Readers may recall last year’s expensive battle over the use of predictive coding technology in the 7th Circuit’s Kleen Products case. Although the battle was temporarily resolved in Defendants’ favor (they were not required to redo their production using predictive coding or other “Content Based Advanced Analytics” software), a new eDiscovery battle has surfaced this year between Plaintiffs and a non-party, The Levin Group (“TLG”).
In Kleen, Plaintiffs allege anticompetitive and collusive conduct by a number of companies in the containerboard industry. The Plaintiffs served TLG with a subpoena requesting “every document relating to the containerboard industry.” TLG, a non-party retained as a financial and strategic consultant by two of the Defendants, complied by reviewing 21,000 documents comprising 82,000 pages of material.
Extraordinary Billing Rates for Manual Review?
The wheels began to fall off the bus when Plaintiffs received a $55,000 bill from TLG for the review and production of documents in response to the subpoena. TLG billed $500/hour for 110 hours of document review performed by TLG’s founder (a lawyer) and a non-lawyer employee. Although FRCP 45(c)(3)(C) authorizes “reasonable compensation” of a subpoenaed nonparty and the Court previously ordered the Plaintiffs to “bear the costs of their discovery request,” TLG and the Plaintiffs disagreed over the definition of “reasonable compensation” once the production was complete. Plaintiffs argue that the bill is excessive in light of market rates of $35-$45/hour charged by contract attorneys for review and they also claim that they never agreed to a billing rate.
Following a great deal of back and forth about the costs, the court decided to defer its decision until December 16, 2013 because discovery in the underlying antitrust action is still ongoing. Regardless of the outcome in Kleen, the current dispute feels a bit like déjà vu all over again. Both disputes highlight the importance of cooperation and role of technology in reducing eDiscovery costs. For example, better cooperation among the parties during earlier stages of discovery might have helped prevent or at least minimize some of the downstream post-production arguments that occurred last year and this year. Although the “cooperation” drum has been beaten loudly for several years by judges and think tanks like the Sedona Conference, cooperation is an issue that will never fully disappear in an adversarial system.
Judges May Increasingly Consider Technology as Part of Proportionality Analysis
A more novel and interesting eDiscovery issue in Kleen relates to the fact that judges are increasingly being asked to consider the use (or non-use) of technology when resolving discovery disputes. Last year in Kleen the issue was whether or not a producing party should be required to use advanced technology to assure a more thorough production. This year the Kleen court may be asked to consider the role of technology in the context of the disputed document review fees. For example, the court may consider whether or not TLG could have reduced the number of documents by leveraging de-duplication, domain filtering, document threading or other tools in the Litigator’s Toolbelt™ to reduce the number of documents requiring costly manual review.
Recent trends indicate that the federal bench is increasingly under pressure to consider whether or not and how parties utilize technology as factors in resolving eDiscovery disputes. For example, a 2011 Forbes article titled: “Will New Electronic Discovery Rules Save Organizations Millions or Deny Justice?” framed early discussions about amending the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rules) as follows:
“A key question that many feel has been overlooked is whether or not organizations claiming significant eDiscovery costs could have reduced those costs had they invested in better technology solutions. Most agree that technology alone cannot solve the problem or completely eliminate costs. However, many also believe that understanding the extent to which the inefficient or non-use of modern eDiscovery technology solutions impacts overall costs is critical to evaluating whether better practices might be needed instead of new Rules.”
Significant interest in the topic was further sparked in Da Silva Moore v. Publicis Group in 2012 when Judge Andrew Peck put parties on notice that technology is increasingly important in evaluating eDiscovery disputes. In Da Silva Moore, Judge Peck famously declared that “computer-assisted review is acceptable in appropriate cases.” Judge Peck’s decision was the first to squarely address the use of predictive coding technology, and a number of cases, articles, and blogs on the topic quickly ensued in what seemed to be the opening of Pandora’s Box with respect to the technology discussion.
More recently, The Duke Law Center for Judicial Studies proposed that the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules add language to the newly proposed amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure addressing the use of technology-assisted review (TAR). The group advocates adding the following sentence at the end of the first paragraph of the Committee Note to proposed Rule 26(b)(1) dealing with “proportionality” in eDiscovery:
“As part of the proportionality considerations, parties are encouraged, in appropriate cases, to consider the use of advanced analytical software applications and other technologies that can screen for relevant and privileged documents in ways that are at least as accurate as manual review, at far less cost.”
The significant role technology plays in managing eDiscovery risks and costs continues to draw more and more attention from lawyers and judges alike. Although early disputes in Kleen highlight the fact that litigators do not always agree on what technology should be used in eDiscovery, most in the legal community recognize that many technology tools in the Litigator’s Toolbelt™ are available to help reduce the costs of eDiscovery. Regardless of how the court in Kleen resolves the current issue, the use or non-use of technology tools is likely to become a central issue in the Rules debate and a prominent factor in most judges’ proportionality analysis in the future.
*Blog post co-authored by Matt Nelson and Adam Kuhn