In the last post we started looking at the second or discovery phase of a business lawsuit in Florida as part of our examination of the three basic phases of a business lawsuit. As part of that we looked at depositions as one method for parties to use to question another party or a third-party outside of the lawsuit to obtain or clarify information and documents. Some of the other mechanisms available to parties in a lawsuit are interrogatories, requests to produce documents, and requests for information. When and which of these discovery methods to use is largely the judgment call of your attorney, but he or she should at least explain the options to you and the plan for using them in the overall discovery program.
Interrogatories are limited in number and ask the other side in a lawsuit to answer questions under oath, similar to what happens in a deposition, but they are not the same kind of questions. Requests to produce ask for documents or categories of documents relevant to the lawsuit and likewise have certain limitations and restrictions placed upon them. Requests for admissions ask the other side to admit or deny specific facts or validate documents to save time by not having to do so later. When these requests go beyond what is allowed or they are perceived to do so, they are often met with motions filed by the recipient to which the requesting party can reply. This is commonly called motion practice and the disputes in this phase are either resolved by and between the lawyers or by the Judge in a hearing. Sometimes these issues can grow quite complex and involve unique issues touching on trade secrets, confidential business information, and electronic materials.
In the past several years, the discovery of electronic materials has occupied an increasingly important role in the discovery phase largely as a consequence of how businesses and people store and use information. Few businesses have a file cabinet with paper files nowadays; most have sophisticated cloud-based IT solutions that have become inexpensive and multiply the ability of the business to generate profit. This area of discovery of electronically stored information has aptly become known as e-discovery and is one of the newest and hottest topics in the legal industry.
In order to maintain pace with both its business clients and this evolving area of the law, the Law Office of David Steinfeld has embraced technology in the service it provides and David Steinfeld has taught numerous continuing education classes to Judges and to hundreds of lawyers on e-discovery. He also created a website that evaluated the software from vendors used in e-discovery to better aid law firms across the country in selecting the right software and to provide a more cost effective and better service to clients. Mr. Steinfeld is regularly called upon by the Florida Bar and the Palm Beach County Bar as well as other groups to speak on e-discovery and maintains special relationships with e-discovery software companies that allow the Law Office of David Steinfeld to obtain preferred pricing to benefit its clients.
In a previous post we looked at the three basic phases of a business lawsuit in Florida. We are now starting to examine them in further detail. The second phase is the discovery phase in which the parties try to verify what they think they know and learn information of which they were unaware. They do this with the other party or parties in the lawsuit and with parties outside the lawsuit known as third-parties.
The Rules of Procedure that govern civil lawsuits in Florida provide the parties with ways to obtain documents and information in their discovery efforts and, along with past cases or precedent that have interpreted those Rules, place certain limits on those. Those options include depositions, which are essentially question and answer sessions under oath conducted by a lawyer and recorded by a stenographer also called a court reporter that the party taking the deposition hires and pays. Unlike some of the other discovery options available, a party can use a deposition to obtain or clarify information and to even obtain documents from another party in the lawsuit or from a third-party.
Depositions can also be videotaped in addition to the court reporter and like the court reporter, the party taking the deposition hires and pays for that in most cases. Depositions are coordinated between the parties unless a Judge orders them and prescribes the time and location for them. Ordinarily however, because lawyers are required to conduct themselves in a professional manner, this is all coordinated very easily between the parties without the need or expense of involving the Judge. The website of the Law Office of David Steinfeld contains several articles on depositions and what to do and what not to do in them, but the best preparation is a frank and direct discussion with your counsel before the deposition. There are also some examples on YouTube now of depositions that have gone horribly wrong that make for interesting viewing.
In the prior entry we looked at the three basic phases of a business lawsuit in Florida. Now we will break them down further in this and the next two entries. The first phase is the pleadings phase where the parties file documents with the Court to tell each other what their claims are and whether those are accepted or rejected and what defenses exist.
Some of these documents are the complaint, which starts the lawsuit, an answer and defenses, counterclaims, third-party claims, and cross claims. Starts to sound complex and we haven’t even discussed motions like motions to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings. The complexity and timing of these procedural mechanisms is codified in Florida’s Civil Procedure Rules and, along with the Rules of Evidence, is what you should expect your lawyer to know and understand as it is his or her tradecraft.
But, as a party to and participant in a business lawsuit, you are in integral part of the matter and a key player on the team. So, your lawyer should educate you on the options available in this phase and keep you informed and involved in this early process of your lawsuit. That is precisely how the Law Office of David Steinfeld treats its clients because the lawyer and the client are, in fact, a team to which the lawyer brings experience with and an expertise in the law, including the procedures, and the client brings the experience and familiarity of the facts and an intimate business knowledge of the other party with whom the client had had business dealings that led to the dispute at the core of the lawsuit.