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The burdens of e-discovery

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Marc Herrmann notes that judges have unrealistic expectations regarding e-discovery. Of course, they're encouraged to have such unrealistic expectations by plaintiffs' lawyers in asymmetric discovery cases. Acting as if a mere snap of the fingers can result in the full production of electronic documents means that judges can treat the normal frictions of failure as evidence of bad-faith that could lead to sanctions precluding a defendant from defending itself at trial. And if those consequences are a possibility, then that means that defendants can't risk spending less than top dollar on discovery, meaning that plaintiffs' lawyers have additional leverage to extract rents in nuisance settlements. Add the incentives of insurers indifferent between paying defense lawyers and paying plaintiffs' lawyers, and now any case that can get past the motion to dismiss stage is worth millions, no matter how meritless, and more if the court exercises its discretion to let discovery proceed while to motion to dismiss is pending. So it's of mild concern when a law professor argues (via Steinman) that whether to stay discovery while a motion to dismiss is pending should be adjudicated on a multi-factor-test case-by-case basis, pooh-poohing the costs of discovery, or the incentives of plaintiffs to increase the costs of discovery. Under such a regime, even bringing a case that can't survive a motion to dismiss would be profitable. Among the factors missing from Kevin Lynch's analysis: the incentive of judges to permit discovery to go forward and refuse to rule on a motion to dismiss, hoping that this creates an incentive to settle that gets cases off the docket.

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What does eDiscovery have to do with determining disputes according to law, i.e., with the function of civil justice? Discovery was but one of several innovations that the drafters of the Federal Rules of 1938 thought would facilitate application of rules to facts by narrowing issues. It was a means to an end and not the end itself. Evidence--including discovery--should be taken only on material issues in dispute. Discovery as it has come to be has NO place in a rational legal system.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

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