An Englishman Abroad – a personal account of LegalTech 2011

There are plenty of helpful articles about LegalTech 2011, just closed in New York, and about what was on view there. This is a more personal account, aimed at encouraging more UK lawyers to go next year for a concentrated immersion in the subject of electronic disclosure / discovery – the problems, the solutions, the practice and the technology. You can also have a good time.

Chris DaleI was a bit taken aback when the young lady said “You Englishmen always look as if you have stepped out of bed looking like that”. She had just been admiring my suit notwithstanding (or perhaps because of) its style, which belongs 25 years ago when it was made for me. My very conventional black-and-white spotted tie had aroused similarly positive comments. Now she was saying that I looked as if I had slept in my clothes. What she meant, it transpired, was that Englishmen look as if a suit was natural attire, not just something formal put on for show. I am not sure either that that is generally true of the English or any less true of anyone else, but I know how to take a compliment gracefully.

You could not miss the UK contingent at LegalTech whatever they were wearing. It sounds odd now, but the reason I first went to LegalTech five years ago was the calculation that I could see more UK providers and litigation support people in less time and for less expense than by any number of trips to London. I mention this as part of my annual suggestion to UK lawyers that three or four days in New York in February would give them a better knowledge of electronic disclosure / discovery than they will get in a year at home. You still hear in London the rather silly objection that “electronic discovery is something Americans do and look what a mess they make of it”. I am no enthusiast for the American way of litigation, but neither are many Americans. We can borrow the best of their thinking, and their technology, but only if we understand it. There is more to FRCP e-discovery than sanctions and excess, just as an Englishman is more than a double-breasted suit and a spotted tie (there is the accent as well, as we will see below).

This does not purport to be a comprehensive survey of LegalTech and of the technology displays and sessions which comprise the formal part of the show. These summaries by Sean Doherty, Nick Patience and Katey Wood will suffice for that and The Posse List’s Electronic Discovery Reading Room has Applied Discovery’s index of post-LegalTech articles. Although most providers with a UK presence turn up somewhere below, I have no intention of reciting everything I saw nor name-checking everyone I met, and nothing is to be inferred from inclusion in or exclusion from my quick summary. I aim merely to indicate what you can get through in three days if, as a corporate counsel or external lawyer, you come to LegalTech.

As with litigation itself, you cannot assess benefit without knowing its cost – that is what proportionality means. My outlay was £600 in air fares and the equivalent of £950 in hotel bills. I could have halved that by flying in a cheaper seat, by not choosing a 6th Avenue hotel (the Warwick) and by staying just for the three days of the show not six.

Views, tarts, snow and paintings

I usually take one of my sons to LegalTech, but this year my wife, Mary Ann, blew her green credentials by coming over for the weekend before the show. This helps me remember that there is a big city outside the hotel doors, something I am apt to overlook on my travels.

Central Park from Rockefeller Tower

We went up the Rockefeller Tower, the snow in the foreground compensating for the indistinct horizon.

Fruit TartsFruit tarts and coffee fuelled us for a hike across Central Park made by the snow into a vast playground and an abstract art show. Most of the Guggenheim was closed but the first few paintings – by Pissarro, Cezanne, Gaugin, Renoir, van Gogh, Manet, Monet, Rousseau, Seurat amongst others – comprised the most concentrated set of beautiful things I have ever seen in one room, if you can call Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning spiral (an “inverted ziggurat” if you want the technical term) a “room”.

Trees In Central Park

More pictures here

Back at the Warwick, I incautiously put my head round the bar door, to find LDM Global there in force. LegalTech 2011 had begun.

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and a didgeridoo

Commonwealth BrunchThe first event on Sunday was Trilantic’s Commonwealth Brunch (see The secret diary of a LegalTech virgin by CY4OR’s Bethan Williams for an account of this). The photograph here and those on this page give you the general idea of what has become a LegalTech tradition which. although organised by Trilantic, is vendor-neutral territory – the sharp-eyed will spot Recommind, eMag, Millnet, CY4OR, LitSavant, eDiscovery Tools, e.law, DMC and  SophiaSearch amongst those round the table. Fortunately, half of what I ordered failed to appear – I say “fortunately” because I went straight from there to Epiq Systems‘ lunch at the Mandarin Oriental, easy winner of the “Best meal at the highest elevation” award of the week. By 6:00pm, the clans were gathering in the Hilton bar.

We went from there to a party given by Equivio and KPMG and then to an evening hosted by Nuix, whose Australian origins were confirmed by the prizes which Eddie Sheehy drew from the hat – boomerangs, a beautiful blue didgeridoo, Ugg boots (don’t tell Ugg, but my voice recognition software transcribed that as “ugh”) and an enormous surfboard. I wanted the didgeridoo almost as much as I did not want the surfboard (my bags were overweight already and we don’t have much scope for surfing in Oxford), but the closest I came to it was having it dropped on my foot by the winner – you would need to be the size of an Australian, I thought as I hobbled away, to have something that heavy as your national instrument. We rounded off the evening with an extremely pleasant Anglo-Irish-Oz-US dinner kindly hosted by Craig Ball.

LegalTech – the context

Since my purpose is to explain LegalTech to those who do not know it, I had better describe the context. At its centre is the huge Hilton lobby, with two bars beyond it and the slowest elevators in the world – you can cross the road and be in your room in the Warwick or the Sheraton in less time than it takes for the Hilton elevators to arrive. A further powerful incentive to avoid them is provided by the audible video ads from which there is – literally – no escape, the answer, apparently, to the question “How can we maximise the number of people who hate the very sound of our name by the end of the show?”.  Above the lobby are two vast floors given over to vendor booths and session rooms ranging from ballrooms the size of churches to more intimate spaces. Above that are conference rooms taken by the big vendors; others take suites in the Hilton or neighbouring hotels.

The crowds ebb and flow through the lobby all day – one could just stand there (indeed, would have to stand, since the convenient circular seat in the middle has been removed) and meet everyone. The names on the badges are just too small to read easily (tip for ALM: copy ILTA’s practice of putting the forename in very large letters, which gives you both a clue and a breathing space, as well as sparing the ladies the indignity, or depriving them of the pleasure, according to taste, of having men gape at their chests rather than their faces). Americans are famous for spotting every opportunity to make an honest buck, which is presumably why the Hilton closes its café at 2.30pm whilst thousands (literally thousands) of people are milling about looking for somewhere to chat who would willingly pay for their vile coffee (though perhaps not actually drink it) as the price for having somewhere to sit.

Hitting the ground running with demos and meetings

Starbucks 6th Avenue does not open till 5.30am so I had to wait for the coffee and cigarette which kick-start my day. After that, and a farewell breakfast with my wife, the action began. I spent an hour with FTI, keen to get a preview of Ringtail 8. Its redesigned user interface, new search tools and visual analytics, including those inherited from Attenex and now fully integrated into Ringtail, show that innovation can coexist with longevity.

Next up were CY4OR and 7Safe, rival UK companies in the same space in the UK market and together the subjects of an article on marketing which I wrote before I left (see New web sites and a case study make good marketing). 7Safe took me to see Venio Systems, one of the few new products on display and one of which we will hear more.

Moderating a Thomson Reuters session

I had to leave the Venio Systems demo early in order to get to the Thomson Reuters session called Technologies lawyers should be using today – I do not go to many sessions at LegalTech, but I was moderating this one, so turning up was not optional. The subject was broader and softer-edged than I usually cover and, equally unusually, I did not know the panelists except for Jeff Friedman of WestLaw CaseLogistix with whom I have had many hours of discussion over the years.

You need three things in front you when moderating: 1) your panelists’ names 2) the title of the session and 3) the finishing time, to which I will add a fourth on the strength of a tweet during the session which read:

What is it about the English that make talking about technology and the law much more pleasing?

I don’t know the answer to that one, but am obviously glad to hear it. It presumably applies also to the Scots, given Richard Susskind’s standing in the US.

The panelists themselves were primarily focused on how to introduce technology to the doubters at the most basic level rather than in specific technologies. If that seemed to be aiming low, my experience is that we miss a lot of targets by shooting over their heads – have you ever tried conveying the subtleties of predictive coding to people whose idea of sharing calendars is passing their diary across the table, or explaining that whilst, yes, a PDF of a spreadsheet is indeed electronic, it falls short of the expectations which you had when agreeing to exchange electronic documents? If LegalTech were all experts talking to experts then we would have just a closed loop of increasingly knowledgeable people. That is why we have a track devoted to “more introductory technology topics”.

I will blushingly keep to myself some of the tweeted comments about the moderation (well, all right then, the words “doing a heroic job” and “working very hard” turned up). Two of my comments were reported on Twitter: “technology at the office ceases to amaze when people can do even more amazing things at home with consumer technology” and “technology is an adjunct to the brain, not a substitute for it”. My thanks to Thomson Reuters for sponsoring this session and for inviting me to moderate it.

More demos

There was no gap before my next assignation, a long demo with AccessData – long, because the acquisition of the Summation product set gives AccessData one of the widest ranges in the market. I usually decline demos at LegalTech – I can see them from home without missing the scores of conversations which happen spontaneously at this show – but it made sense to pick this one off as a live show. Even then, we left CaseVantage over for a future date. It is worth giving this reminder that whatever the value of going to conferences, most software companies will demonstrate their products over the web.

I also got a quick look at Clearwell’s new concept search feature, because I happened to be passing during a gap between their more formal demonstrations and was promised (as was the case) that it would take five minutes. The reports to which I have linked above include comprehensive lists of what else was worth looking at.

Dinner with Huron-Trilantic

Huron-Trilantic’s dinner that night was memorable not just for the food and good company but for the icebreaker at the beginning – we each had to introduce ourselves and identify the first concert we went to without our parents. If anyone else in fact took themselves off to hear Tchaikovsky and Beethoven, they kept quiet about it, and we got a list of pop and rock concerts going back to the 1980s which, curiously, produced only one overlap amongst nearly 40 people. I said that I was in my mid-50s before I attended such an event, that the band was The Phoenix Fall and that my son Charlie was the drummer. Marketing people are never off duty.

Epiq Sessions

Tuesday began with two sessions by Epiq Systems, the only ones I attended apart from those I moderated. Epiq’s Greg Wildisen moderated a panel called Navigating the challenges of cross-border regulatory investigations with a heavyweight panel from some of the world’s best known law firms – Slaughter and May, O’Melveny & Myers, Allen & Overy and Fulbright & Jaworski. Laura Kibbe of Epiq ran a session called Managing a global review while minimising risk with a team which included US Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck and the UK’s Senior Master Steven Whitaker. An animated discussion arose during this session about the conflict between co-operation to minimise over-disclosure (on the one hand) and the risk of showing more of your hand than you intend (on the other) with the judges in one corner and the terrier litigator David Kessler of Fulbright & Jaworski in the other. The discussion deserves more space than I can give it here, and I will come back to this.

This session was notable for something else – it was the first time I have met Neil Mirchandani of Hogan Lovells in London, despite the fact that we have both been active in the (not very large) London e-disclosure world since it began.

A moment of quiet discussion

I have one annual oasis of intellectual calm at this otherwise frenetic show, when I go and see Nicolas Economou, CEO of H5, and Julia Brickell, H5’s Executive Managing Director and General Counsel. To say that these meetings call to mind the Oxford tutorials of my youth (right down to the furnishings of the Warwick’s suites) is entirely a compliment. H5 will roll up its sleeves and give hard-nosed commercial input with the rest of them, but there is a challenging thoughtfulness about it which seems far removed from the mad scramble taking place across the road.

Dinner with the Electronic Discovery Institute

I had dinner that night as a guest of the Electronic Discovery Institute and Guidance Software. The Electronic Discovery Institute was founded by Patrick Oot, Anne Kershaw and Herb Roitblat and is dedicated to research and education across the legal and technological aspects of electronic discovery. Its most recent publication is the Judges Guide to Cost-Effective Discovery which you will find, with other papers, on the publications page. The Electronic Discovery Institute had that day announced the launch of a Technology assisted document review study. The venue for the dinner was Del Posto, the food wonderful and the guest list a roll call of judges, leading commentators, and lawyers from industry and private practice with a shared wish to improve the litigation process and the fixed intent to try.

If I have one regret about the length of the dinner (over 5 hours door to door), it was the number of things I had to miss to attend it, from Ernst & Young‘s talk about their implementation of Relativity to what was declared universally to be the best party of the show, given by Recommind at the Top of the Rock on the Rockefeller Tower.

Planning the Marean / Socha / Dale show in London and other UK events

The third day began with breakfast with Browning Marean of DLA Piper US and George Socha who have been co-chairmen with me of the Thomson Reuters e-Disclosure Forum in London each year. The objective was to start planning for a conference merging the best elements of the Forum and an event conceived by His Honour Judge Simon Brown QC which we hope to put on in the Inner Temple later in the year. The idea is to take the best of current e-disclosure thinking into the heart of legal London (think Mahomet and the mountain here) with an event wholly devised by those taking part in it. I will bring you more on this as the ideas develop.

I have other events coming up in the UK, with Iron Mountain, Symantec and ZyLAB and I grabbed time with my US contacts of these companies to bring them up to date on what was being planned.

The e-Disclosure Play

The main event of the day, so far as I was concerned, was the Plenary General Session: the View from the Bench. This took the form of a play or, rather, a series of scenes, which I wrote and moderated and for which the cast comprised His Honour Judge Simon Brown QC, Specialist Mercantile Judge, Birmingham Civil Justice Centre, Honorable Elizabeth D. LaPorte, US Magistrate Judge, US District Court, Northern District of California, Honorable Andrew J. Peck, US Magistrate Judge, Southern District of New York, Master Steven Whitaker, Senior Master of the Senior Courts of England and Wales in the Queen’s Bench Division, and Craig Ball.

Judicial Play at LegalTech

More pictures here

We got a good audience in one of the largest rooms, who laughed in the right places and asked intelligent questions at the end. The tone was deliberately light-hearted, as befits the end of a long conference, but the distinguished panel made serious points as well. Who could ask for more than to put on his first off-Broadway production with a cast of this calibre? My thanks to Epiq Systems and Huron Consulting Group who supported this event.

The End

LegalTech winds down quickly after lunch on the third day. The stands come down, the crowds disperse and the big dinners give way to small groups in quiet cafes. I attended at three breakfast tables in quick succession on Thursday morning (I put it in that cumbersome way to make it clear that I did not actually eat at all three) with Applied Discovery, Daegis and ZyLAB, followed by an impromptu lunch with three more (e.law, Digital Reef and 7Safe, in parallel this time). The point here is not to show what a busy bee I am (that is what keeps me able to fit into my suit) nor to show how well-connected I am (we are not exactly talking Debretts here) but to emphasise that those UK lawyers who are concerned about handling electronic documents (and their number grows constantly now) but who are unclear about which providers to approach for help could have got to know a good number of them by coming to LegalTech and just mingling. In addition to those with a UK presence whose names have cropped up in the narrative above, you might have bumped into (that is, I did) Grant Thornton, First Advantage, Autonomy, and PwC.

Sure, there is a lot of formal stuff which is less daunting (and which is interesting beyond the US context) than may appear from the agenda. To the new visitor the exhibit halls look like an infinite series of lions’ cages (you are the prey and the doors are open) or a street in Basra (can you get to the end without being shot down?) but most of them are manned by welcoming and unpushy people whose keenness to show you their software matches your own need to see it, and without the formality of an appointment at your office or theirs. Much of the useful discussion, however, takes place in bars, over tables and in quiet corners, which is where you begin to understand how these people can help you and to decide whether you like working with them.

If you tire of that, then you are in central Manhattan, with all that has to offer. Why not come to LegalTech next year?

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About Chris Dale

I have been an English solicitor since 1980. I run the e-Disclosure Information Project which collects and comments on information about electronic disclosure / eDiscovery and related subjects in the UK, the US, AsiaPac and elsewhere
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