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Some Thoughts on Discovery and Legal Writing, by Judge Paul J. Cleary, Oklahoma Bar Journal, 82 OBJ 33 (2011)


Since 2002, The Hon. Paul J. Cleary has served as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma.  He has the joy of overseeing discovery in civil litigation. You could say that experience makes him an expert. 

It should be no surprise that he urges counsel to use good writing habits and avoid boilerplate language. -CCE

“What we have here is failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke (Jalem Productions 1967).

There is a famous scene at the end of the movie Blow Up2 where mimes face off in a tennis match using an imaginary ball and racquets. It reminds me of too many discovery disputes: I sit as the linesman, watching helplessly as the lawyers roil and argue between intermittent swats at imaginary objects.

The fundamental problems that underlie most discovery disputes might be pulled from the pages of a marriage counselor’s handbook: Fear of commitment and inability to communicate. Lawyers won’t commit to a definition of the legal dispute: It’s not a simple breach of contract; it’s a contract, fraud, bad faith, conspiracy, racketeering case. The ill-defined nature of the dispute drives discovery into vast, uncharted territory. By the same token, lawyers responding to discovery requests won’t commit to a clear statement of what responsive documents exist and which of those will be produced. The purpose of this article is to examine the problem of inartful/incomprehensible discovery requests and responses and to offer some observations and, perhaps,some solutions. . . .