Outcry from many in the legal community has caused a number of groups to consider whether the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) should be amended. The dialogue began in earnest a year ago at the Duke Civil Litigation Conference and picked up speed following an eDiscovery “mini-conference” held in Dallas last month (led by the Discovery Subcommittee – appointed by the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules). The rules amendment topic is so hot that the Sedona Conference (WG1) spent most of its two day annual meeting discussing the need for amendments and evaluating a range of competing proposals.
During this dialogue (which I can’t quote verbatim) a number of things became clear to me…
1. This rules amendment quandary is a bit of a chicken and egg riddle -- meaning that it’s hard to cast support wholeheartedly for a rules change if there isn’t a good consensus for what a particular change would accomplish and what the long term consequences might be as technology quickly morphs. As an example, if there was a redefined preservation trigger that started the duty to preserve when there was a reasonable “certainty" of litigation (versus a mere “likelihood”), would this really make a material impact? Or, would this inquiry still be as highly fact specific as it is today? Would this still be similarly prone to the 20/20 hindsight judgment that’s inevitable as well?
2. While it is clear that preservation has become a more complex and risk laden process, it’s not clear that this “pain” is causally related to the FRCP. In the notes from the Dallas mini-conference, a pending Sedona survey was quoted, referencing the fact that preservation challenges were overwhelmingly increasing:
“[S]ome trends can be noted. 95% (of the surveyed members) agreed that preservation issues were more frequent. 75% said that development was due to the proliferation of information.”
3. Another camp of stakeholders complain that the existing rules (as amended in 2006) aren’t being followed by practitioners or understood by the judiciary. While this may be the case, it then begs the critical question: If folks aren’t following the amended rules (utilizing proportionality, leveraging FRE 502, etc.) is it really reasonable to think that any new rules would be followed this time around?
4. The role of technology in easing the preservation burden represents another murky area for debate. For example, it could be argued that preservation pains (i.e., costs) are only really significant for organizations that haven’t deployed state of the art information governance solutions (e.g., legal hold solutions, email archives, records retention software, etc.) to make the requisite tasks less manual.
5. And finally, even assuming that the FRCP is magically re-jiggered to ease preservation costs, this would only impact organizations with litigation in Federal court. This leaves many still exposed to varying standards for the preservation trigger, scope and associated sanctions.
So, in the end, it’s unclear what the future holds for an amended FRCP landscape. Given the range of divergent perspectives, differing viewpoints on potential solutions and the time necessary to navigate the Rules Enabling Act, the only thing that’s clear is that the cavalry isn’t coming to the rescue any time soon. This means that organizations with significant preservation pains should endeavor to better utilize the rules that are on the books and deploy enabling technologies where possible.