Tag Archives: efficient

Efficient Arbitration, Part II: Getting Control of Electronic Discovery

shutterstock_302440646

In the last article on this topic, we identified cost as one of the major complaints about arbitration.  While arbitration is supposed to be faster and cheaper than litigation, the perception often is that it is not.  The culprit, as usual in legal disputes, is discovery.  If we are to maintain – or at this point perhaps re-establish – arbitration as a preferred alternative to litigation, we will need to deal with the cost of discovery.

One way to do that is to forego the sort of one-size-fits-all approach we have seen to discovery in court in favor of an approach thoughtfully balancing the need for information with the expense of getting it.  Arbitrators, who typically have a deep background in the sorts of issues presented in the arbitrations before them, are well suited to help the parties with the balance.

The last article in this series noted the general help provided by CPR’s document discovery protocol which presents different possible modes of general document discovery depending on the needs of the case.  We now take up discovery of electronically stored information, often called “ESI” for short.  This has the potential to be extraordinarily expensive if not handled properly.

The easy things to fix

Let’s start with the low hanging fruit. Not all cases require a great deal of electronic discovery.  More and more businesses simply have electronic versions of their files that are analogous to the paper files they used to keep. For many cases, the issue is no more complicated than simply looking in “the file” kept for the contract at issue and perhaps the related emails of those most involved.  But other cases may demand more.  And some counsel, used to federal court discovery, will demand a search of the opposing parties’ entire electronic storage system.  Dealing with electronic discovery at the initial scheduling conference will help determine how much of an issue this is likely to become in any given case and what level of expense makes sense to get the needed information.

At very least, if the case will involve electronic discovery  – and these days most cases will involve at least some – there needs to be some agreement on the format for electronic documents.  Some lawyers are used to producing documents in .pdf, others in native format, and others in .tif files, usually depending on their document management system, if any.  Before producing documents, counsel must discuss the format they want. Otherwise there will inevitably be a dispute about whether the documents should be produced in some other format and who should pay for it if they were produced in the “wrong” format.

Then there is the whole issue of metadata.  Metadata is data about data, including, who created it, when, where, in what form, what revisions were made, etc.  It is usually expensive to deal with and rarely critical.  It may be important to have it if the authenticity of an electronic document is in question.  But that is rare.  Normally, you will not want to require that extra effort be made to gather it for each document absent a showing it is needed for a specific purpose for specific documents.

Fitting the search to the need

Of course, the main issue is how to get information the parties need to prepare and present their cases without breaking the bank.  Again, CPR has a useful protocol that provides a way to think about this.

CPR posits different modes of electronic discovery.  The first is simply disclosure of copies of electronic information to be presented at the hearing, either printed out or in other usable form.  This would often be adequate for a routine matter.

The second mode includes disclosure in usable form of documents (a) from a specific, limited number of custodians, (b) provided from the time of signing the contract at issue to the date of filing the arbitration demand, (c) only from primary storage facilities with no need for disclosure from backup servers, tapes, PDAs, voicemails, etc., and (d) with no need to provide anything but reasonably accessible data.

The third mode would include the second mode, but with more custodians and a wider time period to fit the specifics of the case.  The mode would also allow require, upon a showing of special need and relevance, disclosure of deleted, fragmented or documents otherwise difficult to obtain by other than forensic means.

The final mode would be full discovery of electronic information relevant to any party’s claims or defenses, subject to limitations of reasonableness, duplication, and undue burden. This would be like federal court discovery in a large case.

Of course, these are just suggestions, but provide a good starting point for discussion and may even provide a basis for agreement between counsel for the parties.

Cost shifting

Another fairly simple approach to e-discovery sometimes proposed is to require the requesting party to pay the cost of responding.  Some arbitrators I know swear by this as the answer to overreaching demands requiring searching and production of electronic documents.  This seems like a simple solution, but may not always be as it may involve the arbitrator in determining whether the amounts charged are reasonable and the like.  For cases involving serious e-discovery disputes, however, this approach is worth considering.

Keeping a practical mind set

The key to all this is really a more sophisticated way of asking, “If I were this party, where would I go to find the important information regarding the dispute?”  In most cases, the starting point – and often the ending point – would be on the systems used by the people most involved in the contract and subsequent dispute for the time period of the dispute.  This normally would not require searching  all the company’s servers, PDAs, voicemails, and backup tapes or searching a whole system for key words, or using predictive coding .  Most disputes in arbitration are likely to be more discrete and focused than that.  If they aren’t, the parties need to be prepared to explain that to the arbitrator and maybe even pay the other side’s cost for extraordinary effort in looking.

That should go a long way to reigning in the costs of arbitration and making it a real alternative to litigation.

Of course, discovery isn’t only about documents.  Counsel is used to taking depositions for cases in court and will very often want to do the same in arbitration.  We’ll take that up in the next installment.

Advertisements

Efficient Arbitration, Part I: Getting Control of Document Discovery

shutterstock_297784067

Arbitration offers many benefits over litigation in resolving commercial and intellectual property disputes.  The parties have an active role in picking the decision maker. In fact, they are generally given a listing of well-qualified arbitrators who are often experts in their legal field from whom to choose.  The whole system is set up to go faster with less formality and more emphasis on substance.  Continual procedural gambits and expense are easier to overcome, and the parties can count on a “date certain” for their hearing.  By contrast, a trial in court must be at the convenience of an often overburdened court awash in criminal and other matters.  In court you often are subject to call on a few days’ notice for a long period of time while the criminal matters go to the head of the line.

Why arbitration is not as favored as it used to be

So why isn’t every lawyer a fan of arbitration?  And I can tell you that there are many lawyers who are not fans of arbitration.  I’ve talked to them.

One reason we can’t do much about.  It is only natural to believe in the merits of your claim or defense.  When you lose, there is a tendency to blame arbitration.   The cure is to shun arbitration in the future if possible.  You normally can’t do that with court.

The other reason is cost.  The parties and their in-house counsel get the bill for the arbitration and conclude it is just as expensive as litigation.  The reaction is, “I thought this was supposed to be cheaper than court.  But here I have to pay arbitration fees and costs, and I also have to pay these large legal bills.  This isn’t cheaper at all!”  That may or may not really be true.  It could well be that court would have been more expensive. But the perception is still there.  In fact, while arbitration was once favored by corporate counsel, a study done in 2011 shows a significant decrease in use of arbitration in commercial matters since 1997 with cost being the main concern.  R. Lamare, The Evolution of ADR Systems at Large U.S. Corporations, Dispute Resolution Magazine, Vo. 20, No. 3 (2014)(online: http://ow.ly/NsI93).

Of course, the main thing that makes arbitration expensive, just as in litigation, is discovery, especially electronic discovery.

This should come as no real surprise.  Advocates want to be sure they have all the facts they can find to present their positions and maximize their chances of winning.  But this comes with what can be a huge price tag these days where the facts are to be found in computers, on servers, and even in smart phones, if you look hard enough.  But in many disputes the cost of getting all those facts can overwhelm the amount at stake.

Fixing discovery

This all suggests that, if arbitration is going to somehow provide an advantage over traditional litigation, containing discovery is a good place to start.  But how do you make sure the parties have the facts they need without breaking the bank?  Actually, there are plenty of tools available.  So let’s think about how to use them.

We’ll begin by focusing on normal document discovery.  Many lawyers in arbitration are focused on the traditional litigation-based rationale for discovery: parties may obtain discovery of any non-privileged matter relevant to a party’s claim or defense.  Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).  This is true no matter whether or not the evidence is itself admissible so long as it is calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence, whatever that means. Id.   Usually one side’s “calculation”  looks to the other side like a “fishing expedition.”  The latest rule amendments replace “calculated to lead to discovery of admissible evidence” with “proportional to the needs of the case,” which is a welcome change.  But lawyers still know they are subject to later criticism unless they leave no stone unturned in search of that one critical clue that could turn the case around.  That is true whether such a clue exists or not. Besides, it is the opponent who actually has to turn over the stones in their trove of documents.  So why not insist that they do it?

Because arbitration is by its nature more flexible than litigation, the cost of discovery can be managed on a basis that makes the most sense for an individual case.  This is something we must take advantage of to try to manage the cost of discovery in arbitration.  And the arbitrator can usually save counsel from themselves regarding overly broad discovery by making sure the search for documents is rational rather than needlessly exhaustive.

A good place to start

A good way to begin to think about all this begins with the protocols issued by CPR on what it refers to as “modes” of discovery.  (Available under “Resources” at cpradr.org).  Different modes can be used, depending on the specifics of the case, including the amount involved and the likely location of information.

The first mode just requires provision of the documents a party intends to offer at the hearing a few days before the hearing.  That may be adequate in a fairly small-dollar dispute where the facts are straightforward.

The second mode requires the disclosures as in the first mode, but adds a prehearing disclosure of those documents “essential to a matter of import to the proceeding for which a party has demonstrated a substantial need.”  In other words, if a party thinks a certain category of documents needs to be provided by the other party, it needs to explain why.  It will be given the documents if the explanation is persuasive.

The third mode includes everything in the second, together with disclosure prior to the hearing of “documents relating to the issues in the case that are in the possession of persons who are noticed as witnesses by the party requested to provide disclosure.”  In other words, witnesses need to provide the documents they have that are relevant to the issues on which they will testify.

The fourth mode essentially tracks the scope of litigation discovery, requiring provision of “relevant documents regarding non-privileged matters that are relevant to any parties’ claim or defense, subject to limitations of reasonableness, duplication and undue burden.  This would be reserved for matters where there is enough at issue to justify this deep a dive into the documents.

These proposed modes are useful in suggesting the depth of discovery possible and, in many case, the parties will agree what makes sense for the matter.  In other cases, they will not agree.  That is where an experienced arbitrator comes in to weigh the likely burdens and expense against the likely value of the information.  The advantage of thinking of things this way, however, is it provides a basic structure for determining how far document discovery should go to begin to fit the procedures to the dispute.

Remember, these modes are just suggestions.  A careful study of the particulars of the case may reveal that there is another hybrid mode that makes more sense in the unique situation presented.  But these suggested modes are a good place to start and are quite a bit more helpful to crafting an efficient discovery process than general notions of relevancy, calculation, and burdens.

Of course, while the general scope suggested by the suggested modes are a good way to start getting a handle on discovery, there is still the complication of electronic discovery, which we will take up in the next installment.

 

Arbitrating the Patent Case Part XVI: Presenting the Evidence

shutterstock_241435762

We have previously had a look at many aspects of arbitrating patent cases, beginning with the type of cases likely to be arbitrated, arbitration clauses, and the arbitration process up to the hearing.  We then began looking at the hearing itself, beginning with sequestration issues that can arise and, finally opening statements.  We have now arrived at the beginning of evidence and how most effectively to begin.

There is no one way to start, of course.  But the standard for admissibility for evidence in an arbitration presents some possibilities for efficiently presenting each party’s case that are worth exploring.  Let me give you a couple of examples I have seen that have worked well.

A first approach, and one that is very common, is having the most involved or responsible representative of a party narrate most of the facts involved, often in chronological order.  This is more likely to be effective in an arbitration than in court because of the standard for admissibility.  The standard set forth in AAA Commercial rules is, for example:

(a) The parties may offer such evidence as is relevant and material to the dispute and shall produce such evidence as the arbitrator may deem necessary to an understanding and determination of the dispute. Conformity to legal rules of evidence shall not be necessary.  .  .

Because the real key to admissibility is relevance and materiality, it is possible for one witness to “tell the story” of a party by both relating personal experience and relying on business documents that help to tell the story. This is particularly useful because many arbitration issues turn on contracts and written documents.  Thus, a knowledgeable witness can introduce the key documents and much of the evidence in the case in a logical order.  This may be more difficult to do in a court where there are strict standards for laying foundation, hearsay problems with documents and related technical evidentiary matters to address. Many of those are obviated in an arbitration where, in the words of AAA Rule 34 “[c]onformity to legal rules of evidence shall not be necessary.”

A note of caution is in order here.  Just because the rules of evidence don’t apply, doesn’t mean that anything goes.  First, again in the words of Rule 34, “[t]he arbitrator shall determine the admissibility, relevance, and materiality of the evidence offered and may exclude evidence deemed by the arbitrator to be cumulative or irrelevant.”  So taking things too far and having a witness introduce a document that he or she knows nothing about and isn’t part of what one would expect to be in a company’s normal business records, may not be seen by the arbitrator as useful or relevant.  Have in mind that it should be clear that the witness, the testimony and documents introduced have enough in common that it makes sense the witness would be offering the testimony and evidence to provide a genuine understanding of the issues.  After all, getting a document or testimony into “the record” only means it is in there.  It doesn’t mean anybody will be persuaded by it or believe it.

Still, you likely can get into evidence documents and evidence that may not have gone in under technical legal rules with your first witness, but that are helpful to understanding the important events in the case in a logical order.   But for contested matters at the heart of the dispute, keep in mind you should be prepared to present evidence from the witness who wrote the document or observed the events described in it to provide first- hand information necessary for the arbitrator to determine the truth of the matter.

Another effective way I have seen of presenting evidence at the outset to outline the case was use of a technical expert.  The key to the case was the expert’s opinion, which was based on most of the evidence in the case, including all the key documents.  Thus, as the first witness, the expert basically gave each of his opinions on liability and backed it up with the key evidence on which he relied.  This was not a patent case, but was a fairly complex dispute over whether a software system met the specifications and representations about its functionality.  But one can imagine a similar approach to whether, for example, license fees are owed for certain products under the terms of a license agreement and underlying patent or the like.

When representing a respondent, a similar approach is available, using an involved and responsible witness or perhaps a technical expert.  While a fair amount of groundwork for the respondent’s position will likely already have been presented on cross examination, a coherent overview of the most important defense points can be made through a single witness.  And, of course, the respondent will have the benefit of knowing what points the claimant has emphasized in their case and be able to outline the key evidence in response to each point.  Again, contested matters will need to be addressed by other witnesses more directly involved, but providing a well-organized overview of the defense through a first witness can be quite effective.

Of course, the above approach won’t necessarily work for every case.  There may not be one witness who was really involved enough with the key facts and circumstances to provide a useful overview.  It may be that one event or issue is so important to the case that you would want to lead with your best witness on the point.  Or it may be that the subject matter of the case best lends itself to a few witnesses that have knowledge in one or two of each of the key matters in the case.

But however you end up doing things, you will want to pay attention to the most effective and efficient way to provide an understanding of the key issues and evidence at the outset.  In the end, the arbitrator will likely be able to piece together the case from evidence you present during the course of the proceeding.  Yet, finding ways to get the key information and issues out at the outset is worth the effort.

Put another way, it is difficult to rule for you if your position is difficult to understand.  So anything you can do to clarify your position at the outset should be considered.

Up next:  Practical considerations regarding evidence.