The core of this post is my account of the LawTech Europe Congress in Brussels. If the opening wrap-around stuff about Brussels, Bruges, bureaucrats and a Belgian farm is not to your taste, you can skip straight to the heading The Conference.
Much as I enjoyed its earlier iterations in Prague, there was no doubt that the LawTech Europe Congress deserved a wider stage. This year it moved to Brussels which, if it is not yet the eDiscovery capital of mainland Europe, is closer to it in more ways than one.
It is literally closer because many of us can get to it by train, whether from London or from other parts of mainland Europe. By November, I have had more than enough of bloody aeroplanes and all the inconvenience-by-design which goes with them. My son Will and I took the Eurostar from St Pancras, and were in Brussels in less time than it takes to get from car park to departure gate at Heathrow.
Brussels the bureaucratic
Brussels also feels closer because it is the source of so much EU regulation and, of course, of all that data protection and privacy stuff which Americans think was designed just to annoy them and get in the way of the eDiscovery process. One of my panels was about that and one was about unconventional sources of data; the third, which was unexpected for reasons which appear below, was about artificial intelligence.
The infestation of Eurocrats is evident everywhere or, at least, anywhere upmarket in which these expensive creatures congregate. Stanley Baldwin spoke of “Hard-faced men who look as if they had done very well out of the war”, and Brussels is full of those who have done very well out of this sprawling, uncontrolled bureaucracy whose own auditors have refused to sign off £100 billion of its own spending. The restaurants are full of smartly-suited and elegantly-dressed women who look as if they have had a hard day regulating the curvature of cucumbers, drafting legislation to impose their personal morality on us, or scratching the back of the lobbyist who bought them lunch last week.
Bruges the beautiful
The payback for all the weekends I spend in aeroplanes is that I occasionally get to enjoy the places I visit. We took Saturday off and went to Bruges. The railway ticket machine told us we had chosen the wrong ticket – there was a cheaper one available on Saturdays. This set up an interesting contrast with our own Great Western Railway which uses its ticket machines to trick passengers into buying more expensive tickets than needed.
Bruges is lovely. We wandered its streets, ate its eclairs, and photographed its statues while church bells, incongruously, played “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”. Bruges was in German hands until its liberation in October 1918; Tommy had long stopped singing cheery songs about Tipperary by 1918, preferring grimmer ones like “He’s hanging on the old barbed wire”. How does Tipperary come to be pealing in Bruges 100 years on?
Ralph Losey was due to give the opening keynote speech on The impact of artificial intelligence…. on the search for truth and justice. To his chagrin and ours, Ralph was unable to travel. US Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck stepped into the breach and was interviewed by Greg Bufithis, managing director of eTERA Europe on some of the many topics on which Judge Peck is eloquent.
Ralph Losey was due also to take part in a panel called AI and the law – the future is closer than you think. Ralph’s absence left Janet Day on her own, and I agreed to moderate the panel as long as I was not required to show any advanced knowledge of artificial intelligence. I mentioned this, in a conversational way, to Johannes Scholtes of ZyLAB. “You do know that I am a professor of artificial intelligence, don’t you?” said Jan, and in minutes we had a full panel. On the whole I like prepping my panels, but it is good occasionally to take the high wire and do one off the cuff. With Jan Scholtes and Janet Day as panellists, this involved little risk for the moderator. It has been predicted that lawyers will take to technology-assisted review once it is no longer the latest thing; we shall see, as AI marches into legal processes.
Panel: Data Protection and cross-border issues
I then moderated a panel with the title Data protection and cross-border issues in eDiscovery with US Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck, former Senior Master Steven Whitaker, Christian Zeunert of UBS and Jeffrey Guttman of UBIC as my panel; it was easy to fill 50 minutes with informed and interesting stuff when you have a panel like that. Another panel, led by Nigel Murray, was due to cover pending developments and the Schrems decision. Our task was to talk about the practical things which lawyers need to do, both when collecting and processing data in the EU and in the dealings with opponents and the US court. The fact that Schrems has made Safe Harbour invalid makes no difference to these obligations, for anyone who thinks that Safe Harbour was a sprinkling of fairy dust absolving them from other EU restraints was doing it wrong anyway.
Steven Whitaker argued eloquently for proper use of the Hague Convention; Christian Zeunert gave us the viewpoint of a multinational corporation; Jeff Guttman talked about the role of the eDiscovery provider.
Dinner – not that you want to know about that
I think perhaps I won’t tell you too much about the dinner organised by Neil Cameron that night. Neil’s particular genius (in addition to his legal technology consulting which goes back to the dawn of recorded time or, at least, of time recording) is to identify the finest restaurant in town, to organise the table, and to get the best out of the waiters and the menu, the sommelier and the wine list. As Will observed when we were looking for somewhere to eat the following night, anywhere else was going to feel inadequate. As I say, you won’t want to hear about it.
Panel: Emerging sources of ESI
On the second day I moderated a panel called Emerging sources of ESI: the cloud, social media, and Internet of things. The panel consisted of Damon Goduto of Epiq Systems, Jonathan Marshall of Navigant, and Vince Neicho of Allen & Overy. Jonathan Marshall has a forensics background in addition to his wide eDiscovery consulting role, and he gave us a survey of a wide range of issues which corporations ought to think about proactively as well as the ways of dealing with them when it is time for eDiscovery.
Damon Goduto brought us the experience developed by Iris Data Systems and continuing now that Iris is part of Epiq Systems derived from a consulting role which embraces information governance is well as an eDiscovery process which is simultaneously defensible and cost-effective.
Vince Neicho gave us the perspective of the law firm trying to reconcile this ever-broader range of data sources with the duty to be proportionate in its management. One of his themes was that the eDiscovery / disclosure process is not to be looked at on its own; it is part of a wider information management and evidence-gathering task which begins long before the formal steps of disclosure and continues throughout the life of a case.
Panel: What can techies teach lawyers?
Jonathan Maas of Huron Legal led the closing panel which had the title What can techies teach lawyers? His panel consisted of Loren Harper of Simmons & Simmons, Luke Smith of Freshfields and Tom Spencer of GSK. Is it enough for lawyers to hire technical experts when they need them or do they need to acquire those skills themselves? If they don’t have any level of technical skill, how do they know when they need help and how to weave that help into the solution?
This was a strong panel representing diverse interests, and Jonathan Maas pulled it together well – it is no mean feat to keep a room full for the last event of a two-day conference.
The conference overall
In between all this, we did some video interviews and chatted with a lot of people. Like almost every event I have ever been to, it deserves a bigger audience of corporate and law firm delegates, but I am in no doubt that this is the event to back for the future in mainland Europe. It seems very likely that the latest developments in data protection will spur more attention to eDiscovery as companies and their lawyers realise that EU data protection has serious implications for eDiscovery and that there is a thriving community of providers who know what must be done. Frederick Gyebi-Ababio deserves praise for developing this show from scratch and bringing it to Brussels.
Home via the Ypres Salient
On the way back, we spent a night in Lille and then rented a car for a short tour of Ypres and the Salient. Most of our navigation was done with British Army trench maps of 1916 and 1917. The British gave their own names to villages, farms and lanes of the Salient and it is often these, rather than the local names, which are referred to in the books and web sites which I read about the Western Front.
You won’t find Peckham Farm on Google Maps, but that is what the British called it. This extract from a map of June 1916 shows German trenches around it. A year later, on 7 June 1917, 87,000 lb of ammanol exploded beneath it, part of the mine attack on the Messines Ridge. It is now again a peaceful farm, but with a very large pond in its fields. We barely scratched the surface of this evocative region, and will be back.
One thing we will not do again is try and return a hire car to Lille Station in the rush hour. If drinking Château D’Yqem was the high spot of Will’s new experiences, driving round (and round and round) Lille Station while I tried to map-read was definitely the pits. We made the Eurostar back to London by the skin of our teeth.
If I am still not up to date with my reporting on the eDiscovery world, then this trip, coming almost immediately after a week spent in the US, is part of the reason. Much of the time since then has been spent with Will developing my new website, partly to reflect modern design and partly as a vehicle for a more comprehensive set of resources than we have at the moment. We are also planning a set of educational videos and other training resources. On top of that, we have video interviews going back to May which have been stockpiled over the summer and autumn which we have been going through this week.
Next up is ILTA Insight in London on Thursday. I am taking part in a panel on eDisclosure with Jonathan Maas of Huron Legal, Jack Bond of QuisLex and Vince Neicho of Allen & Overy, and then moderating one on post-Schrems data transfers with Gayle McFarlane of Cordery and Jason Rix of Allen & Overy.
Then it is off to the airport for Dublin, where I am moderating the US-Ireland judicial panel at the eDiscovery 2015 conference.
If that is not quite the end of the year’s offensive, it is the beginning of the end. Only two more events to go after this week.