Thursday, August 21, 2014

ENE in E-Discovery Heavy Cases?

Mediation and arbitration have been out-of-court dispute resolution options available to Florida litigants for a quarter century. Early Neutral Evaluation or ENE is relatively new and has perhaps not caught on because of lack of court rules and some misconceptions about the process. Early Neutral Evaluation was developed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California to reduce the expense of litigation for civil litigants. ENE is a hybrid of mediation and arbitration with a goal of helping litigants gain a better understanding of their case. Simply put, a third-party neutral examines the positions of the parties and gives an evaluation of the case. ENE is designed to avoid unrealistic expectations about the probable outcome of a case. ENE ensures time and money are not wasted on litigation and provides a reality check for attorneys and clients. A court-appointed neutral with expertise in ESI can host an informal meeting of clients and counsel once the parties request ENE. Sessions generally include and introduction and opening remarks by evaluator, followed by presentations of claims and defenses by counsel. The neutral evaluator then identifies common ground and probes possible stipulations. Upon clarifying key disputed issues, the evaluator can ask if the parties wish to explore settlement before the evaluation is presented and otherwise conduct settlement negotiations if the parties agree to do so. If not, the evaluator explains their assessment of the case, including what may be awarded at trial, what the settlement range of the case should be, and the strengths and weaknesses of each party’s case. The neutral case evaluator has no power to impose settlement and may not force a party to accept any proposed terms. Though formal discovery, disclosure and motion practice rights of the litigants are fully preserved, a skilled neutral evaluator with experience in ESI can assist with streamlining case management early, including E-discovery. The confidential evaluation is non-binding and is not shared with the trial court. If no settlement is reached, the case remains in litigation, but likely with the litigants better informed as to the risks, amount of work still necessary to conclude the case and a monetary estimate of the cost of continuing toward trial. I will be working with other full-time neutrals in Florida to explore establishment of a pilot program here. See California rules here--