You won’t find here a list of all the software demos I saw at LegalTech, or accounts of all the sessions I went to (though I mention my own), or deep discussion of trends. I have done a bit of that in my post called the The intangible benefits of going to Legaltech, but the flood of articles about Legaltech are like Legaltech itself – an awful lot crammed into a very short period. This post is more travelogue than deep analysis, and you may want to skip it in favour of something more learned.
If this year’s LegalTech was less enjoyable for me than others, that is not ALM’s fault. I set myself up for running from place to place, even on the Monday and Friday, which are usually reserved for R&R. I thought longingly of the time when I would go there with no commitments and spend the days going to sessions and bumping into people to talk to. Then came a period when I would mark the sessions I wanted to go to and cross them off to make room for meetings. Now I don’t bother to eye up any sessions but my own.
I kicked off with encounters with WH Smith and G4S before I had even boarded the plane – these are described in a post called Two of the UK’s most hated companies in quick succession at Heathrow. If this has any relevance to eDiscovery, that lies in the end of my other LTNY post where I ask if you like your eDiscovery provider and its employees. If not, why not seek out one you do like?
British Airways dug out a plane from its “Vintage” collection which, even at the Business end, felt like a suburban railway carriage. There was some consolation in the fact that my son Will got himself an upgrade to Premium Economy for a modest sum – always worth looking out for those offers, by the way.
I try to appreciate British Airways’ meals, I really do. I know I am very lucky not to be at the back of the plane, and I know they try, but is this the best they can do in exchange for the not insignificant seat price? It’s not that the meals are particularly horrid, but they don’t inspire. What is odd is that Emirates apparently uses the same London factory (sorry, kitchen) as BA, yet serves food you would actually want to eat. It doesn’t matter much when your destination is New York, but if you reach, say, Washington any time after about 9.00pm, the city has closed down for the night. We came back through Newark where, remarkably, the BA lounge has proper food and real chefs in white hats, making it unnecessary to eat their onboard food.
There are four hotels immediately adjacent to LegalTech. The London is expensive, and the Sheraton is so brown and grim that it inspires morbid thoughts just to step into it. That leaves the Hilton itself or the splendidly old-fashioned Warwick across the road. The Warwick is my favourite, but on the day we booked its prices were high and the Hilton’s, relatively speaking, low, so we went there. The Hilton rooms have been redecorated since my last stay, moving from 1960s tacky metal to early ’90s wood. I am not sure that I would want to share the tiny room with anyone – swinging the proverbial cat would leave claw marks in the walls (yes, I know that that expression is about a different sort of cat, but most people don’t, so shhh) – but I wasn’t destined to spend much time in the room anyway.
The Hilton has replaced its forecourt with two big glass boxes, presumably intended as glossy boutiques. The result is that the cabs can no longer pull in to the door and block 6th Avenue instead, suggesting that Manhattan’s planning and transport authorities are no brighter than their Oxford counterparts. On the plus side, the Hilton has restored the Lobby Bar, mysteriously boarded up last year.
Sunday – Commonwealth Brunch and B&H
The Sunday before LegalTech has acquired a pattern – the only day in the year, apart from Christmas Day, when I can predict exactly what I will be doing 12 months in advance.
For many years, Nigel Murray has organised a Commonwealth Brunch, usually at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park. The designation “Commonwealth” is partly a recognition of the growing importance of non-US eDiscovery but partly also reflects practical things – the British arrive early because flights are so much cheaper on Saturday night that the saving covers an extra night in an hotel, while the Australians need to arrive in time to sleep off the effects of the immense journey.
One of the perils of ordering in a US restaurant is that the service ethic requires them to bring you everything quickly – I don’t order coffee, for example, until my pudding (“dessert” in American) has arrived because they will otherwise bring the coffee first (I use the word “coffee” in its widest sense of course). This place, however, requires you order the whole meal at once; so I did – and the whole meal arrived at once. My prep school headmaster, an austere wartime pilot with a DFC, told of a visit to a USAAF base where every course was served simultaneously on the same plate; the logic was that it all ended up in the same place. I was at least given separate plates.
The second part of the Sunday ritual involves a visit to B&H Photo and Video, the largest photographic retail store in the US and, possibly, the world. This year we were after dull replacement items rather than anything exciting, but one cannot help browsing. I wrote about that here.
As I noted in my pre-Legaltech article, I was involved in three panel sessions in the week. The first, organised by Bill Belt of AlixPartners, was a judicial panel for corporate counsel held at the impressive Yale Club – quite apart from the pleasure of the panel itself, it was a fine venue. Judge Peck, Judge Laporte and Judge Maas were as articulate as ever. I opened by asking about cultural change in eDiscovery, which took us into the role of the courts and clients to “encourage” an attitude to discovery which matched cost and effort to the objectives – proportionality, in other words. Another question of growing interest concerns the fate of data when it passes into the hands of other parties; cyber risk and the security of personally identifiable information are factors here, both topical subjects in their own right. You may not get a protective order if you ask for one; you certainly won’t get one if you don’t ask.
My second panel brought a change of subject. I was the moderator of Guidance Software’s Super Session called Time is not on your side when it comes to data security with a panel comprising Adam Isles of the Chertoff group, Ed McAndrew of Ballard Spahr and Scott Carlson of Seyfarth Shaw (aren’t I lucky in my panels?). Guidance Software has written its own report of that session here. The single most memorable point so far as I was concerned came from Scott Carlson on the subject of cyber security attacks. Do not, he said, rush to call every occurrence a “breach”; quite apart from anything else, this label invokes a set of obligations which do not apply to every hack.
My third panel brought yet another change of subject, this time to cross-border discovery as part of the Nuix information governance track. Robert Brownstone was the moderator and I sat with Ken Rashbaum, Amie Taal, and Richard Vestuto speaking on the subject What happened to the US / EU Safe Harbor? David Horrigan of kCura has summarised that panel in tweets here and also included some of our contributions in his collection of quotations from Legaltech (he also took the slightly spectral picture above, with my laptop looking – appropriately given the subject – like a rectangular crystal ball). What with me suggesting that companies would be better off if they “kept less crap”, and Amie Taal saying that the EU was “very anal – in a good way” about privacy and data protection, you might detect a theme here.
We had to do some redrafting in the light of the agreement between the EU and US which was published the day before our panel. I was asked if I had anything to add to the slides; my suggestion was “lipstick…pig”, which didn’t make it to the final cut. And I’m still wondering which part of the chemist’s shop the EU policy-maker was in when the term “Privacy Shield” came up.
We made a strategic error this year, committing ourselves to shooting videos all over the place. It takes at least 20 minutes to set up a video shoot, and about the same to take it all down again, so this and the travel swallowed an inordinate amount of time out of a conference week which is always packed anyway. The other drawback to this roving mission is that you cannot predict what the premises will be like. The ones shot in grey boardrooms where we end up crammed between a table and the wall inevitably look less satisfying than those shot in big suites. Even the finest rooms prove difficult when, as is often the case, the walls consist almost entirely of windows and mirrors.
It is what people say which matters most, however, and we got a good crop of interviews from articulate people with something to say about their company’s products or services in a way which is hard to express with yet more words on paper. Quite apart from anything else, videos allow people to differentiate themselves and their companies in circumstances where (as I often note) there is a finite vocabulary to describe them on paper.
I took with me my son Will, whose main business is lighting for events. Two occurrences suggest that it would perhaps also be a good idea also to take my eldest son Charlie who is a sound engineer.
It is always sensible to check that the audience can hear the panel in advance. We hit a different problem on one of my panels – the audience could hear us, but we could not hear each other. The loudspeakers were set well forward of the stage pointing outwards, and nothing brought the sound back to us. I had to walk across the stage to speak in the ears of the panel members when asking them their questions, which slightly dampens the spontaneity which one hopes for at such events.
The second problem arose when we were setting up the equipment to record a video in an office. The microphones picked up the broadcast of a radio show which we could not hear ourselves. No-one in the office was listening to a radio, and the best answer we could come up with was that the conduits running round the building were acting as a giant wireless receiver. We had to move to the centre of the building to avoid it.
Lessons for next year
I want to go back to lounging around in bars and corridors having stray conversations with the people I bump into, but I do not want to relinquish the opportunity to do the videos. Next year, we will take a room big enough to film in and leave the equipment up all week, inviting speakers to come to us. This will allow us to organise a strict schedule; the subjects will benefit because they will not be delayed while we do the setup. It is not in fact necessary for me to be party to all these videos – some of our best ones have involved people simply talking to camera about a subject which interests them.
Planning to eat well (would have been a good idea)
One last lesson. Although we gave away the last morning, usually spent seeing New York, we did have Thursday evening free. We always do – for ten years now I have been free in Manhattan on the evening of the first Thursday in February, so you’d think I would remember to book somewhere decent to eat. When I travel on my own, I tend to snack; one of the pleasures of taking Will on these trips is that I seek out decent restaurants. London solicitor Nicky Richmond, writes really good articles about eating out as The Food Judge. She wrote a few months ago about a New York restaurant in terms which made it imperative to go there as soon as possible. Here we were, Manhattan at our feet, with no commitments and hungry. Some frantic tweeting elicited immediate answers from Nicky Richmond but, unsurprisingly, all the places she suggested were full up. I could have booked on the day I read the review.
By then, knackered after a busy week and topped up with the cocktails consumed while we searched for an eating-place, we were not up to the excitement of somewhere new, and hailed a cab to somewhere familiar. Next year, we will plan ahead, from Sunday through to Friday night.