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Sunday, March 25, 2007

FRCP Rule Changes: What’s The Big Deal?

As any venture capitalist will tell you, there are two forces which open the window to creating huge, new businesses. The first is a technological breakthrough – think internet, the microprocessor, or mapping the human genome. The second is a change in the regulatory environment, such as airline/telecom deregulation, the new subsidies fueling the boom in clean energy – and the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP), which came into effect on December 1, 2006.

In the legal world, the new FRCP guidelines are a HUGE deal: it is the first time they have changed in 38 years, which is perhaps not surprising since they require approval from Congress and the Supreme Court. As you would expect from our greatest legal minds, the Rules themselves are long, complicated, and (for most people) the perfect antidote to insomnia. But from business’ perspective, the net effect of the changes is pretty simple: there will be a lot more e-discovery.

To understand why, consider the average company with revenues over $1B. According to a recent survey, this “average company” is concurrently managing 556 cases. If you assume that 50% of its cases settle before going to court, then before the FRCP rule changes this company would only have been doing e-discovery on 278 cases.

That all changed on December 1, 2006, when Rules 16 and 26 were amended to provide the court early notice of e-discovery issues. Under Rule 16(b), parties must “meet and confer” at least 21 days before the scheduling conference which, in turn, must occur within 120 days of filing a lawsuit. Rule 16(b) further states that the scheduling order must include “provisions for disclosure or discovery of electronically stored information”, while Rule 26(f) requires that parties “discuss any issues relating to preserving discoverable information and to develop a proposed discovery plan.”

The bottom line: companies can no longer leave e-discovery for later in the process. Thanks to the FRCP rule changes, they must now define and share their e-discovery plans at the “meet and confer” which occurs within the first 99 days of a case. Since cases rarely settle that quickly, our “average company” is now obliged to do e-discovery on all 556 of its concurrent cases, not just the 278 that do not settle. For the corporate legal department, that means their e-discovery workload has doubled overnight, with no increase in manpower to cope with the extra work. So companies are forced to reconsider their e-discovery process and look for ways to leverage technology to cope in a post-FRCP-rule-changes world.

In case you were wondering, I did not figure this out for myself. It was first explained to me by the folks over at the Nassau County Attorney's Office, and has since been echoed by many of our corporate customers.

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