You have probably heard the news. Changes are in the works for the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that govern the discovery process. Approved for public comment last month by the Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure, the proposed amendments are generally designed to streamline discovery, encourage cooperative advocacy among litigants and eliminate gamesmanship. The amendments also try to tackle the continuing problems associated with the preservation of electronically stored information (ESI). As a result, a package of amendments has been developed that affects most aspects of federal discovery practice.
We will provide a comprehensive overview of the newly proposed amendments in a series of posts over the next few weeks. The posts will cover the changes that are designed to usher in a new era of cooperation, proportionality, and active judicial case management in discovery. We will also review the draft amendment to Federal Rule 37(e), which would create a uniform national standard for discovery sanctions stemming from failures to preserve evidence. This amendment has by far attracted the most interest, which is understandable given the far-reaching impact that such a change could have on organizations’ defensible deletion efforts. A final post will describe the timeline for moving the amendment package forward.
Drafted by the Civil Rules Advisory Committee, the proposed amendments are generally designed to facilitate the tripartite aims of Federal Rule 1 in the discovery process. To carry out Rule 1’s lofty yet important mandate of securing “the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination” of litigation, the Committee has proposed several modifications to advance the notions of cooperation and proportionality. Other changes focus on improving “early and effective judicial case management.” Judicial Conference of the United States, Report of the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules 4 (May 8, 2013) (Report). Today’s post will provide an overview of the draft amendment to Rule 1, which is designed to spotlight the importance of cooperation. Posts covering the proportionality and judicial case management amendments will follow shortly.
The Proposed Amendment to Rule 1
To better emphasize the need for cooperative advocacy in discovery, the Committee has recommended that Rule 1 be amended to specify that clients share the responsibility with the court for achieving the rule’s objectives. The proposed revisions to the rule (in italics with deletions in strikethrough) read in pertinent part as follows:
[These rules] should be construed, and administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.
Report, at 17.
Even though this concept was already set forth in the Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 1, the Committee felt that an express reference in the rule itself would prompt litigants and their lawyers to engage in more cooperative conduct. Indeed, while acknowledging that such a rule change would not “cure all adversary excesses,” the Committee still felt the amended wording “will do some good.” Report, at 16-17.
Perhaps more importantly, this mandate is also designed to enable judges “to elicit better cooperation when the lawyers and parties fall short.” Report, at 16. Indeed, such a reference, when coupled with the “stop and think” certification requirement from Federal Rule 26(g), should give jurists more than enough procedural basis to remind counsel and clients of their duty to conduct discovery in a cooperative and cost effective manner.
Though difficult to gauge the actual impact that such an amendment might have, the decision to spotlight cooperation could be beneficial if litigants and lawyers ultimately decide to conduct discovery with laser-like precision instead of the sledgehammer approach of the current regime. If implemented and followed as contemplated by the Committee, the proposed amendment to Rule 1 could help decrease the costs and delays associated with discovery.