I have to take back what I said yesterday about my rail trip to Liverpool. I had expected the usual shambles, those delays with risible explanations and insincere apologies which are the norm on our overcrowded, badly-run rail network. In the event, the trains ran on time and the connections went smoothly. The new government’s warning to Network Rail directors about their obscene bonuses will obviously not keep their noses out of the trough, but may force them to pay some attention to the poor sods who have to travel with them.
A point did arise about my journey, however, which relates directly to something which came up at the e-disclosure seminar which was its purpose. It concerns transparency of pricing and the potential user’s uninformed expectation as to the costs of engaging any litigation software or services provider. My expectation from the railway bookings web site was that my return ticket would cost £247 (a three-hour journey, followed by three hours performing on my feet, followed by a three-hour journey back, warrants a first class seat, away from the unwashed masses dribbling dogburger slime down their chins whilst they boast loudly of their sex lives on their mobile phones). Face-to-face across the counter, however, the ticket seller told me that, by adjusting my departure time a little, I could get the ticket for £134, and now that I go back and look more closely, I see that this information was buried on the web site.
The point is that I only found out the true cost by speaking to somebody, and it was very much lower than I expected. This came up during the seminar when Cats Legal and Epiq Systems made it clear that many of the jobs which they do are for relatively small matters and for fees which are low relative to what can be achieved and what can be saved. The only way lawyers will find that out is by ringing up a supplier (or preferably more than one), outlining the task, and asking for an estimate. Armed with that estimate, they can make proper decisions as to the most proportionate route, decisions which inform internal strategy as well as discussions with opponents and the court. You need this information also when the boot is on the other foot and your opponents argue that proper electronic disclosure would be too expensive. That may be true, but if they have not sought quotations, how can they make that assertion?
The event was organised by Professor Dominic Regan and hosted by the Liverpool Law Society. I opened with a summary of the relevant parts of the Jackson Report, the proposed practice direction and ESI Questionnaire, and the cases. Dominic Regan amplified on some of these points and reported that he had just hosted a LexisNexis webinar on Part 31 CPR which had been seen by 1,430 people – a record, and an indicator of the perceived importance of this subject. I closed the first part of the seminar by quoting the section from Lord Justice Jackson’s report which recounts his own sight of e-disclosure applications and his conclusion that judges and others would benefit from seeing what was possible.
That served as the introduction to the second stage of the seminar which was led by Bill Joss and Diarmuid O Donoghue of Cats Legal and by Chris Booth of Epiq Systems. I had made it clear in opening that I was uninhibited about introducing commercial players into discussions about the law and the practice. The two could not realistically be separated and, I said, those who sponsored the e-Disclosure Information Project did so for its educational reach. They would, of course, be very pleased to hear from anyone who had heard them speak and, indeed, it seems likely that anyone listening who wanted to take the subject further would have on his or her list the people who had spoken about it
Cats Legal’s focus was on general consultancy, its paper-handling capability, and the processing power of Digital Reef. Epiq Systems‘ core offering is its litigation review application DocuMatrix, but it offers the full range of consultancy, collections, scanning, coding and hosting. There is overlap between them, and events like this are a good opportunity to convey that the result for the buyer is a mature and competitive marketplace.
This format juxtaposes all the elements – we move from Sir Rupert Jackson’s observations on technology, through HHJ Simon Brown QC’s strictures in Earles v Barclays Bank about the value of electronic documents as evidence and Master Whitaker’s words on the role of software solutions in Goodale v Ministry of Justice, straight to an explanation and illustration of the tools themselves. Just as importantly, the potential users see a human face behind the web sites. As I found when buying my railway ticket, you can get a very different answer face to face.
My thanks to all those who participated and to the Liverpool Law Society for hosting the event. I am keen that we should do more of these around the country, and Dominic Regan or I will be pleased to hear from any firm, chambers, company, local law society or other group which is willing to act as host.