach to every project. Our unique approach is designed for the nuances of each case to provide optimal value. Our proprietary technologies, processes, services, and eDiscovery solutions are industry-tested to provide tangible, relevant, impactful, and cost-effective results for legal teams of all sizes and scopes.

Are you dealing with a critical eDiscovery case involving Slack ESI? We’re here to help. Give us a call at (800) 227‑9708 today.