ALM and ILTA brought their second Asia Legal Technology Summit to Hong Kong in March. I make no apology for reporting on this event several weeks after it took place. I went on a long trip to the US almost immediately after it, and UK events have kept me busy since. The output includes photographs and video as well as words, and these take time to process. Besides, these big events have significance which lasts beyond the day itself. As it happens, I am back in Hong Kong this week for another legal technology / eDiscovery event; the fact that Hong Kong can support two such events so close together is itself interesting.
As with last year, the event was held in the JW Marriott in Hong Kong, one of the more attractive venues for such conferences. Welcoming speeches were made by Henry Dicker, CEO of LegalTech (right), and by Barry Wong of sponsor Consilio (below). Both emphasised the increasing opportunities which Hong Kong offers to those with expertise in electronic discovery and other areas where legal services matter.
Consilio, for example, is a global company with offices and data centres in North America, Europe and Asia whose growth in AsiaPac reflects the fact that big clients, wherever their formal corporate headquarters, conduct business everywhere and, increasingly, in Asia. To some extent, the US heritage is valuable, not least because of its business, regulatory and technology leadership; that must be combined, however, with an understanding of local culture and practice and a sensitivity to the fact that US commercial imperialism does not necessarily travel well in undiluted form.
A recurring theme at the conference, therefore, was that business and legal offices in AsiaPac are a) much the same as elsewhere in many ways, b) are different, for all sorts of cultural reasons which are not easy to detect and c) can benefit from the experiments and the learning which has gone on elsewhere. You need feet on the ground as Consilio has, not the occasional parachutist from the US, for this to work.
This emerged, for example, in a panel about predictive coding called Analytics and Predictive Coding: changing landscape for investigations and eDiscovery. The moderator was Beth Patterson (left), Director of Applied Technology at Allens in Sydney and the panellists were Akiko Miyake, a director in the Technology Practice of FTI Consulting and Jonathan Wong, an associate at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in Hong Kong (both pictured below). Those of us who have been attending predictive coding panels since the world began were familiar with the arguments and the illustrations; what was interesting was the conclusion that, whilst AsiaPac businesses may be conservative, they were able to jump over much of the concern about predictive coding which we have seen in the US. Akiko Miyake said that she had found much more willingness to accept the technology locally than had been predicted.
The “same but different message” appeared also from a panel which I moderated called Cultural Awareness & Cultural Norm Challenges in “Asia” – putting “Asia” in quotation marks emphasising that there is no one set of characteristics derived from geography which define cultural and business norms in the various and different countries which make up Asia.
The panel was made up of people whose jobs require them to lead, encourage and persuade others to adopt new practices, to use new technology, and to learn new skills – Stephanie Abbott, Director of Knowledge, Learning & Development at Mayer Brown JSM, Yann Chatreau, Head of IT, Asia Pacific at Allen & Overy, Kelly Pang, KM Manager at Simmons & Simmons and Beth Patterson, Director of Applied Technology at Allens in Sydney. The key quality, I decided after listening to them, was diplomacy; you can, as they say, lead a horse to water, but something more is needed to persuade it to drink.
My other panel was was about the proposed new eDiscovery Practice Direction in which I was joined by Menachem Hasofer of Mayer Brown JSM (photograph below). Menachem Hasofer has been closely involved in the drafting of the PD which is modelled on the UK eDisclosure Practice Direction which I helped draft. Menachem explained that the Hong Kong version will be less prescriptive than the UK one, limited as to the cases to which it applied, and adjusted as seemed right as time and circumstance suggested. The Electronic Documents Questionnaire would be a simpler document than the UK one; the first use of it in a case would be a broad one, with more detail added as the case progressed.
From discussions with other lawyers outside the conference, I get the strong impression that the rising generation of judges in Hong Kong are alert to the importance of bringing their civil procedure rules in line with developments in other jurisdictions and in making Hong Kong an attractive venue for dispute resolution. Much of the disputes business relates either to arbitration or to the incursions of civil and criminal authorities, not least US regulators, with relatively little of it being home-grown litigation. Singapore is perhaps the most active jurisdiction when it comes to claiming a share of this work, with Dubai and Qatar as other obvious contenders. The UK Justice Minister, Chris Grayling, and the UK Ministry of Justice mouth aspirations in this direction whilst pursuing policies apparently calculated to have the opposite effect – the latest development is last week’s extravagant hike in court fees. The UK Minister seems hell-bent on destroying the civil justice system and the people from the UK Ministry of Justice are useless paper-shufflers with no understanding of either the legal or the commercial imperatives invoked in keeping the UK’s place as an attractive venue for disputes. Hong Kong has much to play for.
The packed programme found room for Big Data, mobile devices, BYOD, and information governance. In the closing session, Shane Jansz from Nuix and Marilyn Bier from ARMA addressed the increasingly important subject of privacy and specifically the existence of personally identifiable data in corporate data sets; it is important because all those other things – Big Data and the crossover between personal devices used for work and work devices holding personal data – are increasing just as people are becoming more concerned about privacy. Nuix took the lead in uncovering the enormous amount of PII which lay hidden in the publicly available Enron data set, used by everyone for many years as a demonstration set. Nuix uses it, rightly, as an illustration both of a discovery problem which only technology can solve and of an information governance imperative which demands policies as well as technology. It was a good umbrella subject to round off this event.
If my focus is necessarily on disputes and discovery, ILTA embraces a much wider range, covering all those areas where legal practice and technology come together and where human and policy considerations matter as much as law and technology. This came out clearly from a separate event which ILTA held on the day following the Asia Technology Summit, sponsored by HP Autonomy and held at the Hong Kong offices of DLA Piper. They kindly invited me to help introduce the day and to get the tables to report back on their discussions.
The hardest part about this was persuading the participants to break off from their discussions to share the outputs with the rest of us. I generally approach these things by strict adherence to timetable in order to get through the agenda. That mattered less in this context than it would at a conference – if the participants have interesting things to talk about amongst themselves then ILTA’s task is achieved, whether or not they get to the end of the original agenda. The sharing stage thereafter suggested that this was the right course.Taking the two days together, ALM and ILTA are clearly filling a need with their annual event in Hong Kong. I would say also that the firms represented at the two days’ events are extremely lucky to have people of this calibre in Hong Kong. I reminded them as I left that ILTA’s big annual conference is being held in Nashville on 17-21 August. They would, I said, benefit enormously from attending ILTA and finding out what is happening in the US and other jurisdictions. I perhaps should have added that the other delegates at ILTA would have much to learn from Hong Kong.
There are some photographs of the first day here. Over the next few days, I will publish some of the videos which my son William and I made during the event.
Photographs by Will Dale and Chris Dale