When a national committee that sets procedural rules for federal courts held a series of public hearings this February in Washington D.C., joining the lawyers and other professionals who offered testimony were five first-year Yale Law School students.
The hearings were held in response to a controversial proposal that would limit the ability of parties in lawsuits to request electronic documents. Three of the students argued the proposal would give an unfair advantage to large corporations such as Phillip Morris and Microsoft that they say could evade having to produce electronic data by claiming that doing so would be too cumbersome.
But representatives from the companies and other proponents of the proposal argued that the rules are needed to prevent an unfair increase in litigation costs. The other two Yale students generally commented in support of the proposal, but they had some reservations.
The students who attended — Mike Heidler, Rudy Kleysteuber, Joe Masters, Steven Shepard and David Tannenbaum — became interested in the proposed rules after Yale law professor Judith Resnik invited Judge Lee Rosenthal, the chair of the Advisory Committee on Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Scott Nelson, an attorney at Public Citizen, to speak at the University. Resnik called the students’ efforts “terrific” and said that each worked to develop his or her own testimony.
“[The students] became so intrigued with the problem of access to information in the electronic age that they decided to pursue their concerns,” she said in an e-mail on Tuesday.
Heidler, who had focused on technology in his career before coming to the Law School, said engaging in such a project helped him on many different levels.
“It gave us experience working with judges — taught us about how they think and work, it gave us experience working with professors … and it built camaraderie amongst five law students who share an interest in technology and the law,” he said.
Heidler said that he was pleasantly surprised by how receptive the advisory committee was to his input and that of the other students — a sentiment the rest of the students also expressed.
“Of course people who have been in the field for years who have built a career around these rules had much more to offer than we do,” he said.
But Heidler added that the students knew more about technology than some of the judges.
Kleysteuber, who used to work as a computer programmer and still calls himself an “amateur geek,” attributed the disparity to a generational divide in how he and his peers act with and experience computer technology.
“We were hoping to provide the viewpoint of the younger generation,” he said. “Our perspective was not one they would have heard otherwise had we not gone to speak.”
Tannenbaum said he has always been interested in law and technology and will continue to work on the intersection of the two in the future.
While the five students agreed about the importance of the issue, their views of the proposed rules varied. Masters said that he spoke out against parts of the proposal, adding that it is essential to ensure that all procedural rules are as fair as possible.
“One really effective way to make sure the legal system works better is to make sure that [procedural rules] are not slanted,” he said.
For Heidler, the fact that it costs a significant amount of money to recover electronic documents indicates that they should be treated differently than paper documentation.
“I was overall in favor of the proposed amendments, but I suggested one or two things that would make the amendment more fair in my perspective,” he said.
All of the students said they believe the Law School has done a good job of making sure that they are given a full picture of the legal profession by paying for them to attend such meetings and events.
“This would not have happened anywhere else,” Masters said. “It says all the right things about Yale Law School.”