Just and Speedy: On Civil Discovery Sanctions for Luddite Lawyers

42 Pages Posted: 7 Nov 2018

See all articles by Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Date Written: 2017


This article presents a theoretical model by which a judge could impose civil sanctions on an attorney - relying in part on Rule 1 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure - for that attorney’s failure to utilize time- and expense-saving technology.

Rule 1 now charges all participants in the legal system to ensure the “just, speedy and inexpensive” resolution of disputes. In today’s litigation environment, a lawyer managing a case in discovery needs robust technological competence to meet that charge. However, the legal industry is slow to adopt technology, favoring “tried and true” methods over efficiency. This conflict is evident in data showing clients’ and judges’ frustration with the lack of technological competency among the Bar, especially as it pertains to electronic discovery. Such frustration has led judges to publicly scold luddite attorneys, and has led state bar associations to pass anti-luddite ethical rules. Sanctions for “luddite” attorneys are an extreme, but theoretically possible, amplification of that normative movement. Sanctions leveraging Rule 1 require a close reading of the revised rule, and challenge the notion of Rule 1 as a “guide” to the Rules, but a case can be made for such sanctions based on the Rule’s affirmative charge.

The article briefly explores two examples of conduct warranting such sanctions in rare scenarios such as: (1) the failure of an attorney to utilize machine intelligence and concept analytics in the review of information for production and (2) the failure of an attorney to produce documents in accessible electronic format.

The article concludes by suggesting that well-publicized sanctions for “luddite” attorneys may break through the traditional barriers that limit innovation in the legal industry.

Keywords: Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, FRCP, Rule 1, legal practice, litigation, electronic discovery, e-discovery, information systems, technological competence, professional responsibility, bar discipline, electronically stored information, ESI

Suggested Citation

Murphy, Michael, Just and Speedy: On Civil Discovery Sanctions for Luddite Lawyers (2017). George Mason Law Review, Vol. 25, p. 36, 2017, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 18-37, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3277456

Michael Murphy (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
215-898-5637 (Phone)

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