UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The Hon. Thomas I. Vanaskie of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and Penn State Law Professor from Practice Phil Sechler recently led a panel discussion following a screening of the film The Decade of Discovery. This documentary explores the changing landscape of legal discovery, and how difficult it is to find and produce relevant electronically stored information (ESI) while keeping discovery costs low enough for justice to be available to all.
The free screening was offered as a learning opportunity for students, faculty, and anyone interested in the legal process. The film tells the stories of three people whose goals were to revise the process of legal discovery and, as the late Richard G. Braman says in the film, “bring integrity and candor to the court.”
The discovery process is the pretrial phase of litigation during which opposing parties collect evidence by means of requests, or through motions to compel the other party to produce relevant information. The process has become increasingly burdensome over the past few decades due to the extraordinary increase in electronic communications. This issue is particularly pertinent on the federal level, as the Obama Administration alone has sent an estimated one billion emails during its tenure. This is a near-impossible volume of communications to examine, whether manually or via keyword search, which usually yields only a 50 percent accuracy rate.
According to the film, there is valuable evidence slipping through the cracks of error, and the cost for electronic discovery is on the exponential rise. This means that proper discovery and investigation is not easily accessible to the working class. Additionally, the discovery process has been made more complex by the systematic deletion of electronic files and the increasing prevalence of data warehouses and high-capacity storage.
The film provided a rich background for discussion between the two Penn State Law faculty members about how the legal world is shifting.
Sechler, who focuses his teaching and research on lawyering and evidentiary issues, said the film “underscores how incredibly important it is for practicing lawyers to understand data technology in the modern era – it affects how evidence is preserved, identified, and reviewed. The film also shows how the civil justice system is grappling with the challenges posed by modern technology in its goal to promote the just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of disputes.”
Vanaskie, a 1978 graduate of The Dickinson School of Law and adjunct professor at Penn State Law, is a 2014 recipient of the Penn State Alumni Association's Alumni Fellow Award, a permanent, lifelong designation. Established in 1973, the Alumni Fellows Program is designed to invite Alumni Fellows, prominent and outstanding leaders in their fields, to return to specific colleges of the University to lend their expertise through informal contacts with students, faculty, and administrators. This program was presented as part of Vanaskie's commitment to his alma mater, The Dickinson School of Law of the Pennsylvania State University.