Thursday, April 26, 2012

Neutrals may ease anxiety over Florida’s new E-discovery rules

This podcast featuring my commentary just in from an interview with the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS) Editorial Director, Robert Hilson: On March 7, the Florida Supreme Court heard argument on proposed E-discovery rules for state cases, the first such rules for the fourth largest state. The court has put them on fast track, and could approve them by the end of the year. The rules will affect the state’s diverse legal and corporate community and its 63,000 active attorneys. They aim to streamline case management, but they will also impose unfamiliar burdens on practitioners who are new to e-discovery. Neutral third parties, such as special masters, mediators and referees, may be able to assist in these instances. These so-called “neutrals” can shape discovery plans, allocate costs and suggest and create efficiencies that did not exist. Their services are not limited to grappling with old or new rules, or to discovery disputes. Lawrence Kolin, an Orlando lawyer and full-time mediator, chaired the Florida Bar committee that helped craft the e-discovery rules the Supreme Court is considering. In this ACEDS podcast, he tells how neutrals can help litigants navigate e-discovery pitfalls and resolve expensive battles before they arise. “I try to focus parties on the merits and try to get them off using e-discovery as a sword or shield,” says Kolin. “Mediation is an avenue that can present parties with significant cost-savings if performed early enough in the litigation.” Podcast introduction: Listen to .mp3 here:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Appellate Mediation Frustration

Florida led the way in the establishment of alternative dispute resolution procedures to accommodate resolution without trials or the use of the judiciary. In the late 1980s, Florida passed comprehensive court-annexed mediation statutes and the past quarter century has seen enormous growth in the use of mediation as a practical, efficient alternative to traditional litigation for conflict resolution. In addition to the retention of self-determination and capability for creative settlements-- not to mention decreased costs-- courts celebrate reduced dockets, as well as increased levels of satisfaction. As such, appellate courts got into the game, initially with the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and then a pilot program by Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal (DCA) over a decade ago. There was also a program at the First DCA which was dismantled for budgetary reasons and other programs that have since gone. However, recent Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure (found beginning at 9.700) now provide the parties with the option to mediate if not already referred to mediation by the appellate court. These procedures account for tolling and other deadlines and deal with appearance and authority of parties at mediation. Today, at the Orange County Bar Association, we had the privilege of listening to Judge Thomas Sculco, Barbara Eagan and Stacy Ford for a CME on the frustration the process can bring about. Though the success rates are still around 35% for cases settling through mediation after a notice of appeal is filed, there are more challenges to the process given the posture post-trial than in cases that have not yet tried. Appellees are difficult to motivate, but there are some tools appellate mediators can use to move the parties' positions beyond discussions involving splits of authority and the proverbial "careful what you wish for" new trial. A hallmark to successful appellate mediation can be as simple as the ability of the parties to avoid precedent and craft a solution to the conflict that is built around their unique interests and needs. With the advent of Certification of Appellate Mediators by the Supreme Court of Florida, more mediation in the DCAs should be taking place. However, it is up to practitioners and dispute resolvers to educate the judiciary and promote the process beyond courts that have traditionally recognized its benefits.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

E-Neutrals and FL ESI rules

I spent the last couple of days at the national annual conference of the Association of Certified E-Discovery Specialists (ACEDS). There were many vendors, attorneys and even court personnel attending. Of particular interest, was a pilot program developed by Clerk of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Robert Barth. That court has identified special masters and E-neutrals as fulfilling the need to effectively address issues presented by the preservation, collection and production of relevant Electronically Stored Information (ESI) during the litigation process. The parties in those cases reportedly benefit from the appointment of Electronic Discovery Special Masters (EDSMs) in appropriate cases. Any findings of fact or conclusions of law reached by the EDSM will be presented to the court as a report and recommendation, to which the parties have the opportunity to object, prior to a de novo review by the court (see details at - Florida's draft rules do include a case management topic of optional appointment of special magistrates in the event such issues need to be referred. This was discussed during an ACEDS panel I served on with my successor on the Florida Civil Rules Committee, Kevin Johnson. We also spoke on the likelihood of a decision from the Supreme Court of Florida concerning the proposed amendments to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and any time frame for implementation. Given the largely friendly reception during oral argument, it appears adoption of the language is imminent, but the forthcoming opinion could delay the effective date of the rules, given the Court's concern for educating the bench and bar.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Fairly Illegal

So I finally watched some of season two of television's hot mediator show, Fairly Legal, on USA. Last year, the show debuted with a coffee shop hold-up mediation on the fly which was cute and effective, much like its snarky mediator, Kate Reed. I actually posted a few of California's ethical rules on the Facebook fan page last year (hoping writers or producers would notice) when things went a little far afield, which is most of the time. From the get-go this year, Kate inserts herself into a case tampering with a juror, threatening a witness and playing advocate, investigator and counselor at law. Oh well, just another day at the fictional law office. Though the acting is decent and the truth seeking protagonist fun and unpredictable, the mediation has become a backdrop to a dram-com. Now that Kate's boat is blown up, she's living in the law firm that fired her and her rocky marriage to the would-be DA appears finally over. The disputes she resolves remain eclectic as ever. Her partners continue to push the boundaries, like pushing conflicts of interest to the curb for the almighty dollar. So why do lawyers' reputations continue to suffer in the eyes of the public?? At least there is some light shed on the benefit of moving on with life by settling in favor of protracted litigation.