Monday, November 26, 2007

What's The Big Deal? Stylistic Revisions to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure of December 1, 2007

As law professor bloggers have noted over the summer and more recently, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure--essentially, the procedural manual for high-stakes litigation in the United States--is undergoing a significant stylistic revision, effective December 1. For the first time since their implementation, the language of each rule, 1-86, is changing. The full text of the new rules, along with changes to other types of federal rules, is available at .

West / Thomson, publishers of the standard "Guide to Federal Rules Of Civil Procedure" book that sits on most litigators' desks, has even argued through the people in this video that this is a "dramatic" change that will catch many practitioners by surprise.

(I wonder then why Thomson has wasted a good deal of goodwill by not promptly providing an update for the same price as its usual book, Federal Civil Judicial Procedures & Rules, that includes the new rules. Instead the only West hard copy publication available from December 2007 to March 2008 is its Federal Civil Rules Handbook, which includes Thomson attorneys' glosses on the rules instead of "just" the text of the rules and the rules committee commentary, as is in the aforementioned guide. And of course the Handbook is not cheap.)

The reason why there has not been greater outcry and little awareness of these changes, in my opinion, is that almost all of them explicitly make absolutely no substantive change in the required procedure (the exception are the rules requiring attorneys to add email addresses to signature blocks, doubtless burdening firms' spam blockers, but occasioning little other harm or change.) It might be a little embarrasing to cite to the old language, but if there's no substantive change, at least it isn't malpractice.

At my firm we ended up providing a notice of the rule change by hard copy memo (and email of course). The tricky part was updating the .pdfs of the new rules--the document as found on the federal court's web site had no index or bookmarks, and did not even indicate on a given page what rule was being addressed (more of an issue than you might think since due to the ultra-expanded format, some rules spanned tens of pages).

As a side note, Adobe Professional has some very nice indexing and navigating tools, definitely superior to the last version I was exposed to. When properly laid out, the new pdfs as a read document are clearly superior to Microsoft Word in their simplicity and similarity to Web navigation.