I got back late on Thursday from IQPC’s Information Retention and E-Disclosure Management Europe conference in Brussels. I was on three panels on the first day, attended several others, met or re-met countless people, and yet seemed in retrospect to have spent most of the time eating and drinking. You will forgive me if this post deals with impressions rather than detail.
It is hard to convey how enjoyable these conferences can be. The concentration of raw information and informed comment into two days is not incompatible with having a good time. No one goes just for the pleasurable side, but you do not need to be an information management junkie to enjoy it, whether in the session rooms, in the networking breaks between formal sessions, and in the restaurants and bars afterwards.
I will write about some of the sessions separately, and this post is just an overview to give a broad impression for those who have not yet attended one of these conferences. IQPC do them better than most, and months of serious planning goes into them. Of course, if your company has no electronic documents or if your litigation department clients foresee no need to sue, and no risk of being sued or being visited by a regulator, then an e-disclosure conference is not for you. For anyone else, it is a cost-effective way of catching up with what is going on, in pleasant surroundings and congenial company. If part of the appeal is hearing from those who do know about the subject – the legal, practical and technological aspects – another, and under-rated, aspect is the opportunity to mix with those whose knowledge, or lack of it, is no higher than your own.
Brussels is the cross-roads where jurisdiction meets jurisdiction. Conflict of laws, in the sense which we learnt about as students, is only the half of it (a rather important half, but only half). Cultural differences, and disparities between what we are used to in our respective systems, are just as important. In the US and UK, the collection, review and production of documents is at the heart of our adversarial systems and its principles and solutions apply equally to facing regulatory activity. It is not (as is often assumed) a problem which afflicts only very big companies and those with US parents or subsidiaries, because the rules apply to everyone and all companies (except perhaps you or your clients) have a lot of electronic documents.
European-based companies are having to make some big leaps. However flawed the US and the UK discovery procedures may be, at least we have some experience of the issues which arise. For European companies, lawyers and judges, used to systems of law which do not depend upon the handling of large volumes of documents, the learning curve is incredibly high. It was clearly a revelation to some delegates that there is no ready answer to the collision between US demands for documents and EU data protection laws. If that sounds unduly negative, it is both accurate and more useful than might appear to discover at conferences like this that there are others in the same boat.
My role is to sit on the boundary between companies, judges, suppliers and lawyers and try and identify what can be joined up – the gaps in what people know, the gulf between jurisprudential ideals and real life, and the assumptions which one group makes about the knowledge of the others which are simply not true. A lot of these gaps can be filled by listening to the experts in discrete areas. Much can be covered by simply introducing people to each other.
For me, these conferences serve multiple purposes. It is an opportunity to keep in touch with those who sponsor the e-Disclosure Information Project including, in this case, Guidance Software, Epiq Systems, Legal Inc and FTI Technology. I get the chance to speak to others I know like LDM Global, Recommind, KPMG and Altien. Companies like HP and IBM are big players in the discovery market of whom I knew little but now know a bit more. I can pick up the threads with those who are going through the records management mill, like Deepa Vijayan from Swiss Re, and touch base with experts and influencers like Patrick Oot whom I come across at pretty well every conference.
There are also people I “know” but have not met. The Posse List is one of the most topical and informative sources of information about e-discovery on its blog and on Twitter and, whilst I had assumed (if only from the volume of comment which it pushes out) that it was the work of more than one person, I knew nothing of its corporeal components. It was good to meet Gregory Bufithis who got his first report of the event out before I had got home.
All this talk of specialist skills and people who know each other perhaps makes it sound as if these events would exclude newcomers. Most of these events, and especially the two-day residential ones, work in exactly the opposite way. The sessions provide the talking points, and the gaps between them, whether the scheduled refreshment intervals or the downtime afterwards, provide an atmosphere in which conversation flows easily. The suppliers’ stands give an opportunity to see applications and talk to providers without the implied pressure which comes from setting up formal appointments. One reason, indeed, why suppliers go to these events is to find out what people do not know and what they need to talk about. Sure, they love to come across hot prospects on the point of signing up with them, but the players in this league take a long view as well. Anyone whose work touches on the broad subject, whether at the information management end or for e-Disclosure / eDiscovery, is made welcome.
Important as the sessions were, the memorable parts for me were those off the agenda. It was serendipity which formed an ad hoc group of people from Guidance Software, IQPC and KPMG plus me in a bar at 1.00 in the morning but it takes a skilful forager (thank you Christine from IQPC) to rustle up three part-drunk bottles of wine to keep us going till nearly 3.00am. There is nothing serendipitous about setting up a dinner for twenty or so in a fine restaurant just round the corner from the hotel as Sonia Perez, Marketing Manager of Guidance Software had done – mind you, if she managed the restaurant with the same mailed-fist-in-velvet-glove charm as she brings to dealing with the rest of us, I am not surprised it all went smoothly. And Hayley Crease, Lead Project Manager for Epiq demonstrated that the benefits of having a properly-staffed office in Brussels as Epiq has (as opposed to just a PO box like many others) include the ability to navigate dark alleys to a pub of the kind which has all but disappeared in England. It sold what was said to be the “best beer in the world”, a description which those brave enough to order it (which did not include me, with a train to catch) said was not an over-statement.
During my stay, I saw the most attractive waitress I have ever seen and perfomed an act which would be illegal in England. What? Oh, I see, no, no, that is a disjunctive “and”, no connection at all between the waitress and the illegal act, different nights, different places, sorry to cause confusion. You are still allowed to smoke in some bars, including the one Hayley took us to. It seemed unbelievably naughty somehow and doubly pleasurable because of it. It is a curiosity that Brussels, which to us is synonymous with petty rules, should appear relaxed, in this respect at least, compared with regulation-ridden Britain.
Brussels is in fact full of such paradoxes. Jay-walking apparently brings a fine of €750, whilst cycling on the pavement seems the norm and the use of car indicators is the mark of a wimp. Many of the central streets have self-consciously beautiful buildings but they are interspersed with others of such crass vileness that you would think that English planning officers (the most vulgar and tasteless breed in the world) had authorised them. The fierce-looking brigade of riot police assembled outside the hotel to control a march of football yobbos proved, when they took off their helmets, to include a high proportion of not unattractive ladies.
The conference itself drew attention to other paradoxes: US rules and practice which preach proportionality whilst punishing with sanctions anyone who fails to collect every last document; English rules which provide a complete code for judicial management tempered by wide discretion lying unknown to lawyers and judges alike; two world-league trading partners for whom every document request is a re-run of 6 June 1944; companies who purport to give discovery without involving their IT departments. The list is endless.
Perhaps the biggest paradox, however, lies in the disparity between the number of people who accept that information management is important and the number who are actually doing anything about it. Coming to a conference like this would be a good start.