Two weeks at Office-by-the-Sea in Cornwall for projects and preparation

This post began as an apologia for the fewness of my posts over the last three weeks. I don’t actually feel very guilty about it and achieved, among other things, a project – a short video about Browning Marean which you will find below. Nevertheless, in case anyone wonders why my various sites have been short of commentary, reports and announcements, this is what I have been doing. It is all good preparation for what promises to be an interesting Autumn.

You may have noticed that my generally steady flow of eDiscovery- / eDisclosure-related posts on this site and on tailed off over the last three weeks. That is not because there was nothing to report – far from it – but because I was in Cornwall, followed by a week with three events which kept me from my desk.


DeskViewWe go to Trebetherick, where my wife, Mary Ann, has been going since she was an infant, taking a house big enough to be Office-by-the-Sea for me while being filled with whichever of our children wants to come and other visitors. Mary Ann and the guests went off on jaunts all over Cornwall. I stayed put for the whole fortnight. The video below begins with a zoom sequence which shows a place as close to paradise as you can get.

Stuck up in our hall is a cartoon which Mary Ann cut out 20 or so years ago showing a businessman on a seaside holiday with the punchline “Only another six days to go”. That is not in fact my view of holidays generally. I spend enough weekends sitting at airports or on planes, staying in lonely hotels and eating at Starbucks, not to feel too guilty about a few days away, but what I find difficult is being out of the stream for a long period when everyone else is at work. For the most part, I can work from anywhere; the only downside was having to turn down three speaking invitations which I would rather have accepted.

A video project

The main purpose of my September break is to look above the daily round of eDiscovery industry announcements and the dictatorship of the dictating machine, and tackle a project of some kind. On last year’s Cornish holiday, my son William and I built a new website. This year, the aspiration was to make a video involving more than just talking lecture-style to a camera, and to take it through the editing process to production. Usually, William does the filming and editing. He wasn’t around this year, and I can’t guarantee that he will be always available when I need him; it is time to learn to do it myself.

Browning Marean’s memorial service took place in Escondido, California, while we were away. I had hoped to go, but we worked out that it would take longer to get from Trebetherick to Heathrow than from Heathrow to San Diego. A better idea, we decided, was to make a video about Browning on the day of the memorial service, simultaneously combining remembrance with a learning project. That is what I did. The result is here:

The first hard part was having to lug all the kit around myself, without a strapping 23 year-old to help. For the filming itself, I have an iPad wifi controller for the camera, which helps make sure that I am actually in the shot. Adobe Premiere Pro is a seriously complex piece of software, but it has been around long enough for a large body of help to exist on the web, enough to answer specific questions. I don’t have the time (or more accurately, I don’t find it easy to make the time) to learn stuff like that in my real office; it is easier to set aside the time at Office-by-the-Sea.

Metadata and an information governance project

The other planned project, barely started by the end, was to refine and add metadata to some of my many thousands of photographs. The need for this became clear when I wanted to collect some photographs of Browning from the years over which we did things together, and spent half a day looking for them. It will not escape you that this is effectively an information governance function, getting rid of stuff which has no use and adding value to raw data to make it more useful. How sad, you say – he can’t even have a hobby like photography without treating it as a data management problem. I plead guilty to that, not least because I added 500 photographs to the collection without going more than a mile from the house.

When you can get sunsets like this:


…and birds like this:


…without actually leaving the premises, who needs to wander far?

A place to mix photographs and narrative text

I also started a new web site to display them. I was late to the realisation that Flickr sometimes displays advertisements in one’s photograph collections, rather down-market ones at that, many of them for alleged cures for unsightly body defects as you used to find in a Victorian magazine. I don’t want my beautiful pictures interrupted by ads for weight-loss and baldness.

I like Flickr for many things, but its defect, apart from the advertisements, is that there is no place to put a story around the pictures – sure, you can give a description of each of them, but that is not quite what I am looking for in narrative terms. The result is here, and while the few pages done so far are all of holiday snaps, there is a business purpose in this – I take photographs at events and need somewhere to show a mixed page of text and photographs, with some pictures in the narrative and some in a slide show. This is not perfect, but it is better for my purposes than any existing on-line product.

Posts and articles and a stand-off with an editor

I cheated a bit by taking a collection of completed articles with me. My account of the various subjects discussed at ILTA was too long to publish at once, so I split it into discrete topics and released one every day or two on this site.

I wrote an article for publication elsewhere, bringing me my usual stand-off with an editor, a breed I usually manage to avoid. The job of an editor, so far as I am concerned, is to suggest inclusions and omissions, to impose a word-length and deadline, to pick up typos, and otherwise STFU. This one quietly changed things in the final version, replacing “which’ with “that” several times, probably because the author of Microsoft Word’s grammar-checker – a scientist one assumes – said so. I really don’t give a toss what formal arguments there are about “which” versus “that”. I had chosen a word and someone else had presumed to change it (while also scattering some commas around, apparently at random). As always, I refused permission to publish until the changes were reversed, and swore never again to submit to an editor (I expect I will, next time on certain agreed terms).

Back to the fray

We began this fortnight with a resolution that this would be the last time we block-booked two weeks out of my diary in September. We ended by deciding to rebook for next year. There is a serious point here about how one works, especially in a busy market in which the flow of interesting material never dries up. There is room for real holidays, even for the self-employed, but it is very much harder to make space for work things beyond the daily routine if you just stay in your office.

The challenge, in my case, is how to find new and better ways of presenting information and attracting new audiences. The nuts and bolts stuff of rules and cases – and I’m keen on nuts and bolts – inevitably relies heavily on text-based materials; audiences sneer at PowerPoints but then demand some tangible materials, and that almost inevitably means bullet points and lists of cases at least at the core.

I will do as many law firm talks as the calendar allows, not least because they offer opportunities to hear what the lawyers say rather than merely throwing information at them. What is equally interesting is devising ways of reaching more audiences than I can travel to, bearing in mind that my catchment area extends to any jurisdiction where eDiscovery is required. You can’t devise interesting ways of doing that if your days are filled with webinar notices and new product reports, important though they are as part of the function of disseminating information. Two weeks out of the mainstream, with no travel, a view like that, and a release from the daily grind, gives one an opportunity to think more widely.

Back in the swing

RTFR2I did two of my RTFR (Read the F* Rules) talks to law firms immediately on my return from Cornwall, together with a panel on preparing for regulatory risk, which left little time to catch up.

The UK procedural front is getting interesting again – one of the consequences of the Mitchell imbroglio was that many lawyers concentrated on ticking boxes and meeting deadlines, and seemed to give little thought to longer-term training and education. In the river of time-wasting post-Mitchell judgments, many (including me) missed the judgment in Smailes & Anor v McNally & Ors [2013] EWHC 2882 (Ch) (27 September 2013) whose detail makes it a kind of text for my RTFR gospel. I don’t mean that the lawyers in that case could have done with some RTFR, merely that the judgment has a lot of those building-block points in it which lawyers tend to skip past but which do actually matter. As so often, it was Gordon Exall’s Civil Litigation Brief which tipped me to the fact that Smailes has been successfully appealed

Hong Kong is also interesting – I mean in civil procedure terms not the civil disturbance which has brought HK to our news-feeds. The first day of the new eDiscovery Practice Direction saw a case worth reporting on the applicability of the PD which implies that the courts will be making use of it, and not just in the Commercial Court. I will come back to that.

There are events coming up in London, in Dublin and in Prague, each of which I want to write about in advance. Webinars loom – on information governance, on using technology to comply with Jackson and to meet regulatory demands, on US developments in 2014, and on the occasion of the retirement of a US judge. The range of subjects, as well as of jurisdictions, does not diminish.

And I have two new sponsors – APT Search and Quislex who, in their different ways, represent areas of growing interest – recruitment in the case of APT Search and outsourced review etc in the case of Quislex. These are components of eDiscovery which are at least as important as the technology.

It looks like an interesting Autumn ahead.


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
This entry was posted in CPR, Discovery, eDisclosure, eDiscovery, Electronic disclosure. Bookmark the permalink.

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