The potential audience for these musing ranges from large London firms with Terabytes of data for review down to much smaller firms with modest volumes and budgets to match. A report of a two-day, high-end conference in London will resonate more towards the higher end. Its gist, however, is that what the biggest firms and their clients are doing today, the next tier down will be expected to know about tomorrow.
Technology has the potential to be a leveller as between firms, and conferences like the one I describe here are a good place for UK law firms keen to find out what the problems are with regard to electronic disclosure, what solutions exist to meet them and, perhaps more importantly, to meet other people who are grappling with the issues from one side of the fence or another.
There was a good turn-out for IQPC’s Information Retention and E-Disclosure Management conference last week, but few of the attendees were lawyers in private practice. Is it the cost? The two days out of the office? Or the assumption that there is nothing to learn?
These high-level conferences are not cheap, and it is hard to commit in advance to being out of the office for two days. Neither are insuperable burdens in these days of training budgets and BlackBerries. So perhaps the law firms assume that there is nothing to learn. Unless you are one of the very biggest firms, or already specialist in document retention and/or electronic disclosure, I think this assumption is misplaced.
We heard some very big corporates talking about what they have done – the problems they had grappled with, the solutions they came up with (that is, the processes, procedures and the human elements, not just the technology) and the benefits which followed. I am not suggesting that MegaPharm Inc. is going to transfer its legal business to Midsize & Partners on the strength of a chat over coffee and buns between speaker sessions, but if Midsize & Partners wants to sound credible when asked to advise its mid-sized clients about document retention periods, it could do worse than spending a couple of days soaking up what others have done.
It is perhaps worth emphasising that this whole document retention and records management area is new territory for many people, both the corporates and those who purport to advise them. Much of it is not lawyer work at all, but lawyers are at risk of being marginalised from the whole process as the smaller corporates start facing up to the challenges.
The same applies to electronic Disclosure, not least because the two subjects flow naturally into each other. We had there the two leading judicial proponents of the efficient case management of disclosure and there was nothing theoretical about their subject matter. One of them, Senior Master Whitaker, has commissioned work (from me amongst others) on a technology questionnaire which will compel parties to apply their minds to electronic sources of information as soon as defences are served. The other, HHJ Simon Brown QC, has produced a standard draft directions order which will force parties (and judges) to focus on electronic disclosure – they must deliberately strike the paragraphs out if they do not apply to the case.
There was a representative section of suppliers there as well. Two of them (Guidance Software and Epiq Systems) are sponsors of my E-Disclosure Information Project and are, ipso facto, interested in the broader issues of electronic disclosure beyond mere selling – and the rest are pretty approachable as well, whether multi-national consultancy firms or London-based litigation services providers.
There was plenty of time for networking and chat which is where one picks up useful pointers. Sure, this customer-supplier relationship is much like any other when the work comes in – you send them instructions, they do some work and send you a bill, and you write them a cheque. It is not quite like sending out some photocopying though – there are options and alternatives, and a range of ways of skinning the cat which it is worth exploring at relative leisure, and not just when the problem arises. Besides – do you like these people? Will you trust them with your clients’ work when Master Whitaker or Judge Brown sends you away to give disclosure electronically, or when the client sends you some PST files on DVD and asks you to review them?
To revert to the subject of records management and document retention, it is more than probable that many lawyers under-estimate the scale of the problem, and therefore the scope for helping to solve it. I got an e-mail from a judge once who, although well aware that even medium-sized companies had a lot of documents to handle, had not understood the true scale of the task facing companies when they embarked on the litigation which came before him. He had been stuck on his train – wrong sort of managers on the line or some such excuse – and had found himself with nothing to read except the newspaper’s supplement on record management. It was that which opened his eyes to what the issues are. You get the same effect at these conferences.
Attending a conference like the one I have described is a very good way of finding out things like this. Why don’t more people come?
The next such event is one run by CLT Conferences on 18 June. It is all e-disclosure – the rules, the technology, some law and some practical advice, given by litigation support managers, suppliers, a barrister, and me. The aim is to give you a leg-up, an overview of what is involved and what is available to help. We are going to show a review tool (DocuMatrix) as part of a soup-to-nuts survey of what can be done. Seats at the conference are not expensive. Why not come?