“What have you seen that’s new here at Legaltech?” is a stock phrase used to open conversations when you have nothing else to say. It is a formality, no more meaningful than that other stock Legaltech conversation about the weather, and it expects the answer “Nothing”. The only thing I found which was new to me this year was a rather good Orange Martini in the bar at the Warwick across the road. Everything else is steady, incremental change, which is how it should be.
This does not mean that these incremental developments can’t be interesting or important and I will cover some of them in future posts. This, and a succeeding post, are my accounts of LegalTech the show, not a portmanteau of regurgitated press releases. I like to add some value to my comments on what the PRs say, and you don’t do that well after a whistle-stop tour of Legaltech’s exhibit halls (nor, frankly, when you get back to a week’s unanswered emails).
If you want some quick points, the words “visualisation”, “cloud” and “getting lawyer eyes on key documents quickly” will summarise the more important (but incremental) developments. Each of these expressions has become debased through imprecise overuse but there is no sense in trying to invent a new vocabulary now.
I say, as I always do, that the proper course (and I mean the course consistent with professional obligation) is to see some of these software tools. There is some interesting stuff out there, both in new applications, in upgrades to old ones, in new alliances, and in discernible shifts to new approaches. The providers will bring them to your desktop; their demonstrators will, inevitably, have a preordained patter, but the better ones respond well if you cut through the script and ask your own questions. Service providers, like software companies, have a finite vocabulary in describing their services; only by talking to them can you discover what value they can bring to your and your client’s business.
Visualisation is not just a pretty face; it implies easy assimilation of large volumes with the ability to identify buckets of interest (and lack of interest), with point-and-click ways of drilling down into the detail which matters.
There was a lot of cloud about at Legaltech, now shifting to an implied assumption that it brings DIY eDiscovery – it is certainly easier than it used to be to get data in front of lawyer eyes quickly, but I wouldn’t lay off the consultants yet. Technical ease of ingestion and the so-called “self-service” model, valuable though they are, depend for their efficiency on sound input by lawyers and others at the outset. It is splendid to be able to get everything in there quickly and to use ever faster and more effective tools to slice and dice it, but that is not a substitute for serious thought before you begin about what you really need.
We are seeing a polarisation between behind-the-firewall applications and those offering cloud solutions. That division is neither new or absolute (some players offer both and some users need both), but the arrival of new players is creating a sense of choice, both amongst them and between them collectively and others. We are seeing, in some quarters at least, the realisation that the first and collective task is to make lawyers aware of the primary choice between electronic discovery and print-and-read discovery. Up to a point, the providers are all on the same side.
We are perhaps seeing two apparently contradictory realisations: one is the obvious one that expense matters – the more value delivered in the early stages (and free is pretty good value from the lawyer’s perspective), the more likely it is that they will take the plunge and, having done so, will stick with solutions which get the job done; the other is that cost is not just a matter of startup bills: speed, ease of use, tools (like visualisation and TAR) which magnify user input are all factors which matter; so does the likelihood that providers will secure your data against cybercrime in its various forms and will still be there for you in six months’ time. They can’t do that if they are excessively screwed down on costs.
You can acquire a lot of this information by reading websites and having demos, so why go to Manhattan in February? One reason is the possibility of coming across a provider who is new to you or discovering that one whom you thought familiar has developed something new and interesting. Another is the opportunity to have a series of short demos in quick succession with a company’s top demonstrators. Another is the opportunity to talk to others who are in the same position as you and to absorb ideas and trends in concentrated form. Yet another is the opportunity to attend thought-provoking sessions in between the demos.
There is another reason, however, which is less tangible than any of these. Do you feel positively about the provider? Do its people fill you with confidence that the company (as opposed to just its product) is one you will trust and want to work with? Do you actually like the people?
You may say that this does not matter to you. All you are interested in, you may say, is that the software is cheap and the processes efficient. I think that’s a mistake. You do not necessarily seek to be best mates with your eDiscovery software or services provider, but you do need to know that they will stand up and be counted when (not if) problems arise. If that is in part a matter of resources, it is also a matter of personality and character. You will deduce more about that in an hour in the Warwick bar (those Orange Martinis are very good) than you will get from poring through interminable product descriptions and tender documents.
After I had written the preceding paragraph, I came across Rob Robinson’s Quick thoughts on LegalTech 2016, which makes the same point about personal contact in a slightly different way. He says this:
According to some studies, 55% of communication is delivered by body language and 38% by vocal tone, with only 7% of communication dependent solely on words. Because of the importance of communication beyond words, the annual Legaltech® gathering in New York continues to be an important ‘validation’ opportunity for participants to both hear and see how others feel about the latest trends and tools in the discipline of discovery.
Why not come to Legaltech next year?