What Can School Districts Learn from the IRS’ Lost Email Story?

The recent story about former IRS director Lois Lerner’s lost email reveals another level of risk that most school district administrators don’t contemplate when they’re thinking about email archiving. Sure, there’s eDiscovery and the idea that you should be able to produce electronic documents in case of an investigation or lawsuit, but one of the biggest challenges could be how you fare in the court of public opinion.

Consider the IRS situation. No apology was made for a hard drive failing, despite that most of the data could probably be restored, and everyone would likely move on. Regardless, the public—and, in the case of a school district, your entire community—isn’t easily convinced that it’s a coincidence when someone at the center of the storm just happens to lose email from the period of time in question.

Yes, there’s a legal obligation, but how will a similar situation impact you or your school district when it plays out in the court of a public opinion? To make matters worse, you never know when the court of public opinion is going to call itself in session.

When the court does convene, assumptions are made, discontent grows quickly, and when it reaches a certain point, you’re convicted without even getting a chance to testify on your own behalf.

And that’s why email archiving matters. If the IRS came out and said, “Yes, the hard drive crashed, but we have an archive of all the email that Lerner has sent since she was employed,” the court of public opinion likely has a different verdict, or just might never convene. Whether the hard drive crashed or not, it’s immaterial.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that an email archive will win you the lawsuit, but it definitely will help save you from going on trial in the court of a public opinion and experiencing an unfair verdict that could have a big impact on your career.