There’s a lot of excitement (and corresponding uncertainty) about the recent passing of Federal Rule of Evidence 502 (FRE 502), which was signed into law on Sept 19th. The main reason that the legal community is excited about FRE 502 is because of the potential for cost savings by reducing the amount of money associated with the e-discovery review process, which is routinely viewed as the most expensive area in the entire e-discovery process.
In combination with the codification of a national standard to determine when a privilege has been waived, FRE 502 is primarily designed to make the use of claw-back agreements a truly viable prospect when doing e-discovery privilege review. It should provide some panacea (ideally) for rapidly escalating e-discovery costs. Or, at least that was the impetus behind the rule’s creation - according to the Comments:
“The proposed new rule facilitates discovery and reduces privilege-review costs by limiting the circumstances under which the privilege or protection is forfeited, which may happen if the privileged or protected information or material is produced in discovery. The burden and cost of steps to preserve the privileged status of attorney-client information and trial preparation materials can be enormous. Under present practices, lawyers and firms must thoroughly review everything in a client’s possession before responding to discovery requests. Otherwise they risk waiving the privileged status not only of the individual item disclosed but of all other items dealing with the same subject matter. This burden is particularly onerous when the discovery consists of massive amounts of electronically stored information.”
In short, FRE 502 is designed to establish uniform, nationwide standards for waiver of attorney-client privilege and work product protection, with the main goal being to protect producing parties against the inadvertent disclosure of privileged materials or work product in either federal or state proceedings. The salient section is subsection (b) which states that when a disclosure of privileged information is made in a federal proceeding or to a federal agency, the disclosure does not constitute a waiver if:
- the disclosure is inadvertent;
- the holder of the privilege or protection took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure; and
- the holder promptly took reasonable steps to rectify the error, including (if applicable) following Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(5)(B).
The end game here is presumably to increasingly leverage automated review methodologies to save costs. But, in order to facilitate this type of review methodology without taking on unhealthy levels of risk means that claw-back provisions must be as airtight at possible to prevent inadvertent electronically stored information (ESI) productions. And yet, exactly how FRE 502 will work in practice is up to debate since there isn’t any case law interpreting it yet.
One area that’s top of mind is how this new Rule will impact the recent decisions on e-discovery search, including the Victor Stanley case authored by Chief Magistrate Judge Grimm. Since FRE 502 contains a core “reasonableness” prong in section (b) it’s likely that Grimm’s proclamation about e-discovery search will still be controlling. Grimm fundamentally had to evaluate whether the producing party’s search protocols and procedures were in fact reasonable.
“Defendants, who bear the burden of proving that their conduct was reasonable for purposes of assessing whether they waived attorney-client privilege by producing the 165 documents to the Plaintiff, have failed to provide the court with information regarding: the keywords used; the rationale for their selection; the qualifications of M. Pappas and his attorneys to design an effective and reliable search and information retrieval method; whether the search was a simple keyword search, or a more sophisticated one, such as one employing Boolean proximity operators; or whether they analyzed the results of the search to assess its reliability, appropriateness for the task, and the quality of its implementation.” (footnotes omitted).
In Victor Stanley, the producing party wasn’t able to demonstrate reasonableness because they didn’t strategically craft out their strategy nor conduct any sampling to make sure that the e-discovery search worked as designed. This type of analysis would still seem to come into play under FRE 502 and so, as Grimm states, the use of either a best practices or collaborative approach to e-discovery would seem to be as important as ever.
Given that backdrop it’s just as important as ever that parties “show their work” when it comes to e-discovery search. Whether FRE 502 will really make parties feel safe enough to use automated review processes (thereby reducing costs) will remain to be seen. But, this first step which unifies standards and expectations is at least a very positive step.