Electronic Discovery and the Federal Rules

Here is an excellent article on electronic discovery under the federal rules, and efforts to reduce the expense of this process by protecting against inadvertent waiver of privilege. As long time readers know, I have frequently criticized the structure and format of the federal rules, and their application by the courts, concerning electronic discovery, for the extraordinary burden and expense they impose on litigants. Moreover, I have focused on the fact that the major problem is that the scope of relevancy is very broad in discovery, which has not been too big a problem in traditional forms of discovery because the very nature of depositions, producing existing documents held in hard copy form, etc., puts some outside limits on the process and thus, on the expense. Electronic discovery, obviously, doesn’t have the benefit of being limited in this way by such simple physical restrictions of time and space; because the quantity of data that can and is stored is immense - and not as easily confined physically as, say, simply pulling all file folders at a client related to a particular transaction - the broad scope of relevancy, when applied to electronically stored information, can expand discovery obligations exponentially in comparison to traditional forms of discovery. For this reason, I have argued in the past that courts need to leave their past rubric for discovery (which basically consisted of the view that discovery is broad, the parties are expected to work most problems out among themselves, and court intervention is only warranted for outlier type issues) where it belongs, in the past, and create new approaches to dealing with electronic discovery, in which the courts - either pro-actively or in response to motion practice by the parties - attempt to focus electronic discovery in a manner that properly balances the importance of the documents in question with both the benefits of that discovery to the requesting party and the costs of that discovery. I am, sadly, still waiting for this to happen. The reason I like this article is its focus on the fact that electronic discovery is far too expensive, and that the latest attempt to target that problem is at best, a finger in the dyke approach, in that it just isn’t a lasting solution to the bigger problem. Moreover, the article rightly focuses on the construct that rests at the heart of the problem; the incompatibility of the historically broad definition of relevance applied in discovery with the amount of data now available in a technological society.

Litigators who read this blog already understand my obsession with this issue; while trying cases is the joy of the work, discovery - and fights over it - is the heavy lifting that takes up much of a litigator’s time and a client’s money. It’s a particular problem in ERISA cases, where any type of a plan with a significant number of participants is going to create a great deal of electronically stored data, almost none of it of relevance to any particular dispute yet still possibly open to discovery as things currently stand.