Browning Marean of DLA Piper US died a couple of days ago. He had spent much of the year undergoing treatment for oesophageal cancer. When we spoke on Skype recently (oh so recently) he was excited at events coming up in Dublin and Prague which would be the first time I had seen him for months. At ILTA in Nashville last week, his many friends heard of his sudden readmission to hospital and stopped each other in the corridors to ask for the latest news. No-one else in eDiscovery – no-one else I know anywhere – could get the level first of concern and now of grief as he has had.
Craig Ball wrote a warm appreciation of Browning which you will find here. We visited many places together – the US of course, but also London, Dublin, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Prague, Munich, Macau and, of course, Oxford. He would ring me up with his flight arrangements and make me promise to “break bread” (one of his warm phrases) with him – not that I needed encouragement. Even now, when I get out of airports in distant places, I still expect him to be the first person I see at breakfast on the first day of events, if not in the bar the evening before.
I was introduced to Browning Marean at a party in London in, I guess, 2007, by Jonathan Maas. I can picture the setting, the place in the crowded room, the circle of people pleased to keep the company of this man with a Father Christmas twinkle, the one-liners of a stand-up comedian and the serious interest of an eDiscovery expert. I had recently reached the conclusion that I could not talk and write about UK eDisclosure without understanding what went on in the US – how else could one rebut the frequently-met argument that “eDiscovery is something Americans do, and look what expense it causes” – and Browning was to become my guide.
Browning had something which few US eDiscovery people have – a deep knowledge of and respect for the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure coupled with the ability to stand outside the practices which had developed around the rules and see their defects. Here is what I wrote about one of his panel sessions at LegalTech 2008 (my second):
Browning began by recalling that he had had to end last year’s session by apologising to “three whole countries, all four of the Quad Cities of Illinois, the entire US judiciary and one judge in particular” for comments made during the session. None of that this year, not that I heard anyway. Unfortunately.
Here is one of my photographs of that panel, moderated by George Socha and comprising, in addition to Browning, Vince Neicho, Laura Kibbe and (half-hidden) Michelle Mahoney, eDiscovery stars all:
I tweeted it yesterday with this comment…
…and Michelle confirmed that it was indeed Browning who had set the panel and the room laughing. Christina Ayiotis observed of my picture set that it allows us “to remember how he was always smiling”.
He knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He went out of his way to introduce me to anyone he thought might be useful or interesting – most of them were both. At that 2008 LegalTech session, he did more than have me shake hands with individuals; he made me stand up and talk to a packed room. I was in the front row, my coat, camera, laptop and papers on my knees. Vince said something, and Browning said “I think Chris Dale may have a different view on that”, forcing me to dump all the clutter, stand up and turn to talk to the large audience. I was not best pleased at the time, I have to say, until I realised what he was doing – he wanted to give me the opportunity to be heard and to make myself known, something he has done for a generation of people who might not otherwise have come forward.
On the way out, a stranger said “I know who you are – you’re the guy who writes that blog”. If I can point to a moment when I raised my ambitions above my own jurisdictional patch, that was it. Browning did that for me, as he did for many others.
We started doing things together. Some he fixed up – he roped me in to the annual Thomson Reuters eDisclosure conference in London and later to the London version of the Today’s General Counsel events. Others happened because we were separately invited by conference organisers, sometimes as a double-act – we co-chaired a 2009 event in Singapore for example – and others where the invitations were separately made and where we may or may not have been on panels together. When he moderated sessions there was usually little of the earnest preparation which precedes so many panels; Browning would have a scrap of paper covered with words, lines and circles and the whole thing would flow with that mix of learning and laughter which made it such a pleasure to listen to and to participate in. I often hauled him in at short notice, or none at all, to supplement my panels, knowing that he would have something of value to contribute on any subject.
My flying miles were a fraction of his, but we shared a lot of platforms and dinner tables, and tramped a lot of tourist miles together. I came to trust his navigational skills – I recall one evening in Sydney when we wanted to find a particular restaurant whose name had escaped us; Browning almost literally sniffed the air before pointing towards a shopping mall beyond which was the very place we had in mind.
After one event, I wrote this:
Browning Marean of DLA Piper US is one of the few US lawyers who understands the difference between eDiscovery messages which travel and those which do not, and who is able to discriminate between messages of universal application, messages which apply only within the US, and messages which represent the necessary compromises which must be made where US discovery meets more restrictive rules elsewhere.
His secret lies partly in the comparative observations derived from his own travels, but more significantly from the fact that he bothers to read and understand local rules and culture before opining on the merits of the American way.
He may have been everyone’s kindly uncle, but he had a critical eye and a sharp turn of phrase for those who fell short of the minimum standards of competence. He would tell in despair of a room full of lawyers who did not know the basic rules of legal hold and preservation more than a decade after Zubulake. Among the many phrases which he used often was the one which goes “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.
His wish to keep adding to his knowledge went much wider than eDiscovery. Walking through a park in Sydney, he said “Just explain the rules of rugby to me. Oh, and cricket”, something I saved myself from (I am no sportsman) by pointing to the large bats which hung upside down overhead; by the time we had finished with the bats, the opportunity to show my ignorance of these non-Amercian sports had passed. He recommended books he had read. I took him to an old stone Oxfordshire church and he often recalled his pleasure and wonder at its age and beauty. Whilst I generally stick in my writing to words which cross the ocean, I am not above slipping in the occasional one which is either meaningful only in the UK or which is apt but obscure. Browning would look them up and then ring me; it became a kind of game, albeit one which may not always have been helpful to others less determined to get the message. He filled my head with any amount of US cultural details which I would otherwise have missed, as well as stories of his time in the navy. A lot more we acquired together as we went to places new to both of us.
And that is before the exchange of eDiscovery / eDisclosure knowledge. We sent each other cases and commentaries, and our breaking of bread was usually accompanied by questions and answers about our respective jurisdictions. I will miss his deep but lightly-worn learning, his humour and his friendship.
I have been looking through things I wrote about him. In one article I said
I envy the easy way in which he delivers hard messages in a lightly humourous manner.
As always, he sweetened the pills of hard fact and dire warnings with humour and a lightness of touch which makes them easy to swallow.
Two last things to close with. At an event in Carmel in 2011, someone mentioned Browning. US Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck said “Everyone just calls him by his first name. Like Madonna”.
And here is a picture of Browning and US Magistrate Judge David Waxse, microphones to their lips, at an event in Hong Kong.
I gave it the caption (I wish you) Did It My-y-y-y-y Way
No one will do it Browning’s way now.
Brilliant!. You captured Browning perfectly, touchingly and with heart. It does him justice. Thank you.
Thanks Craig. I hope he can read what we say about him and know he was loved
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Thank you for your post. I am so sorry to hear about Browning’s passing. My memories of his visit’s to Dublin conferences are also crowded with laughing delegates as he spoke effortlessly and with subtle humour and skill about complex legal and transnational e-discovery issues.
He was an extremely talented human being who loved talking to people, and finding out how other people lived and worked.
I am truly sad to think to hear of his passing.
May he rest in peace.
Thanks Pauline – another who remembers laughter when they think of Browning
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Chris: truly well done tributes to Browning by you and Craig Ball. We all will miss Browning.
Thank you for the kind comment as well as for the Madonna observation
Well done Chris. Excellent piece. As I am sure is the same for his many other friends, I am deeply saddened and devastated by the death of this great man. It was Browning who gave me the confidence for my first public-speaking slot many years ago and I have enjoyed working with him so much in the years that followed. As I mentioned to him in response to one of his thoughtful updates during his period of Ill health, one could imagine him speaking the words he wrote and he was as inspirational in very poor health as he was when at his brilliant best.
Thank you for the kind words about my dad! He would be so touched.
It was a privilege to know him and to have the good fortune to spend so much time in his company
Kelly, I have been thinking of you, your mom and your brother ever since I heard this sad sad news. Brown remained a friend for 30 years, from the first day I went to work at Gray Cary and despite job changes and moves around the country with AT&T, he always stayed in touch. He was a great mentor and an even greater friend and colleague. His family meant everything to him. Much love, April Rodewald
A beautiful tribute to the man we all admired and loved. We raised our children in the same church, traveled with him, and partied. I will forever remember him with Pat, all of us drinking limoncello in the center of Tuscany!
His infamous one liner about his job – “if they knew how much fun I was having, they would fire me.” I miss him terribly already. Michael Arkfeld
Well said, Chris. What always amazed me about Browning was how he could charm a room and three minutes later be having the most personal conversation with you at the coffee bar. A great guy. I’m so glad he and I got to spend some time together this summer.
Really a touching tribute. Its an honor to know of the work and the man that he has been..
Thank you Chris for writing such a fitting tribute to one of my closest friends. Browning had a profound impact on my life and I learned a great deal from him. For good or ill, he was the first person who asked me to speak at an e-discovery event and he encouraged me to make e-discovery my career. More importantly, we talked about everything and anything: politics, ships, planes, hotels,restaurants, books, movies, ethics, parenting, speaking, technology,etc . . .
So much of the wisdom that I pass off as my own, I stole from Browning (though he would generously say that we learned it together). I cannot believe I will not get another chance to race him to see who will be first to breakfast or the TGCI conference room.
He was a great lawyer, an amazing teacher, and even a better friend.
Thanks David. Browning’s knock-on effect – by those whom he encouraged to carry the banner – will be very great
Such a perfect capture of such a great man Chris. I, like David, was an early “student” of Browning’s and cannot imagine where I would be without his guidance, encouragement and mentorship. He encouraged this crazy red head to speak my mind and not care who didn’t like it – and some would argue, haven’t stopped since! Well Browning, even though you would never share one with us, salute from your chocolate martini misfits! We will always raise our glass to you and hold you in our hearts.
That’s just it, Laura – “guidance, encouragement and mentorship”. Thank you for adding this
Thank you Chris for penning such a wonderful tribute to a truly incredible man. Browning was a true beacon for so many of us, and his absence is a loss to us all.
Browning was always amiable and the consummate gentleman. We will miss him. Peace and best wishes to his family.
Browning was a dear man and an irreplaceable educator in the discovery world. Each picture of him warms the heart, but makes me sad that I’ll never experience his warmth again. Well done, Chris
Browning was one of the most amazing men I ever had the pleasure of knowing. He was a wise and skilled mentor, a guiding force in a major industry, and a devoted friend and colleague. He will be sorely missed, and our profession has suffered a major setback. Be well my friend.
Browning was my neighbor and friend. I will greatly miss my frequent “over the fence” eDiscovery discussions and tales of his travels as he walked down to the lake.
I knew Browning so long and so well that I can’t exactly remember when we first met. It’s as though I always knew him. That was part of his gift. He had the ability to put people at ease. He listened as well as talked. He was a gentleman. He was as witty as he was erudite. He had insight and he had joy. Like many of you who have left remembrances of him here, I joined him at the dais or on webcasts dozens of times, and not once did I come away without learning something new from him or without laughing out loud at some wise and pithy comment he made. He was a great companion anytime and anywhere. I am very sad that he is gone.
At a DLA Piper conference last year, I was headed out to dinner, while Browning was coming back. We were traveling in opposite directions on an extremely long escalator, Browning was going up and I was going down. We exchanged greetings as we past, Browning with his normal beaming smile. “Here, you will need this,” he said, as he slid his umbrella down the polished steel between the moving stairs. In a split-second he had assessed that it was raining outside, that I did not have an umbrella, and he had one. I did not ask, nor did he pause to think about whether or not to lend it. He just did, without even a word about how he might get it back. That is part of who he was. Today is a sad day.
Thank you Chris for writing this thoughtful piece. I crossed paths with Browning some 11 years ago. He was on the first panel I ever spoke on and I had no clue what I was doing. He walked up to me, introduced himself and asked for the name of my “haberdasher” as he liked my tie. I think I was 28 at the time and while embarrassing now, I had to look the word up. He looked after me for several years at various events and was always available for lunch or just to talk when we would be at the same events.
I regret not being able to thank him. We all have similar yet unique stories about Browning and should do our best to use what he taught us. You will be missed.
Thanks Tom. “looked after me” and “always available” are recurring themes when Browning is mentioned. A lovely man.
Beautiful tributes Chris and Craig – thank you both for your posts, and for the photos. On the 2nd floor in the San Diego office for DLA Piper, it’s all IT and Accounting folks…and I have often joked that no lawyers have ever been seen here, except for Browning of course! Many times he would just pop down to see what’s going on…I work on Marketing technology, a vast distance from e-discovery, but he still managed to come up with people I should talk to and ideas to share. We’ve shared cab rides, walked the vendor hall at ILTA, and broken bread. Such a generous spirit, I will miss him tremendously!
That’s a really fine addition to the comments here and sounds just like him. Thank you
Browning was a great friend when we were at DLA together and was always there for a kindly word, some good advice or just someone to have a chat to. He will be sorely missed both professionally and personally.
Chris, Well said. I can only add to the tributes of Browning’s humour and light touch as he imparted his tremendous knowledge. I shared a panel with him last year in Prague and was so looking forward to doing the same this year, as it would have meant he’d beaten the cancer. It was not to be, but he leaves behind a tremendous legacy.
Chris/Craig: What a horrible shock to hear about Browning’s death but you two appear to have captured the essence of the man perfectly. To an “outsider coming in” to the world of e-discovery, he was at the same time a breath of fresh air, knowledgeable and incredibly friendly. I was on the email to him only a few weeks ago and it is hard to believe he has gone.He will be very sadly missed.
Thank you both for your thoughts on a special guy.
He was the Global Professor of e-Discovery. He apparently effortlessly made a very complicated area of the law seem simple , interesting and fun. I have many personal fond recollections of him but his mischievous sense of humour was an attribute that will stick in the memory – after one long e-Disc session in Hong Kong he took Chris and I up some back streets that US Sailors used to frequent in times past to an authentic Chinese Restaurant for a fabulous and affordable meal away from the conference hotel. He warned us not to talk to the ‘strange ladies’ lining the route as he did not want to get a UK judge into ‘colonial trouble’ again!
Chris, Perfect tribute to Browning. He made lasting impact in the field and the lives and careers of many. For that we are all greatful.
It was a privilege to know him.
A true loss. Browning was one of the kindest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. As Ronke Ekwensi says above, “it was a privilege to know him.”
A life well lived, but too short. I reach out to his family, people I never knew, with my sympathy for their loss.
I shared the dias on several panels at LegalTech and the now defunct Glasser LegalWorks with Browning, for over a decade or two. I marveled on such occasions at how a man of his stature would would relate to me (and others) as if we were above him in status — I would watch Browning smile warmly and introduce himself to others at such conferences as if they were celebrities — though it truly was the other way around. A genial giant. A patient man, always thoughtful, usually smiling, never harsh.
How many of us thought of him as a special mentor? Perhaps thousands! I surely did. And, he was indeed special. A man of great wisdom, some of it technical but much of it homespun, Browning radiated character and class without ever being intimidating.
My eyes misted over as I learned the news of his passing. Not too many in our profession could have that effect on me. He left me better than I would have been had I not known him. I will now try even harder to emulate the admirable characteristics Browning embodied. What more can I do? What more can any of us do when a great man passes?
Browning was a gentleman.