I am a co-author, along with Jim Beasley, Jr., of the LexisNexis Practice Guide: Pennsylvania Civil Discovery, a comprehensive guide for Pennsylvania lawyers on the intricacies of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure applicable to civil discovery.
As we write in the book, most cases are resolved—and thus won or lost—on the basis of information uncovered during discovery. It behooves practitioners to know by heart the Rules of Civil Procedure relating to discovery and the case law interpreting those rules.
The Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure (hereinafter “the rules”) are among the most liberal in the nation, providing for broad discovery into any facts material to the action. There are no pre-set limitations on the number of discovery requests that may be served, and all parties may use any of the means of discovery—whether it be depositions, interrogatories, requests for production, or requests for admission—in virtually any order aside from a brief limitation on depositions following the commencement of the action. Pa. R. Civ. P. 4007.2(b). Trial courts are responsible for the management of the discovery process, but there are simply too many cases, with too many discovery issues, for courts to devote substantial time and consideration to each of them. Discovery objections typically are resolved swiftly during court hearings, with a minimum of argument. Thus, as a practical matter, the primary limitations on discovery practice are the time and costs to the parties and their attorneys.
The free-form nature of discovery under the rules leads to a few unfortunate habits. First, examining attorneys commonly serve generic, overly broad interrogatories and requests for documents that demand the opposing party provide “all documents” or describe “all facts” relating to the case, instead of taking a few hours to customize their discovery to the facts at hand. Second, responding attorneys commonly raise a host of generic objections to every request they receive, regardless of the actual breadth, burden, or clarity of the request. Third, depositions frequently take far longer than they should, because the attorneys waste time arguing with one another about the propriety of questions and objections, instead of simply lodging objections for the record and moving on.
Our book is intended to arm practitioners of all sorts — both plaintiffs’ lawyers and defense counsel, novices and old pros, out-of-state counsel appearing pro hac, law clerks, et cetera — with the concepts, rules, and cases they need to serve as zealous advocates for their clients while maintaining the utmost professionalism in their dealings with the court and with opposing counsel.