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E-Discovery: Civil Law’s Hope in Legal Tech

All over the world, courts that deal in civil litigation are being overwhelmed by ever-increasing caseloads. The more people are willing to sue, the more cases these courts have to deal with. Interestingly enough, most of the solutions proposed to date have focused on the needs of the court. In other words, let us appoint more judges and clerks to handle the increased work.

Viable court-based solutions have proved elusive thus far. They will continue to remain elusive as long as the rules for civil litigation go unchanged. But there is another way. Rather than addressing the problem from the court’s perspective, address it from the perspective of plaintiffs and defendants. That is where e-discovery comes into play.

E-Discovery could very well be the salvation of the civil court system in many countries. New legal case management software heavy on e-discovery capabilities could address overwhelmed courts by keeping cases out of the courtroom. At least that is the position taken by Taipei Times contributor and associate law professor Chen Chih-hsiung.

Courts Are Overworked

There’s no arguing that civil courts around the world are overworked. Chen Chih-hsiung illustrated the point in his Taipei Times piece by mentioning a young Japanese judge who died earlier this year after being overworked. He is a role model in Japan, where hard work is idolized. Yet Chen questions whether or not judges need to work that hard.

The obvious answer is ‘no’. There isn’t a profession on earth worth dying for. And even though Chen’s example is extreme, the point is still well taken. Everyone from judges to stenographers are overworked to the point that the general population is losing trust in the system. Chen believes e-discovery might be the answer.

How E-Discovery Works

Understanding how e-discovery might be the salvation of civil courts requires understanding what it is and how it works. The makers of the NuLaw case management application explain that e-discovery is really a two-component system. Many of the newest legal case management applications coming to market make use of it.

The first component involves a law firm’s ability to conduct the discovery process electronically. Attorneys and their staffs can utilize software to scour a virtually unlimited number of documents online. They can check police reports, social media pages, newspaper articles, and so forth. Moreover, searching all of this documentation doesn’t have to be done manually. It can be done automatically after entering the right keywords and phrases.

The second component of e-discovery is the ability among law firms to share their discovery with one another in a secure setting. Plaintiff attorneys share their information with defense attorneys in real-time, and vice versa. How does this help? By allowing both sides to put their cards on the table up front.

Encouraging Sides to Settle

Chen suggested that this sort of system would keep more cases out of the courtroom because attorneys would better know what they are getting into. If one side or the other knows its case is weak, attorneys are more likely to be willing to settle out of court.

Of course, what Chen suggests is mere speculation. Yet there is a lot of common sense to it. A big part of what goes into courtroom litigation is understanding what the other side is trying to accomplish. By taking advantage of e-discovery to its fullest extent, attorneys can glean that information well in advance. That may eliminate the need to go to court in a lot of cases.

Could e-discovery be the answer to an overwhelmed civil court system? We will have to wait and see.

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