Nanjing over the Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province, China. Credit: HelloRF Zcool/

With cross-border e-discovery becoming more prevalent in the global economy, a growing number of non-U.S. legal practitioners are now tasked with learning how to not only navigate U.S. discovery obligations, but also deploy modern e-discovery technology.

One U.S. law school, however, is stepping up to help international law students get up to speed. The University of Florida’s Levin College of Law recently partnered with Southeast University in Nanjing, China, to launch an intensive two-week, 16-hour course aimed at educating local law students on U.S. e-discovery laws and practices. William Hamilton, legal skills professor and executive director of the University of Florida’s E-Discovery Project, led the course, which took place at Southeast University during the last two weeks of August.

While Hamilton has a wealth of e-discovery knowledge, transmitting that to the 68 undergraduate and graduate Chinese students who attended the class, and who were all used to a vastly different legal culture, was a challenge. “The e-discovery process is not intuitive to Chinese students,” Hamilton said.

Still, the legal professor had an idea about how to explain this complex subject matter to e-discovery novices: stick to concrete, real-life examples.

Hamilton designed the two-week course around a fictional cross-border e-discovery case. “We set up the course as though we were in the trenches, and I think that was very helpful for the students to see the context right away, instead of starting with relatively abstract concepts.”

The cross-border e-discovery case the professor created was loosely based on actual litigation he handled years ago as a practicing attorney in Florida and involved two fictional companies: “U.S. Computer” and “Nanjing Electric.”

“I created a mock dispute in which Nanjing had manufactured motherboards and shipped those to U.S. Computer to be incorporated into a product that was then sold to consumers. The consumer product, however, allegedly had defects in it, and the U.S. consumers were complaining and returning the product. So U.S. computer sued Nanjing Electric for breach of contract.”

Hamilton asked the class to pretend they were the law firm representing “Nanjing Electric,” and explained the U.S. legal process and e-discovery obligations they would face. From there, he moved on to teaching the students how to use e-discovery tools in preparation for the pretrial discovery.

For this, he relied on a hands-on approach: E-discovery provider Relativity gave the students 30 separate logins to its online e-discovery platform to use during the class. Students also had a Relativity workbook, with 12 e-discovery exercises they had to complete throughout the course.

But explaining how to use the technology and the data processes that need to be in place to conduct e-discovery, such as preservation and collection, presented Hamilton with another problem. “The challenge we had was that, while all these students were enthusiastic, English is their second language and e-discovery has technical terms,” he said.

Ultimately, Hamilton relied on a number of visual aids like diagrams and charts to help better explain the subject to non-native English speakers.

Of course, there is only so much the students could learn about e-discovery over two weeks and 16 hours. But there are talks between the two schools to extend their partnership. Hamilton noted that Southeast University is “very eager to continue to expand the relationship.”

In fact, given that e-discovery expertise is fast becoming a much-needed skill in China, he expects such collaborations to become more common in the future. “What they are starting to see in China is more and more arbitration involving increasing amount of e-discovery, especially if the arbitrators are coming from a U.S.-based background.”