Delaware has a new Inn of Court that aims to help judges, attorneys and law students stay abreast of constantly changing technology and the effect it has on the practice of law, especially in the area of electronic discovery.
The Richard K. Herrmann Technology Inn of Court is the first of its kind in the country and bears the name of a partner in the intellectual property group of Morris James in Wilmington who teaches electronic discovery for the National Judicial College and Widener University School of Law. He is also the director of Widener’s Corporate Counsel Technology Institute.
The idea began with Kevin F. Brady, a co-chairman of the business law group at Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz and the chairman of its information security, electronic discovery and records management group. He approached Richard Herrmann and suggested they found a technology inn.
The inn held it first meeting Sept. 14, attended by about 45 members, including judges, law professors, lawyers from major Delaware firms and corporations and law students. It is expected to meet monthly.
Retired Brig. Gen. David P. Carey, the executive director of the American Inns of Court, was on hand to welcome the membership, according to Justice Randy J. Holland of the Delaware Supreme Court.
Holland, who was the president of the board of trustees of the national organization for four years beginning in 2000, has been heavily involved in the Inns of Court movement and helped establish Delaware’s latest inn.
The American Inns of Court movement fosters civility, professionalism and legal ethics, Holland said.
The new inn will focus on “the broad ethical implications of technology and the legal excellence aspect,” Holland said. “Every month we will focus on technology, both technically and ethically.”
Justice Henry duPont Ridgely of the Supreme Court, who is serving on the national organization’s board of trustees, also supports the new inn.
Ridgely addressed the membership at the first meeting to explain what a natural fit it is in Delaware, given the state’s innovative role in the field of technology and the law.
“We were the first state to have electronic filing in all of its courts,” Ridgely said. “The way we have focused on civility, ethics and professionalism make it natural for us to have a role in setting the standard for practice in what is now a new core competency.”
This was a recurring theme voiced by the new members, Ridgely said. Technology is a new core competency within the law that is constantly changing and evolving.
“One must constantly work at it and stay current and there is no better way than the collegial format of an American Inn of Court,” he said.
Holland explained that the inns teach their membership by presenting skits on a given subject. Less experienced members of the bar, as well as students, benefit from the knowledge of their more senior colleagues.
In the brave new world of electronic discovery, however, the experience curve is flattened.
“Judges need all the help they can get as well,” Ridgely said.
The membership, in this case, can benefit from the specialized knowledge of its founders.
The idea germinated this spring, when Brady approached Herrmann and suggested they found the technology inn.
“It’s more of a substantive inn than a skills inn,” Herrmann said, adding that its goal is to cover a number of different kinds of technology.
“The primary focus, at least for the first couple of years, will be in electronic discovery and development of the know-how to be able to effectively practice it,” Herrmann said.
Even though it is a procedural area, electronic discovery is growing into a separate, substantive area of the law, Herrmann said.
Thus far, he reported, about 1,400 court opinions have been issued nationwide dealing with electronic discovery. In addition, new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were propagated in December 2006 to cover the subject.
“Lawyers are still learning it and judges are still learning it and students are learning,” Herrmann said. “There’s a fair number of ethical issues that get discussed along the way, so it is the perfect model for an inn.”
At the first meeting, Thomas Russo of Widener’s Corporate Counsel Technology Institute, a colleague of Herrmann’s, presented some data on the way the legal practice is changing.
For example, these days 47 percent of all corporate communications never appear in paper format and 96 percent of all information is electronically created.
“Within three years, electronic data will replace paper as the primary source of information,” Ridgely said.
Brady, who has been involved in electronic discovery issues since 2003, said: “The technology used to create, retain, edit and modify information is a specialized area that generally lawyers don’t know much about. It’s just not natural for them to have that kind of information unless they have a computer science background.”
He explained that the amount of electronic information that is subject to discovery, especially e-mail, expands at a “phenomenal rate.” As a result, the privilege review is becoming a process that is staggering in its expense and complexity.
Some firms are even setting up their own electronic discovery consulting units to turn to for specialized assistance, Brady said. He handles this type of work at Connolly Bove.
A gap exists between the lawyers’ knowledge base and the process as it is evolving, Brady said. The lawyers need to be educated, hence the technology inn.
“It occurred to me that the interface between educating new lawyers or law students on the technology as well as the Inns of Court idea of mentoring, professionalism, civility and ethics make a good match. I thought, ‘Everybody can meet on a monthly basis and talk about issues new to everybody,’” Brady said. “We wanted to start a collaborative effort to understand the technology, what it can and cannot do, the pitfalls, that sort of thing.”
Ridgely reported that there was a great deal of interest in the concept at the May meeting of the national board, especially considering the focus of the organization has been on new inn development.
“It’s an innovative idea that is fulfilling a need for lawyers and law students and the judiciary to learn about technology so they can address the issues that come up in litigation in an ethical, professional way,” Ridgely said.