Northern District Committee Releases E-Discovery Guidelines (Joseph Saveri on Committee)

In an effort to smooth the often-complicated process of sorting through large quantities of potential evidence in a civil trial, a committee today is issuing guidelines regarding electronic discovery for the Northern District of California. The group also drafted a model stipulated order on electronic discovery attorneys can modify and use for their own cases.

The committee, made up of five attorneys and two judges, wrote guidelines encouraging lawyers to meet and confer early, and provide a checklist of all they should cover at those meetings to help proceed through the discovery process.

The group also drafted a model stipulated order on electronic discovery attorneys can modify and use for their own cases.

The guidelines are a response to a request from the bar to help with electronically stored information (ESI), said U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth D. Laporte, the committee’s chairwoman.

In recent years, the amount of discovery has exploded, with most cases involving at least some information from digital devices like computers and phones. The wealth of information available in the form of emails, photos, Skype conversations, and GPS tracking causes a range of complications, including extremely high costs and the automatic deletion of files.

“We weren’t trying to fix any particular problem, but rather do what we could to try to improve the process and help parties avoid costly mistakes which can lead to very expensive discovery and unnecessary battles,” Laporte said in an interview Monday.

The guidelines are not mandatory and are meant to be more of toolkit, though Laporte said attorneys should be familiar with the principles.

Other courts around the country have written local guidelines on parsing through electronic discovery, with some mandating policies, and others suggesting general principles. The Northern District Committee looked at all these, but most closely relied on a pilot project in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that provided principles that Laporte said have been well received by the Federal Judicial Center. The committee wanted to allow some flexibility because not all cases in the district require an extensive electronic discovery process.

“These are meant to be helpful tools for the parties and counsel that practice in front of us that will head off unnecessary disputes and get the opposing parties talking early rather than allowing problems to fester,” Laporte said. “They’re meant to be flexible and scaleable and adaptable to tailor to the needs of a particular case.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna M. Ryu was the other jurist on the committee, along with a range of attorneys: Edward R. Reines, a patent litigator at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP; Kathryn Dickson, an employment litigator at Dickson Geesman LLP; Stephanie Mendelsohn, in-house director of corporate records and e-discovery at Genentech; Joseph R. Saveri, a plaintiffs’ class action lawyer; and Neill Tseng, assistant U.S. attorney and ESI office coordinator.

(Reporting by Hadley Robinson)