Conferring on Keywords & A Musical Judge

You know someone is taking a hit when a judge works in references to Pink Floyd’s  “Sorrow” and Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence.” Sound the Division Bell, because there is a Bridge Over Troubled Water.


Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman did exactly that in Procaps S.A. v. Patheon Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35225 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 18, 2014) because of an attorney responding to opposing counsel’s emails with cryptic messages on search terms and their Spanish translations because of a party located in Columbia. Some messages were simply not answered. As such, a motion to compel was filed over search terms. At the hearing, the non-moving party represented they had been in contact with their custodians about search terms.

The short story of what happened is that lead attorney did not get any input on search terms from his clients’ custodians before the moving party filed their motion to compel. Procaps S.A., at 10-11.

Even though the attorney broke their silence over conferring on search terms, the Court ordered the following:

Nevertheless, to the extent that there is any doubt about whether this Court is imposing the requirement and to generate a ruling on which a fees award can be based, the Court grants Patheon’s motion and requires Procaps to have its counsel obtain search word input from all the ESI custodians. The Court may enter further orders on the search term methodology and/or the specifics of the search term list after receiving additional information from Procaps about the search term protocol.

Procaps S.A., at *14.

The Court awarded the prevailing party $3,750 in costs (down from $5000). Procaps S.A., at *16. The Court ordered the lead attorney to pay $1,000 of the award, because “his non-responsive and/or vague email responses triggered this discovery dispute.” Procaps S.A., at *17.  The Court further noted statements on the firm’s website about attorneys with eDiscovery experience who were involved in the case and “urged (though not required) to explore which other attorneys (besides lead trial counsel) caused, or helped  cause, this discovery motion and to determine whether those other attorneys (rather than the firm itself) should pay all or some of the $2,750 fees award now allocated for law firm responsibility (or some of the $1,000 awarded against lead trial counsel).” Procaps S.A., at *17-18.

Bow Tie Thoughts

I respect Jonathan Goodman’s command of the law and use of song references to make his point on an attorney’s silence in conferring over search terms.

Attorneys cannot be another brick in the wall of un-cooperation over Rule 26(f) conferences. eDiscovery requires parties to both 1) confer with the opposing side on the subject matter of the case and 2) conduct client/custodian interviews to determine how technology is used, terms of art, methods of communication and anything else relevant to determine “search terms.”

Discussing “search terms” is not dead because of “predictive coding.” Attorneys still have to know the subject matter of the case in order to use ANY type of advanced analytics so the analysis has content. Lawsuits are about specific issues which have to be defined in order for “technology assisted review,” “visual analytics” or any other form of data clustering to make sense. These topics must be discussed for in order to identify relevant ESI, so efforts are not lost on the dark side of the Moon.

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