The Thrills Of E-Discovery

from the it-is,-in-fact,-quite-a-thrill dept

Cross-posted from

While technology has reduced costs for many areas of legal practice (e.g., research), the centrality of electronically stored information to complex civil litigation has sent discovery costs skyrocketing. Hence the rapid proliferation of e-discovery vendors like so many remoras on the Biglaw shark. Nobody seems to know how large the e-discovery market is — estimates range from 1.2 to 2.8 billion dollars — but everyone agree it’s not going anywhere. We’re never going back to sorting through those boxes of documents in that proverbial warehouse. New amendments to the FRCP specifically dealing with e-discovery became effective way back in December 2006, but if the e-discovery vendors (evangelists?) at this week’s LegalTech tradeshow are to be believed, we are only in the technology’s infancy in terms of its development and impact on the legal profession.

At LegalTech, we attended a “supersession” presented by e-discovery provider Planet Data, promising to present “judicial, industry, legal, and media perspectives on where legal technology is taking litigation and how it affects you.” Don’t be jealous….

The format of the panel, comprised of an industry analyst, the editor-in-chief of the National Law Journal, and an e-discovery attorney, was a sort of moot court argument presided over by Michael Baylson, U.S District Judge for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The hypothetical scenario involved a discovery dispute between a “global insurance company” and “numerous and various” businesses who allege they were not informed of kickbacks to their insurance brokers. In the promotional material for this panel session, this was described as a “thrilling hypothetical.” True fact. (As Miss Jean Brodie might say, “For those who like that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they like.”)

Anyway, in this pretend discovery dispute, the faux defendants produced hundreds of documents by way of a “stringent technology-assisted review.” The imaginary plaintiffs, on the other hand, produced a mere couple thousand documents by conducting personal interviews and keyword searches. Each side was deeply, hypothetically unhappy with the other. Judge Baylson observed that there were three ways to resolve this dispute: 1) depose those individuals actually involved the review (i.e., the IT guys); 2) appoint a Special Master; and 3) sjbfwbfoe&%ubfo44…. Huh? Sorry, nodded off there for a sec.

So anyway, among all the discussion of the work product doctrine and predictive coding algorithms, there emerged an interesting question: should lawyers be held to a standard of technological competence? Judge Baylson and the “attorney” for the plaintiffs, Anne Kershaw, had emphatic responses.

During the discussion, Judge Baylson noted, delicately, that there is a wide range of levels of technological savvy to be found among the judiciary and that attorneys would do well to account for these variances in tailoring their arguments. Relatedly, there is a movement afoot, spurred on by a series of recent ethics opinions, and embodied in recent changes to the ABA Model Professional Rule 105A, to hold lawyers accountable for their relative (in)competence regarding all matters technological. Under the new Rule 105A, “[t]o maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology.” But this is an after-the-fact approach: whether a lawyer ought to be found in violation of an ethical obligation for a technological lapse. Prompted by panel member David Brown, executive editor of ALM, the question was raised as to whether there should be, along with bar passage, character/fitness, the MPRE, etc., some “technology bar exam” requirement as a condition of licensure. Judge Baylson and Anne Kershaw responded with a resounding NO, but for different reasons and from different perspectives.

Judge Baylson (our paraphrase):

If you look at the federal docket, you have a great many civil rights cases and employment discrimination cases that make up a huge percentage of the caseload. The discovery process in these cases — the vast majority of these cases — do not typically involve the sort of electronic discovery complexities we’ve been discussing here. There is not nor should there be a one-size-fits-all approach to this matter of technological prowess.

Anne Kershaw (visibly scoffing):

“Technology” is too complex, too quickly evolving, to lend itself to standardization of this type. There are some things for which people use different words, and other times the same word is used to describe different things. I have to ask 150 questions just to understand what they are trying to say. It is the job of a good lawyer to ask hundreds of questions and crystallize the issues so she can take them to the judge and the opposing party for resolution.

So that’s a relief. Ted Olson can relax.

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Feb 2013 @ 4:26pm

    um. you make a statement in the beginning that doesn't actually make any sense to me.

    " the centrality of electronically stored information to complex civil litigation has sent discovery costs skyrocketing."

    i feel this needs some explanation because it seems counterintuitive that a some basic (centralized) data searches would be MORE expensive than man hours spent sorting through various warehouses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Zos (profile), 1 Feb 2013 @ 4:30pm

    outside of that one quibble, interesting article, much better fit than that one from earlier.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    weneedhelp - not signed in, 1 Feb 2013 @ 6:39pm

    Just a wild guess here

    In one location, when you get requests for hundreds, then thousands, the burden is placed on one entity, more time/resources needed to fulfill the requests. When decentralized, like torrents, the burden is spread out among many. It is more difficult for for the one that needs the info and has to deal with many.

    Seems to me though the money/time spent by the requester, is just offset. Either way the requester pays. When it becomes more to get the info from the central location than it does for the requester to spend time/money to track it down from multiple locations, then that is an issue.

    "the centrality of electronically stored information to complex civil litigation has sent discovery costs skyrocketing." - I agree though (after reading the article again) It does not really fit in here, and is contradicted by: "Hence the rapid proliferation of e-discovery vendors" - Is it centralized or are their many vendors, suggesting it is not centralized at all?

    "3) sjbfwbfoe&%ubfo44. Huh?" - Huh indeed. So there is no 3?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    weneedhelp - not signed in, 1 Feb 2013 @ 6:42pm

    Re: Just a wild guess here

    I hope my comment does not get removed for criticizing a sponsor... oh wait, this isn't CNET. Whew!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Jon Frey, Richmond Computer, 1 Feb 2013 @ 8:19pm

    Litigation, discovery & smart phones

    The big elephant in the room that shows courts are understanding and using technology is the use of data from mobile devices (cell/smart phones) as evidence.

    Look up how many criminal cases involve SMS text message transcripts. Many civil proceedings for divorce and child custody cases also now involve text message data.

    My firm developed a service to convert text messages to transcripts here in the Philadelphia market several months ago, and the phone has been ringing off the hook ever since. Now, if only users could figure out that they shouldn't be deleting conversations that might be incriminating, they'd save themselves a ton of money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    G Thompson (profile), 1 Feb 2013 @ 10:46pm

    Re: Just a wild guess here

    "3) sjbfwbfoe&%ubfo44. Huh?" - Huh indeed. So there is no 3?"

    No.. 3 is Always the correct choice

    Disclaimer: I'm either one of the Forensic IT geeks who are choice #1, and in a couple of instances so far have been in the position of choice #2


    Personally I think there should be a choice #4 (which they touch upon) All new law students should do a mandatory eDiscovery course as part of their core units, and any current lawyer (read that as all practising lawyers anywhere in world) who have cases involving eDiscovery should do a Professional Development course on same at the barest minimum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Oliver Wendell Jones, 2 Feb 2013 @ 5:13am

    Sounds like a business opportunity

    Someone should start a new blog devoted specifically to technological advances and how they could/will impact the future of legal proceedings...

    Put it in words that lawyers/politicians can understand and relate to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    G Thompson (profile), 2 Feb 2013 @ 10:12pm

    Re: Sounds like a business opportunity

    There are heaps of them out there, though finding one that does everything is difficult since just in the USA alone there are so many different Federal circuits and then the State laws. Then you have international jurisdictions and the differences there. Like most things in law its a matter of research and lots and lots and LOTS of reading.

    Though this one isn't too bad

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    cpt kangarooski, 2 Feb 2013 @ 11:00pm


    Well, having been involved in some discovery projects, I think that it may be that there are just a hell of a lot more records hanging around now. For example, back in the day, people communicated by getting up and talking to each other face to face, using the phone, or writing letters or memos. Now a lot of the first two have been replaced with texting and email. This means that the number of discoverable things has jumped up. And, since it's easy, a lot of the electronic records seem to be kept around longer than their old-time physical counterparts would've been. A company might have gone through tens of revisions to a report being sent to a client, but only kept the final draft for their records, and trashed the redlined versions. Now they're usually all kept around until the document retention policy kicks in, which could be years.

    tl;dr: I think there may just be more discoverable records now, which means more to search through.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Willton, 4 Feb 2013 @ 11:45am


    You are misinterpreting the word "centrality". ATL is saying that electronically stored information is central to most complex civil lawsuits (i.e., that it becomes the core of the case), and that as a result, the vast amount of potentially discoverable ESI in any given complex civil litigation sends discovery costs through the roof.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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