Pocketing the key technology at LegalTech

My new Blackberry helps me organise what is important. It does not decide what is important. The same should be true of e-disclosure applications. Both are an aid to efficient processes, not a substitute for them.

My heading may have brought you here under false pretences. This is not, as you may have hoped, my assessment of the new developments being announced in the speeches or on display at the booths. The key technology so far as I am concerned is in my pocket and on my lap-top.

I have not been immune to the attractions of a Blackberry all these years, but since I spend most of my time at my desk, it has been hard to justify anything more than a mobile phone. The E-Disclosure Information Project will take me out rather more than hitherto. My old phone’s buttons had become illegible with use and its contract had expired. I was off to New York with a string of meetings to set up at LegalTech. Time to move to Blackberry.

My belief in the “just-in-time” approach meant that it arrived by courier less than four hours before I was due to leave for the airport. I would like to claim that it was my deep practical skills and intuitive feel for technology which made it seem so easy, but it was probably in fact thanks to a combination of Blackberry and Vodafone that it just worked. Out of the box, in with my old sim card, add a few mail account details and the e-mails began to flow.

There was no time to master the synchronisation of contacts and calendar. Skimming through my old Palm IIIx, I decided that many of the names in it meant nothing to me anyway (I don’t mean that the people were marginal to my life, I mean I could not remember who they were). Manually transcribing the key ones who were known to be still alive was a perfect use for a seven hour flight.

The Blackberry’s primary function, for me anyway, is keeping up with the e-mails and appointments. In that frantic week, I arrived with only two meetings fixed as to both time and venue, the rest being of the “see you at LegalTech” variety. Apart from the fixed ones, and the ones which just happened right there in the corridor, most were set up by e-mail a day or a few hours ahead. One was arranged with a brief exchange of messages – “I am by the main Hilton door” followed by “I am on my way”. Everyone does the same there and an ordinary phone would suffice for much of it, but the ability to choose between e-mail, phone or SMS and to drop the appointment into the same pocket-sized box perfectly fits the frenetic activity at LegalTech.

Telephone, e-mail, contacts and calendar all from one little device ought to be enough, but it does not stop there. My son and I lost our hotel on the first night. Just ask the Blackberry. It knows where you are, thanks to GPS; tell it where you want to go and you get a route drawn on the map and a list of directions of the “250 feet towards Broadway, then turn right” type. I dare say I would have found LDSI’s office anyway, but it is quite neat to watch the little blue ball which represents you converging on the dot which marks the destination.

It is perfect also for a sad information junkie like me. In our household, we barely get between courses without someone getting up to find an answer from Google before we forget the question. Now I don’t even have to get up and go to a computer. I can’t recall why it was suddenly vital to recall the name of the French actress from the English Patient on the way back from dinner. Doing so while crossing Third Avenue in the dark was perhaps not the best idea, but it took seconds and the cab drivers were kind. That raises a subsidiary question – would you take Juliette Binoche or your Blackberry to a desert island? Depends on the Blackberry reception I guess.

The laptop-and-wireless combination worked better in theory than in practice. The ambition was to update this blog continuously in the gaps between meetings – you can see the enthusiasts crouched on the floor with their laptops on their laps or occupying a table in Starbucks for hours. Lots of flaws in this plan – there weren’t any gaps, a 15” laptop, even a lightweight Sony Vaio, is a lot to lug about, I am too old to crouch on floors and I don’t have the gall to tie up a cafe table for hours. I managed one post about an event I attended before I left the UK, and another setting the scene. The rest is written retrospectively.

Skype, too did not get as much use as I had envisaged. The theoretical capability to make a free phone call to other Skype users (such as my wife) fell down because of a wildly fluctuating wireless connection at my hotel. 54 Mbps fell to 24 and down to 5, then back up to 54. We gave up. Perhaps a constant connection is one of the things you get from a grander hotel.

We used to manage quite well without all this stuff, but it is hard to think how. Does the technology drive the heightened activity or is it a product of it and a reaction to it? That brings us back to e-disclosure. It is of course technology which has enabled the production of all the electronic data, and technology increasingly provides the means of controlling it. At the moment, the solutions are gaining ground on the problem, that is, the new filtering and analytic tools are making it more feasible and cost-effective to make meaningful selections from vast data collections. In the same way, my Blackberry makes it possible to fit more into the day.

That is not enough, though, in either example. A go-faster disclosure application should be the servant to a better process, not a substitute for it. My Blackberry’s value should lie in doing what I do more efficiently, not just in cramming more into the day.

The “better process” in disclosure process involves a tighter focus on what is important – what are the issues, what facts must be shown, what is needed to prove them, what documents support or undermine any party’s case? The Blackberry is an aid to marshalling what is important, not a means of deciding what is important. The same is true of litigation support tools.


About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
This entry was posted in E-Discovery Suppliers, eDisclosure, eDisclosure Conferences, eDiscovery, Legal Technology, LegalTech, Litigation Support. Bookmark the permalink.

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