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Chief Justice Roberts: An Evangelist for the New Federal Rules Amendments

We’ve been beating the drum for years now about the newly effective amendments to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, touting the potential they hold to make civil litigation more efficient and more cost-effective. Now we’re joined by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who champions the new amendments in his 2015 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary.

Chief Justice John Roberts evangelist for new Federal Rules of Civil ProcedureJustice Roberts begins by highlighting the importance of just eight words added to Rule 1, which provides that the Federal Rules “should be construed, administered, and employed by the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.” These new, underscored words make clear that litigants—not just judges—bear an obligation to use the rules to control the cost and burden of litigation. According to Justice Roberts,

Lawyers—though representing adverse parties—have an affirmative duty to work together, and with the court, to achieve prompt and efficient resolutions of disputes.

The report discusses the rule changes aimed at achieving better proportionality in discovery, calling the concept “common sense.” Under the amended discovery rules, the parties “must size and shape their discovery requests to the requisites of a case. Specifically, the pretrial process must provide parties with efficient access to what is needed to prove a claim or defense, but eliminate unnecessary or wasteful discovery.”

Justice Roberts also highlights the importance of federal judges engaging in early and effective case management. In particular, he praises the new rules’ preference for face-to-face communications between the judge and lawyers: “A well-timed scowl from a trial judge can go a long way in moving things along crisply.”

But the Chief Justice recognizes that rules amendments alone cannot achieve a better federal court system—rather,

The entire legal community, including the bench, bar, and legal academy, [must] step up to the challenge of making real change.

Judges and lawyers must make a “genuine commitment” “to ensure that our legal culture reflects the values we all ultimately share.” His advice to lawyers? Abandon “antagonistic tactics, wasteful procedural maneuvers and teetering brinksmanship.” Instead, plaintiffs’ and defendants’ counsel alike should “affirmatively search out cooperative solutions, chart a cost-effective course of litigation, and assume shared responsibility with opposing counsel to achieve just results.”

I hope litigants and lawyers will heed the Chief Justice, and use the new rules as a real “opportunity to help ensure that federal court litigation does not degenerate into wasteful clashes over matters that have little to do with achieving a just result.” Our mission here at DiscoverReady is to enable clients to do just that—at least with respect to litigation discovery—by deploying strategies that minimize cost, but maximize efficiency and effectiveness. As we move into 2016, we look forward to working under the new discovery rules to help clients better manage the vast volumes of electronic information they create and collect, and focus on the discovery truly necessary to resolve their disputes.

Maureen O'Neill