When the Director of Global Practice Technology & Information Services at Shearman & Sterling describes what we are doing in the Birmingham Mercantile Court as “leap-frogging the US in e-disclosure”, you begin to think you might be getting somewhere.
George Rudoy, named as the 2007 “Champion of Technology” by Law Technology News, was kind enough to make the observation after hearing Mark Surguy of Pinsent Masons, His Honour Judge Simon Brown QC and me speak at ILTA Insight 2008 yesterday. It matters because it is very much part of our aim to bring the standards of large international firms to smaller UK players, and to identify the best practices of any jurisdiction and fashion them to serve the interests of civil justice across the UK. The ambition does not end with importing ideas from elsewhere; we hope to make a big enough mark on the way litigation is run that others will want to follow us. Judge Brown has made a start on that with his spirited debate on Broadway in February (see UK judge flies e-Disclosure flag in New York) .
What happens in the Southern District Court of New York and in the Mercantile Court in Birmingham may be on different scales, but the principles and the technology are the same. What was discussed at ILTA (the International Legal Technology Association) yesterday is of importance in both places, as well as in Australia.
I will report separately on what we and others said in the formal litigation support parts of ILTA. It has been a packed couple of days and it seems worth capturing some of it, if only for the benefit of the sponsors of my e-Disclosure Information Project, who are entitled to know what I am doing to move things along. If it sounds a bit like Jennifer’s Diary, well, meeting people and giving and receiving information is very much a part of the mission. If it sounds like a lot of fun, it was, but there was serious work done as well. If it sounds remote from the needs of a mid-sized provincial UK law firm, it was not. Indeed, such a firm might be surprised at the amount of attention turned on their needs.
As I was setting off, a message came in from a local Law Society asking if I would moderate an e-disclosure session for them. I turn down no such opportunities, whether they be in Manhattan or the Midlands, and this one has been apparently been convened on the strength of something said at one of our earlier meetings. En route to London, a message came in with an unsolicited opportunity for using hitherto untapped publishing medium for extending our reach, one which I must keep to myself for the moment.
First stop was the offices of Epiq Systems so that Judge Brown could see DocuMatrix. I have the firm view that judges cannot be expected to make orders for proportionate handling of disclosure without some idea of what the technology can do. The idea is obviously not that they should be champions of any particular product, merely that they can understand what the options are, and self-start on it if none of the parties seems aware of the possibilities. Mike Brown at Epiq gives a good demo, and is very much in tune with two things I preach constantly – firstly that the technology scales down very well if firms would just pick up the phone and ask, and secondly that this is very much a business where the people relationships matter as much as the technology.
On then to the ILTA speakers’ dinner. A welcome gate-crasher was Browning Marean of DLA Piper LLP in San Diego. Browning has a passion for this subject which transcends jurisdictional boundaries and which acknowledges the human factors in amongst the commercial ones. He and Judge Brown have a common interest in costs-control and, again, the mid-sized firms of the West Midlands and their clients might be surprised to learn that the doyen of US disclosure experts and an English judge can spend most of a long dinner discussing their needs.
As I have said, I will write separately about the formal parts of the conference. One of the things stressed in the closing speeches was the importance of the mutual support and knowledge-sharing which ILTA was formed to promote. The benefits come as much from the gaps between sessions as from the sessions themselves and the beneficiaries are not just the industry insiders sharing insiders’ stories and making new connections, but users and would-be users who want to know about the subject. This conference had a good ratio of social time in amongst the heavy learning.
My role is as much to meet the players as to talk about the precise scope of Part 31.6 CPR, the responsibilities of parties and judges, and the relative irrelevance of comparative algorithms in concept searches, all of which got a good airing yesterday. There is more to this than having a pleasant time amongst agreeable people – I want to know what they are doing, and to find out what developments might be harnessed to the cause of cost-effective e-disclosure. Suppliers can be recruited as agents for change if they know what developments are taking place in the courts – as Judge Brown says in his talks, the judge is the end-user of all this e-disclosure activity, and suppliers need to know as much about his needs as those of the actual clients. The clients, in turn, need to know what the market has to offer as well as about the new rigour which they are encountering in the courts.
The output from that will appear here as I follow up the connections made yesterday. The e-mails from people who have newly heard about the pending changes started coming in before I left. A look at the web site statistics when I got back showed that 43 people had looked in two days at my new post What do people actually do in e-disclosure, which suggests that I have tapped a vein which is of interest to people. Identifiable visitors include two of the world’s largest law firms, one of the Birmingham firms who came to one of our talks there, two local authorities, and a European telecoms company. Most of the UK ones are in London, but Hull and Aberystwyth dropped by.
If you want to know more about the e-Disclosure Information Project, and whether you are a supplier, a judge, a law firm or a litigating corporate, please contact me. I would be pleased to hear from you.