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.