By: Eric Kelting, Co-Founder
How we collect data (and from what sources) in our cases has changed significantly in recent years. While we know it is a challenge for attorneys, it’s just as much of a burden for judges, who already have a heavy case load and little free time to educate themselves on the specifics of eDiscovery and Electronically Stored Information (ESI).
These changes from paper-based documents to emails, Microsoft Office documents, mobile devices and IOT (internet of things) data often create problems in the litigation process. Most of these problems stem from an imbalance of knowledge between, not only the opposing sides, but also the court. With new technology emerging at a much faster pace than local rules and case law can keep up with, the judiciary is placed at a significant disadvantage due to the expectation that they rule on issues that are often understood on different levels by all parties.
That’s where a Special Master comes in. A Judge appoints a Discovery Special Master to hear evidence on behalf of the Judge and make recommendations on discovery-related matters. This alleviates the burden on Judges, speeding up justice and often lowering the cost.
However, Special Masters face the same challenges as Judges and attorneys, trying to keep up with the rapid pace of technology change and applying that to existing laws.
That’s why we’re excited to share a partnership we’re part of, one that no one else, that we know of, is doing. Co-Founder Jeff Dreiling has partnered with Judge Charles Atwell, a Discovery Special Master with over 40 years of litigation experience, who now serves as a Special Master to many Judges in Kansas City. Jeff serves as Charlie’s eDiscovery Consultant, advising him on the intricacies of ESI. Together they apply the existing rules to today’s technology.
It’s a natural partnership, but incredibly unique, so let’s take a moment to look at its serendipitous beginning.
In 2017, a Complete Legal client approached Jeff about a former Judge, Charlie, who had retired after 16 years as a Circuit Judge in Jackson County and had started working in private practice as an arbitrator and special master. He saw an opportunity for the former Judge and Jeff to work together in some capacity and suggested they meet.
At their first meeting, Jeff and Charlie compared notes and realized they may be able to help each other. Charlie was frustrated because many of the cases he was appointed to serve as Special Master for had complex arguments involving eDiscovery or ESI where dueling experts on opposite sides of a case had very different views as to the cost, time and feasibility of exchanging ESI in the discovery process.
He was expected to rule fairly on these issues but didn’t have anyone to give him an unbiased explanation of what each expert was saying and to help him decide what was realistic. He understood the law, but he lacked the time, understanding, and access to objective information to make quick and fair rulings on matters involving these complex ESI disagreements.
He was curious that if by working together, some of these problems could be solved by combining Jeff’s subject matter knowledge with his knowledge of the law and his role in the case.
Their first engagement started shortly after that meeting and that case went on for close to nine months where there were countless hearings, negotiations and reports issued. Through that engagement, and the many since, Jeff and Charlie have learned to work together to best serve the Judge while remaining fair and impartial to both the defendant and the plaintiff.
Jeff quickly learned the importance of establishing a common baseline knowledge of eDiscovery and getting everyone on the same page, rather than answering every question with technical perfection. And Charlie immediately felt the impact of Jeff’s expertise, allowing him to offer more value to the Judges he serves and making smarter decisions for each case. In fact, one of the most important parts of this process is making sure that the Special Master and Judge are educated on the possibilities, options, costs and realities for each claim being made. Through this educational process, the experts in the law are empowered to understand the technology options and apply their rulings with a clear understanding of what the implications to both parties in the matter will be.
Together, Charlie and Jeff are serving Kansas City’s Judges and legal community, offering insight on eDiscovery, ESI and helping make the justice system fairer.