This is my third (and last) article about ILTA 2010 Strategic Unity which closed in Las Vegas last week. My first article was a scene-setter, designed to give the flavour of the event and to explain why I thought it important for the UK to know what is going on in the legal technology market. The second article was largely devoted to the two sessions which I attended, on defensibility and on cloud computing. This article is about some of the people, companies and products which I came across.
I am not here solely concerned with my home market, the UK, but that well illustrates the growing need for lawyers to know something about the range of legal technology providers. The cumulative effect of the new practice direction and electronic documents questionnaire and of some recent cases (the ones I characterise as the “incompetence cases”, turning more on sloppiness and ignorance than on fine points of law), is that many UK lawyers will make their first acquaintance with electronic disclosure during the coming year. It is not, of course, that the problems have been invented by the cases or by the changes to the rules; most potentially disclosable documents are electronic, and few cases can be conducted proportionately by printing and reading them all.
If many UK lawyers will make their first call to a provider of litigation software or services for the first time over the next 12 months, their US counterparts will be making similar calls. The US case law continually raises the bar, not because it is binding on other courts, but because it redefines the standard of care expected of lawyers generally; clients expect more for less in the US as in the UK; the technology evolves continually; every player snipes at its rivals’ costs models, but competition keeps overall costs stable at worst; companies merge with and acquire each other, and individuals move from one provider to another. It is hard enough to keep up even if you already have experience of electronic discovery.
Many of the summaries which I have read are, inevitably, tinged with the writer’s own interests in mind – if you sell a particular type of solution or specialise in a particular area, then that is what you look for at ILTA and, unsurprisingly, that is what you find. My own selection is more serendipitous, turning more on people than on their products. Before you knock this personal approach, consider this: without saying that all these products are the same (which they certainly are not), it is right to say that their similarities exceed their differences, that many are extending their range to right and left of their starting points and thus overlapping with a wider range of competitors, and that pricing differentials are narrowing. How then does a buyer choose between them? More often than they admit, the final selection comes down to whether they like and trust the person trying to sell it. If there is no killer feature which exactly matches your requirements, and if the overall price is much the same, then the only differentiating factor is whether you like the people.
I am not going to write about all the individuals, nor set out their companies’ latest developments and initiatives, but you get some idea of the breadth of talent on show from a mere listing of some of the providers I spent time with:
AccessData (the new owners of CT Summation)
Alvarez & Marsal
Data Management Corporation and Global EDD Group, (both part of Asia Legal Technologies ),
Ernst & Young
Orange Legal Technologies
Thomson Reuters (who have recently acquired CaseLogistix)
Xerox Litigation Services
Four of those are British companies (if you count the fact that the multinational Ernst & Young was represented by Jonathan Maas of its London office). Most have a presence in the UK either directly or via partnerships, and in many other jurisdictions besides. Between the links above and those which appear down the side of this page, you have as wide a range of choices as you could want. This is a mature and competitive marketplace, and no one can assert that e-disclosure/ediscovery is too expensive for their case without having made contact with a selection of these companies. Your clients read these pages too.
It is not just the technology suppliers who gather at ILTA every year. I go also to share views with those whose role (whether or not they also supply services) is to comment on and analyse the market. Craig Ball kindly hosted a dinner whose guests included Browning Marean, Tom O’Connor and me. Next time, Tom suggested, we should record the conversation as a legal technology podcast. I spent time (but, as usual, not enough time) with David Cowen of The Cowen Group, whose surveys are by now well established as indicators of market trends, largely via recruitment statistics and other investment criteria, and whose educational breakfasts attract good audiences. I had a drink with Katey Wood of technology analysts The 451 Group – her ILTA report E-discovery after the flood went to press just in time to let me off having to do a survey of the actual news. Analysts do not give away their hard-won information, and much of what I know is confidential and stays that way; there is, nevertheless, much useful information to be traded informally, not least in the form of introductions to people known to one or other of us – you do not have to sit for long in a bar before someone useful or interesting comes along.
Alvarez & Marsal, best known just now for its leading role in clearing out the Lehmans stable, hosted a dinner whose guests included George Rudoy of Shearman & Sterling and, from Australia, Michelle Mahoney of Mallesons Stephen Jacques and Beth Patterson of Allens Arthur Robinson; it was one of those invitation lists which looks random but actually included a good set of cross-links, ranging from shared participation in international conferences to hockey (don’t ask). Australia occupies a bigger place on the world legal technology stage than you might think – a subject to which I will return.
Apparent randomness underlay other gatherings which in fact contained multiple cross-links. I will spare you the details all of the personal, professional, geographical and technological connections in favour of the simple assertion that the legal technology market is well served by this interconnected web of people who meet up, at ILTA, LegalTech and elsewhere, to trade ideas and make introductions. For those who sell products or services, this is an indirect way to generate business – meeting someone today may result in new work in six months’ time; for people whose currency is information, like David Cowen, Katey Wood or me, the mere fact of being there, talking and listening, meeting and introducing, is the job.
It is not all sitting around in bars chatting to nice people. I served my time tramping the exhibit floor, had some proper meetings and, where I could, made introductions with a serious short-term intent not just out of mere courtesy. I also, as I have reported, went to a couple of educational sessions. I did not see much in the way of screen-shots, slide shows or demos (it is only a four-day show and there is not time for everything) but an observation which I made about one of them led to what was, for me, the top comment of the show: “If we don’t have that feature by LegalTech, you can take me out and shoot me”. Given that particular company’s development record, I won’t bother to take a gun to New York.
ILTA ended with a dinner at which its Distinguished Peer Awards were handed out in ceremonial style. Michele Mahoney was Practice Management Champion. Guidance Software won the Innovative Vendor Award and DataCert the prize for Technology Implementation of the Year. These awards are not sent up with the rations – a committee of judges reviews the awards applications and interviews the short-listed nominees. The awards reflect the judgement of peers.
I found out what it is like to be on the receiving end of a demo and a hard sell. Jonathan Maas took out his iPad at lunch and started showing me things. I was hooked in a couple of minutes, by an E&Y presentation – not by the content, you understand, but by the elegance of the flow relative to an otherwise identical stodgy PowerPoint (I mean PowerPoints generally are stodgy, not an E&Y one in particular), and by the fact that the flat screen is so much less intrusive than a laptop. My breakfast that day had involved responding to the rather open question “What is happening in UK e-disclosure”, and I could have dealt with that and finished my food if I had been able to operate an iPad slideshow with one hand whilst eating with the other. You need a long lunch, let me warn you, if Jonathan starts showing you everything he uses an iPad for.
He and I stayed on in Las Vegas for a day after the conference – worth seeing, but not worth going to see, as Dr Johnson said of Scotland. In an upmarket casino-cum-hotel, an over-dressed Cleopatra posed elegantly with Mark Antony; at the other end of the street, an under-dressed woman writhed rather less elegantly in a cage above a bar. They seemed somehow to epitomise the extremes in this curious city.
ILTA 2011 is at Nashville, where we would have been this year but for the floods there. In between, we will have ILTA Insight in London in April, a one-day event for the UK market. I don’t promise you Cleopatra, but this is one of the best events in the London calendar for those interested in legal technology.