As a first year associate with the ink yet to dry on my diploma, I remember being introduced to the “concourse level” of our Rockefeller center office building. The other associates called it the dungeon, and I quickly learned why— it was the windowless basement of a 70-floor office building. Down in the dungeon I encountered the next 4 years of my life: about 1000 bankers boxes of paper and 500 disks of single page TIFFs with no load files. My task was to inventory this massive amount of data and “make sense of it all,” as no one knew what had been accumulated. The case started 22 years earlier in 1979. Through the labor of young associates, all this data was converted to electronic format, reviewed and produced.
After I recovered from my first nervous breakdown, I lamented the fact that absolutely nothing in law school had prepared me for this assignment. I knew well what rules of civil procedure governed discovery, but had no clue about the practical implications. Today, discovery is the most time-consuming and expensive part of any litigation or investigation. According to a survey performed by Northwestern Law, from 2006‐2008, average discovery costs per case ranged from $621,880 to $2,993,567. Not only is there incredible cost associated with discovery, but great risk too. Many cases today are won or lost before the merits of the case are even discussed.
With so much at stake, and so many young associates working with the data during the discovery process, one would think some practical training at law school would be in order. Many law schools in the past few years have tackled this issue and now offer courses about e-Discovery. Columbia Law School has jumped on the bandwagon and recognized the importance of this practical training and is currently offering the course below. I am including the full course description because I think the class is just what every law student who wants to be a litigator needs!
- L8161 Electronic Discovery
- Modern discovery is no longer about rummaging through boxes of paper; today, relevant information is primarily stored electronically. The wealth of potential evidence contained in massive stores of e-mail, instant messages, electronic files of different types, database applications, and myriad other imaginable (and unimaginable) applications or media has engendered an ever-expanding jurisprudence in the field known as Electronic Discovery. The law has struggled to keep pace with the challenges electronic information presents for the legal process, including preservation and spoliation issues, rising costs, and questions of privilege waiver, privacy, and evidentiary admissibility, to name but a few. Amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that went into effect in 2006, and to the Federal Rules of Evidence in 2008, as well as an array of local and state rules that have emerged in response to these issues, have brought Electronic Discovery to the forefront of litigation. This course will cover both what lawyers need to know in order to represent clients in a digital world and address some of the broader challenges presented by electronic information.
The more law students take classes like the one detailed above, the better prepared the legal profession will be to make smart decisions that will ultimately streamline the discovery process, mitigate the risk of spoliation, and be in a better position to save the client money. I encourage other law schools to offer classes like the one at Columbia to give their students more practical experience to face the current realities of discovery. I also strongly encourage students to take these courses. They may not be the most glamorous, but they will be among the most useful in your legal career.
 Litigation Cost Survey of Major Companies Statement Submitted by Lawyers for Civil Justice Civil Justice Reform Group U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, May 2010