The Great Seal with lightningJoe Looby’s unique historical documentary, The Decade of Discovery (10th Mountain Films), shows how a few lawyers, judges, and scholars recognized the scope of the looming electronic discovery juggernaut and took the first major systematic steps to rein it in.

It’s a thoughtful and deliberately-paced account, told by the people who found themselves on the cutting edge and rose to the occasion. Needless to say, they’re a bright and articulate bunch. They calmly relate how the discovery system was buckling because of our exploding use of electronic documents, and how we have been building new technologies (electronic, legal, and ethical) to mitigate the resulting disruption ever since.

The film recounts how the failures of early efforts to cope with massive amounts of unstructured electronic data led to reassessments of both linear document review and keyword search, and the quest for scientific (i.e., statistical) ways of validating reviews. It also relates how judges increasingly began to promulgate broad ediscovery guidelines in published opinions, after many years in which counsel had to support their ediscovery arguments with photocopies of unpublished ediscovery decisions, transcripts, and orders culled from their personal collections. And it explains how the social and economic costs of ediscovery are increasingly compelling counsel to temper their zeal with cooperation, disclosure, and increased technical competence.

However, the film is about more than ediscovery. It also addresses governmental and political transparency, such as the truly astronomical amount of time it would take to review newly-declassified White House emails absent the kinds of technology that we are increasingly using in ediscovery.

Looby doesn’t include himself as a player in his film but, as the founder of the forensic technology practices at both Deloitte and FTI Consulting, among other accomplishments, he provides a great vantage point.

The participants include the late Richard G. Braman, who was the founder and Executive Director Emeritus of The Sedona Conference. Other participants are:

  • Jason R. Baron,
  • Justice Stephen Breyer,
  • Judge John Facciola,
  • Judge James Francis IV,
  • Judge Paul Grimm,
  • Professor Arthur Miller,
  • Judge Nan Nolan,
  • Professor Douglas Oard,
  • Judge Shira Scheindlin, and
  • Judge David Waxse.

The first public screening was on May 31 at the Hoboken International Film Festival in Middletown, NY. The crowd included both ediscovery savants and curious civilians. For those who already knew the story, it was invaluable to see it pulled together and presented by the players themselves. The film also succeeded in making ediscovery relevant to the merely curious by comparing ediscovery in litigation to the task of parsing massive amounts of declassified government email, which would be impossible without intelligent tools.

The Decade of Discovery will be shown again on Saturday, June 21, at 1:00 pm as part of the Manhattan Film Festival. Seating is very limited. You can buy tickets here.