Various theories have been advanced over the years to determine why the digital age has caused the discovery process to spiral out of control. Many believe that the sheer volume of ESI has led to the increased costs and delays that now characterize eDiscovery. Others place the blame on the quixotic advocacy of certain lawyers who seek “any and all documents” in their quest for the proverbial smoking gun. While these factors have undoubtedly contributed to the current eDiscovery frenzy, there is still another key reason that many cognoscenti believe has impacted discovery: a lack of judicial involvement. Indeed, in a recent article published by the University of Kansas Law Review, Professor Steven Gensler and Judge Lee Rosenthal argue that many of the eDiscovery challenges facing lawyers and litigants could be addressed in a more efficient and cost-effective manner through “active case management” by judges. According to Professor Gensler and Judge Rosenthal, a meaningful Rule 16 conference with counsel can enable “the court to ensure that the lawyers and parties have paid appropriate attention to planning for electronic discovery.”
To facilitate this vision of a more active judiciary in the discovery process, the Advisory Committee has proposed a series of changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Most of these changes are designed to improve the effectiveness of the Rule 26(f) discovery conference and to encourage courts to provide input on key discovery issues at the outset of a case.
Rules 26 and 34 – Improving the Effectiveness of the Rule 26(f) Discovery Conference
One way the Committee felt that it could enable greater judicial involvement in case management was to have the parties conduct a more meaningful Rule 26(f) discovery conference. Such a step is significant since courts generally believe that a successful conference is the lynchpin for conducting discovery in a proportional manner.
To enhance the usefulness of the conference, the Committee recommended that Rule 26(f) be amended to specifically require the parties to discuss any pertinent issues surrounding the preservation of ESI. This provision is calculated to get the parties thinking proactively about preservation problems that could arise later in discovery. It is also designed to work in conjunction with the proposed amendments to Rule 16(b)(3) and Rule 37(e). Changes to the former would expressly empower the court to issue a scheduling order addressing ESI preservation issues. Under the latter, the extent to which preservation issues were addressed at a discovery conference or in a scheduling order could very well affect any subsequent motion for sanctions relating to a failure to preserve relevant ESI.
Another amendment to Rule 26(f) would require the parties to discuss the need for a “clawback” order under Federal Rule of Evidence 502. Though underused, Rule 502(d) orders generally reduce the expense and hassle of litigating issues surrounding the inadvertent disclosure of ESI protected by the lawyer-client privilege. To ensure this overlooked provision receives attention from litigants, the Committee has drafted a corresponding amendment to Rule 16(b)(3) that would enable the court to weigh in on Rule 502 related issues in a scheduling order.
The final step the Committee has proposed for increasing the effectiveness of the Rule 26(f) conference is to amend Rule 26(d) and Rule 34(b)(2) to enable parties to serve Rule 34 document requests prior to that conference. These “early” requests, which are not deemed served until the conference, are “designed to facilitate focused discussion during the Rule 26(f) conference.” This, the Committee hopes, will enable the parties to subsequently prepare document requests that are more targeted and proportional to the issues in play.
Rule 16 – Greater Judicial Input on Key Discovery Issues
As mentioned above, the Committee has suggested adding provisions to Rule 16(b)(3) that track those in Rule 26(f) so as to provide the opportunity for greater judicial input on certain eDiscovery issues at the outset of a case. In addition to these changes, Rule 16(b)(3) would also allow a court to require that the parties caucus with the court before filing a discovery-related motion. The purpose of this provision is to encourage judges to informally resolve discovery disputes before the parties incur the expense of fully engaging in motion practice. According to the Committee, various courts have used similar arrangements under their local rules that have “proven highly effective in reducing cost and delay.”
Whether or not these changes are successful depends on how committed the courts are to using the proposed case management tools. Without more active involvement from the courts, the newly proposed initiatives regarding cooperation and proportionality may very well fall by the wayside and remain noble, but unmet expectations. Compliance with the draft rules is likely the only method to ensure that these amendments (if enacted) are to be successful.