Oakland employment lawyer Kathryn Dickson of Dickson Geesman, a committee member, said solo and small-firm lawyers have been slower to master e-discovery and may avoid discussing details with opposing counsel because they feel outmatched. The guidelines and the checklist should help, she said.
"Plaintiffs lawyers feel technologically deficient, so they're really afraid to just dive in and grapple with these issues," Dickson said. "These are the kinds of things people really need to address so that they're properly representing their clients."
Edward Reines of Weil, Gotshal & Manges said the guidelines reflect "a lot of give and take" between the interest of plaintiffs lawyers in obtaining information early in a case and the concern of defense lawyers over responding to broad and expensive requests.
The guidelines encourage parties to prioritize and phase discovery requests and to balance the cost and burden of requests against factors like the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the issues at stake in the litigation and the importance of the discovery to resolving the case.
"We now have a process to guide and standardize what we need to do," Reines said.
Also serving on the committee were Stephanie Mendelsohn, director of corporate records and e-discovery at Genentech Inc.; Joseph Saveri, a plaintiffs-side antitrust lawyer of the Joseph Saveri Law Firm; and Neill Tseng, a civil litigator in the U.S. attorney's office.
Laporte said the Northern District considered and built on initiatives taken by other federal district courts to deal with e-discovery, as well as a pilot project launched in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2009.
The district court's combination of guidelines, a checklist and a model order is "a good example" for other jurisdictions to follow, said Thomas Allman, former general counsel of BASF Corp. and chair of The Sedona Conference's e-discovery working group.
Litigants should neither be intimidated nor obsessed by e-discovery, he said.
"The fact of the matter is discovery in general is now dominated by electronically stored information," Allman said. "Generally speaking, you get a better result if you are mindful of the need to give and get and don't fight over things that aren't worth fighting over."
This article originally appeared in The Recorder.