“When does the full LegalTech blog get released” asks a reader, obviously impatient with my chatty discursive wanderings around the subject. I assume he expects a full narrative, starting at Session 1 on Day 1 and ending with an extended analysis of the wider implications for the industry of everything announced, propounded or concluded during the three days, with particular reference to their implications for the UK litigation support industry.
Well, I am sorry to disappoint, but that is not what I go to LegalTech for. You can read all about those things elsewhere, as indeed can I. What you can’t do elsewhere is have all the meetings and the conversations, catch up with the gossip from the UK, the US and Australia, and sniff the breeze. I had four fixed meetings in one morning, but mostly I bumped into people in bars or corridors, hailed or was hailed by people I knew – and, in some cases, by people I did not know who read this blog.
It may be fun, but there is a serious business purpose in being there, whether you are a supplier, a litigation support manager, a potential buyer or a commentator. I went with three main purposes – to tell anyone who would listen about what is happening in the UK e-disclosure market, to catch up with non-UK people with whom I correspond through the year and, odd though this may seem, to see people from London. What I learn there also feeds my writing about the market, not necessarily in a hard-edged, newsy way but in a soak-up-the-vibes way which no amount of reading can give.
I come away, as I did last year, wondering why more UK lawyers don’t go to LegalTech, and perhaps my best service to them is to try and convey why they might find it valuable. That purpose is obviously premised on an assumption that anyone in the UK is actually interested in conducting litigation cost-effectively in an age when the expense of handling electronic documents and data has become the biggest single factor in deciding how much litigation there is, at a time when corporate clients are adding e-disclosure skills to their list of beauty parade questions (or taking the work in house), and when the courts are beginning to expect lawyers to comply with the requirements of the Practice Direction to Part 31 and the proportionality obligations of the overriding objective.
I am going to assume that the reader is a UK lawyer in the position of the one who said “We know we have got to deal with electronic disclosure but we don’t know where to start” after a well-attended meeting addressed by me and HHJ Simon Brown QC in Birmingham recently. At these meetings, whether they are for judges, firms of solicitors or in-house lawyers, I generally summarise the difficulties posed by large document populations, outline the rules which relate to disclosing them, and identify the wide range of solutions and service providers available to handle them.
So far so good. But what does the audience do next? The web sites of all these providers are not aimed at the novice. They inevitably stress the company’s abilities in handling the biggest cases and the heaviest document populations with big teams and the most sophisticated tools. Sometimes you can’t find them at all – Jonathan Maas of DLA Piper was once reduced to digging out the mobile number of someone he had once met because he could not find the phone number of one of the bigger players in the market in its vast, sprawling global web site.
You could go to one of the London exhibitions and wander from booth to booth gaping at identical-looking screens from rival suppliers whilst trying not to let the eager salesmen catch your eye. If you can identify some likely-looking suppliers, you might arrange to go and see a few of them, or ask them to come and see you and then, perhaps, you are making a start. You will be conscious, though, that your choice will have been a largely random one and, although there are many others following the same trail, you will feel rather alone, especially if your partners or directors do not share your conviction that this is the way to go. You will also clock up a lot of hours.
There are three short-cuts. You can go to some conferences – these are, at last, beginning to focus on UK needs and on everyday experiences rather than just big US cases. You can engage an independent consultant – me or Andrew Haslam for example – to help you through the maze. Or you can go to LegalTech and do it all in one go – see the products, meet almost anyone who supplies or works in the UK market, go to conference sessions if you want to and, more importantly, get a feel for what is happening.
A long and expensive way to have a geeky week, you might think (and if you don’t, your partners, both the office kind and those at home, probably will).
Let’s deal with the obvious objections:
The LegalTech web site looks over-technical
It certainly does – all those keynote speakers and heavy-looking topics on a complex grid of parallel tracks are designed for the knowledgeable converted. Ignore them, save yourself the fee and take a free Exhibit-only pass. I went to one keynote presentation (moderated by Patrick Zeller of Guidance Software – very good) and to one of those organised each year by well-known London provider Trilantic – where important topics are taken with a light touch.
I can’t stand the ordeal-by-vendor-booth
I don’t know why, but the vendors at the LegalTech exhibition do not pounce on passers-by as they do in London – and this in a city where the shop-keepers rush out and grab you if you slow down on the pavement. Perhaps there is some ordinance to that effect; may be they are pacing themselves for a three-day event, reserving their energies on Day 1 and too knackered to care by Day 3.
You know Genghis Khan’s boast, that a naked virgin could walk the length of his empire carrying a bag of gold? Well, nudity apart (please), an e-disclosure virgin could carry his or her purchasing power the length of the LegalTech exhibition halls and not feel at risk of unwanted importuning, but have consensual discussions with any supplier he or she chose. If you want some one-on-one time away from the bright lights, the Hilton has plenty of dark corners for cosy chats.
It all sounds frantic
It is, but there is somehow time for everything, perhaps because the days are long and everyone is within walking distance and focused on the subject. You can fit a lot in between a breakfast meeting and dinner, and that’s before you go on to the Irish Pub. If it sounds too much like pleasure, well, it is, but you would use up a lot of chargeable hours setting up the equivalent amount of discussion and demo time back home.
Why go to New York to see London-based people?
Why go to Ascot to see race-horses? You could go round each stable and see them there. The point is not just that you can sweep up a lot of them in a single trip, but that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Perhaps this is because all sides are there (except the UK lawyers, that is). The international consulting firms, the software companies, the legal support providers and the smaller consultants like me, to say nothing of the London-based litigation support managers from the more advanced firms. Like it or not (and I do) most software and a lot of the thinking emanates from the US and it is important to see what happens there.
The point is that, between them, the people at LegalTech know pretty well all there is to know about electronic disclosure. Just the people I saw (and I do not know everyone by any means) could act as a kind of informal directory of suppliers and industry experts. They were all gathered within a few hundred feet of each other for three days in February and will be there again next February. Any UK lawyer who wanted to find out more about the subject could acquire more information in those three days than could be gleaned from any amount of meetings and research in London. They would find out as much in a bar or a corridor as in a formal session or a vendor booth.
That is why we all go.
How could I justify the expense to my partners?
It sounds just like a jolly outing doesn’t it, and your already sceptical partners or directors may look askance at your proposal to visit LegalTech next year. Jolly it may be, but most of those there are working extremely hard, whether they are trying to sell, to choose something to buy or to keep up with the news. The work ethic is catching, and if your mission is to short-list some software or to decide which provider to instruct, you will do it more efficiently, and on a more informed basis, by going to LegalTech.
Nor, frankly, is it very expensive. My return air fare was £276 and the cost of a hotel room, though not cheap, is softened by the favourable dollar rate. Given the value of winning litigation work and doing it efficiently (or, if you are an in-house lawyer, the cost of instructing litigation lawyers) the investment is small.
There is one catch – there is a year to wait, and my informed guess is that many firms and in-house lawyers will not be able to wait a year before they have to tackle at least one case which requires them to be up to speed on this subject.