Before you entrust your clients’ disclosure documents to a litigation support provider, it is worth getting to know a few, and that means real human contact, not just reading up about them. Meetings do not have to involve sitting round a table in an office.
The week in which the EU has purported to abolish the acre is a good time to mention the 450 acre field in which I hold meetings when people come and see me. It is called Port Meadow and lies a couple of minutes from my front door. The most recent such visitor, last week, was Andrew Sieja, CEO of KCura, whose Relativity document review application is making its mark.
More on Relativity in a moment. What is the value to me of meeting CEOs of litigation support providers and software companies? Why do they want to meet me? What is the best context for these getting-to-know-you conversations? And why does it matter in a business which, stripped of its fripperies, comes down to applying some technology to a pile of data so that lawyers can fight about it?
Let’s work backwards and look first at why you might want to get to know some e-disclosure providers. There is more to litigation support than just throwing some data into a black box and pulling out the purported answer. For one thing, it is your clients’ data and you, the lawyer, are responsible to the client and to the court for its handling. For another, it is not just “data”, but the documents on which your clients will fight. If you outsource the handling of the clients’ documents, you ought to know something about the people to whom you delegate the document-handling. One reason for that is that when the next (or maybe it is the first) big e-disclosure case comes your way, you may not have too much time to acquaint yourself with the people to whom you will entrust the documents. Another is that most of them are pleasant and interesting people.
What is the best way of getting to know people and communicating with them? In the last few weeks, apart from the general run of e-mails, phone calls, BlackBerrying on the train and meetings round conference tables, I have spoken to audiences from lecterns, flown to Washington for a forum, had a “meeting” via a video link to New York, used VOIP for conference calls, had lunch in a country pub – and been on a five mile tramp round a big field with a dog and the CEO of an up-and-coming litigation software company. They all have their place. The real luxury is having the time to talk around the subject. We do not leave enough time for mulling over things, as Barack Obama apparently agreed with David Cameron last week.
So what is there to talk about, and what is in it for me and for the people with whom all this high- and low-tech conversation takes place? The subject, inevitably, is electronic disclosure. My role is spreading information about it and you can only spread what you collect. Much of that streams into my office from the web, the product of Google searches or press releases, but you get a very ivory tower view from that and, furthermore, one which anyone else could get who has the time and the interest to read up about it.
More useful is what you get from speaking to people. I spent much of last week, the first for a long time free of any pending speeches, speaking to people, catching the gossip and the differing viewpoints which a wide range of players have, and giving some (but not all) of it back as commentary.
What does litigation company A know, that it has hired a team of scanning and coding people at a time when paper is supposed to be on the decline? How come litigation company B has been seen eyeing up larger premises when everyone else is looking closely at their overheads? Why has the Australian e-Disclosure Practice Note been postponed at the last minute? Is it right that Product X is not all it is cracked up to be? What, if any, are the implications for the UK of US Magistrate Judge Facciola’s Opinion in US v O’Keefe about angels fearing to tread in search technology without an expert in tow? And what does this all mean for the Midlands litigation partner who has just had the White Book flung at him by judge with a surprisingly good knowledge of the difference between a forensic and a non-forensic collection of data?
And this, of course, is what it is all about. The purpose is not the achievement of some notional status as a guru, nor an abstract devotion to the overriding objective in CPR 1.1 and the search for justice. Turning myself into a kind of Exchange & Mart for e-disclosure thought and practice has the hard-nosed aim of helping to make litigation a cost-effective commercial remedy in which clients, courts, practitioners and suppliers have a common interest.
We have a perfectly serviceable set of rules, a legal training system and professional standards which are second to none, judges with a real interest in making their courts an efficient provider of justice, and a thriving supplier community. They are missing each other in the dark, at least so far as the use of technology is concerned, and my role is to try and join up the dots.
I first heard of KCura about four years ago. The word then was that it had some exciting technology – “exciting”, you will appreciate, is a relative term even for those of us who like this sort of thing – but that it needed time and more resources to break through. The name popped up every now and then, but its potential as a force in the market only became clear when DLA Piper bought it. DLA has more than its fair share of highly-regarded in-house experts in the field of electronic disclosure on both sides of the Atlantic – Browning Marean, Jonathan Maas, Reza Alexander and Mary Pat Poteet – and other firms take note of what they do. I was keen to know more and glad of the opportunity to meet Andrew Sieja – which is how we came to be walking round my large open-roofed meeting room.
My interest in any provider of litigation software or services is not really the minutiae of its functionality. It is not part of my role to recommend anything, merely to discover and make known what exists, to make introductions between suppliers where it helps, and to make it clear to lawyers – and to judges – that there is a wide range of suppliers whose services are tuned to solving the problems raised by disclosure.
What interests me about a provider is not whether their products or services are the best but whether their web sites, explanations and demonstrations help prospective users to understand what can be done for them. The aim is to make suppliers allies in the collective fight to help lawyers see what is possible. A poor demo or a lousy web site – and there are a few – does not just lose that company a sale, it can put people right off the whole subject.
KCura’s web site is a model of clarity, including an on-line demo of Relativity which helps illuminate the wider subject. I commend it to you, and if Andrew Sieja is as entertaining a demonstrator as he is a companion on a long walk, you will not find the demo a waste of time.
To the extent that this discursive end-of-week post has a theme, it is one that I reiterate when I speak to lawyers or judges about electronic disclosure. Disclosure sits at the cross-roads of two technical subjects, the provisions of Part 31 CPR and the technology without which modern volumes of documents cannot be handled proportionately. No-one engaged in promoting e-disclosure, and certainly not me, pretends that it is an easy subject to grasp.
The worst time to assess what is involved is when that big case has hit you, and the very best way of finding out in advance what the alternatives are is to see some products and get to know some suppliers. That is as true for the Midlands litigator ducking the hurled White Book as it is for multinational law firms.