Proportionality's Cultural Foundation
57 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2011 Last revised: 7 Nov 2012
Date Written: April 15, 2011
Since the 1980s, a variety of provisions designed to prevent excessive pretrial discovery have been incorporated into the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. By almost all accounts, however, these “proportionality” rules have not met their stated goals. The percentage of cases with high levels of discovery has not changed in decades, and concerns about disproportionate discovery are as pronounced as ever. I argue that the failure of the proportionality rules stems from a disconnect between the rules and the prevailing litigation culture. The rules incorrectly assume that excessive discovery is caused by attorneys abusing their discretion during the discovery process, and accordingly seek to limit that discretion. But attorney discretion is not the problem, and in fact attorneys and judges rely on the broad exercise of attorney discretion to create efficient, predictable, and fair resolutions to civil cases. Because the rules directly conflict with cultural norms, they are largely ignored in practice. I therefore propose a radically different approach to combating excessive discovery, by removing the existing restrictions on attorney discretion and implementing new procedures designed to emphasize the cultural values of civil litigation that naturally promote controlled discovery.
Keywords: discovery, proportionality, legal culture, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, discovery abuse, excessive discovery, discretion, disclosures, presumptive limits, 26(b)(2)(C), core values
JEL Classification: K40, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation