University of Denver

Initial Discovery Protocols

The discovery process in civil litigation often generates contentious and costly disputes that lead to unwarranted delays and inhibit access to justice, for parties on both sides of the “v.” Through the Initial Discovery Protocols project, IAALS has created pattern discovery rules specific to particular types of cases. These pattern rules require automatic initial disclosure of certain documents by both parties, making the discovery process more efficient and more targeted, and significantly reducing conflict, cost, and delay.

Senior Director
Legal Assistant

Objective:

  • To develop a set of case-type-specific documents for automatic initial disclosures and support their implementation by individual federal district court judges, with the ultimate goal of reducing cost and delay in the discovery process.

In 2010, the Civil Rules Advisory Committee sponsored a conference at Duke University School of Law to explore the current costs of civil litigation, particularly related to discovery, with the goal of developing solutions. One of the ideas that had widespread consensus coming out of the meeting was the idea of developing pattern discovery specific to particular case types. By requiring automatic initial disclosure of certain agreed upon documents at the beginning of the case, the discovery disputes could be limited and the overall case could be more focused and efficient.

Following the Duke conference, IAALS has focused on creating these pattern discovery protocols in a number of areas, including employment cases, fair labor standards act cases, and natural disaster cases.

IAALS formerly housed this work under its Rule One Initiative until 2018.

Under the direction of the Standing Committee and the Civil Rules Advisory Committee, IAALS convened a nationwide committee of experienced employment attorneys, including plaintiff and defense attorneys, to develop Initial Discovery Protocols for Employment Cases Alleging Adverse Action. The committee members worked together to create a list of documents for automatic discovery in employment cases. The Protocols were presented to the Civil Rules Advisory Committee in November 2011 and approved for implementation in pilot projects across the nation, in the courtrooms of judges who wish to participate. The protocols create a new category of information exchange, replacing initial disclosures with initial discovery specific to these cases.

IAALS continues to monitor use of the protocols in jurisdictions around the country, and the FJC issued a formal report on the pilot project in October 2015. The Report on Pilot Project Regarding Initial Discovery Protocols for Employment Cases Alleging Adverse Action includes several key findings, including:

  • There was generally less motions activity in pilot cases than in comparison cases;
  • The average number of discovery motions filed were about half;
  • Both motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment were less likely to be filed; and
  • The pilot cases appear to be more likely to settle.

The study found that there was not a significant difference in case processing times. One take away may be that judges need to pair these protocols with a modified case management schedule, including an earlier discovery deadline, in order to see the full effect of such reforms.

A modified version of the Employment Protocols is also being used to further mediation in the Southern District of New York. That court issued an Order in October of 2015 that requires all counseled employment discrimination cases, except those under the FLSA, to be automatically referred to a mediation program. As part of the mediation program, the parties must engage in an early exchange of documents in order to frame the issues for mediation.

Click here to download the Employment Protocols.

Inspired by the results of the protocols in employment cases, IAALS formed a similar committee of balanced experts in 2016 to replicate their successes for Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) cases, which are prevalent in our federal district courts and lend themselves well to pattern initial discovery. The Initial Discovery Protocols for Fair Labor Standards Act Cases Not Pleaded as Collective Actions, issued in January 2018, were shared with judges around the country and provide a new pretrial procedure with the goal of exchanging information early to frame the issues and make any additional discovery more efficient and targeted.

Click here to download the FLSA Protocols.

Development of these protocols was made possible by the support of the American College of Trial Lawyers.

IAALS is now working to develop a set of initial discovery protocols for property damage insurance cases following a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or wildfire, or other disasters. We have identified expert plaintiff, defense, and government attorneys nationwide and put together a committee that will work to develop automatic initial disclosures to streamline the cases that inundate courts after a major weather event.

Development of these protocols is made possible by the support of the American College of Trial Lawyers.