New niche for e-discovery: special masters

CORREY E. STEPHENSON

BOSTON — The increased use of electronic discovery has resulted in a new set of practitioners: e-discovery special masters.

A special master is an officer of the court appointed to help with its proceedings, and may perform functions such as taking testimony or advising the court as a neutral expert.

“Essentially, you represent the judge and the court as an independent in evaluating technological disputes and electronic discovery issues,” explained Peter S. Vogel, chair of the Electronic Discovery and Document Retention Team and co-chair of the Internet and Computer Technology Practice Group at Gardere Wynne Sewell in Dallas.

Vogel, a partner at the firm, has worked on more than 20 cases with some form of an e-discovery special master.

The role varies, explained Judge Shira Scheindlin, a U.S. District Court judge in the Southern District of New York and the author of several seminal opinions on e-discovery, including Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC, 229 F.R.D. 422 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).

Courts can appoint an electronic discovery special master “for a narrow dispute, such as a privilege review, or a broader task like supervising all discovery,” she said.

Special e-discovery masters have become prevalent because over the last few years, “the level of technical detail simply outgrew what judges and counsel could comprehend,” explained Craig Ball, a trial lawyer and technologist in Austin, Texas, who has served as a special master in approximately two dozen cases.

“When neither the attorneys nor the court felt able to ask the right questions or understand the answers, that created the need for a technical special master,” he said.

For more see Daily Record.com.

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