Technology in Practice is run in Toronto by Commonwealth Legal and Ricoh. This was its 10th year and I was very pleased to be asked to take part.
The agenda was assembled by Jennifer Johnson and had a thematic consistency across its two days which one rarely finds at these events. The highlights, my own panels apart, were the keynotes – itself something of a first for me since I rarely find keynote speeches as valuable as the subject-specific sessions which follow them.
To open, we had Karyn Harty of McCann Fitzgerald via a live link, represented by Tom Connor, also of McCann Fitzgerald, on the podium. The story was of the transition from a “fountain-pen firm” to one which uses technology, and the right people, to advance in all areas of practice, keeping costs down for the client while keeping the firm ahead of its rivals (and, indeed, ahead of many larger firms in bigger cities).
Having seen how well Karyn Harty’s session went, I have to say that the idea of appearing by video link is an attractive one. A moment’s thought, however, showed that moderating panels (my usual role) would not really work remotely, quite apart from the loss of the useful discussion which is my main benefit of physical attendance, so it’s back to aeroplanes for me.
The keynote on the second day was delivered by Mike Walsh, described as a “Futurist and business strategist”. One can quickly tire of some of these business star-gazers, but Mike Walsh was interesting and thought-provoking about things of relevance now. Points which stuck in my mind included the following:
When you take on new staff, fresh out of University, note their reaction to how you work in their first few days, before they become imbued with your “this is how we do things here” mentality.
In recruiting, consider how the candidate will react to unknown and unexpected events. Those who simply ask “what procedures do we have for dealing with this?” may not be the right ones for you.
If every lawyer has the same algorithms, what differentiates one from another? In what way is a small suburban firm different from a city giant? One answer to that question, from Clifford Chance, was that “we have decades of data, so our algorithms are codifying our tacit knowledge”; there is some value also, perhaps, in starting with a clean sheet and no inherited assumptions or biases.
I moderated three panels.
My first was a judicial panel with Mr Justice Myers from the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice and US Magistrate Judge Andrew Peck from Southern District of New York. The two judges found common ground in their approach to proportionality, to cooperation, to the role of the judge in pushing cases through the system and generally in helping justice to be done without unnecessary cost of delay.
Those registered with The Lawyer’s Daily can read a full account of that panel in an article called Judges urge changes to speed up discovery process, adopt technology
My second panel was about technology-assisted review, and brought together Judge Peck and Maura Grossman, respectively the leading judicial proponent of the use of TAR and the most prominent (and earliest) person to combine technical understanding and practical knowledge (as a former disputes partner in a hard-hitting New York firm) of the lawyers’ need to validate their results. They were joined by Constantine Pappas from Relativity.
Our ambition was to persuade Canadian courts and lawyers that an approach to technology which works elsewhere is of value also in Canada.
My third panel was rather different. Moving away from the relatively hard-edged subjects of rules and cases, the panel focused on the human aspects of using technology. Mary Mack of ACEDS, Fernando Garcia of Nissan Canada and Infiniti Canada, and David Kinnear of High Performance Counsel each provided different viewpoints on this subject which picked up, perhaps subliminally, threads left earlier in the conference by Karyn Harty, Mike Walsh and others. The subject merits a closer look in a future post.
There was a strong set of technical sessions. Ian Campbell of iCONECT talked about using data analytics to find and tell the story lying in the evidence. FTI talked about the use of what they call Social Network Analytics to focus on who knew what when. Relativity’s message was about text analytics to find documents which might be missed and to assess the results. There were others, in a whole stream dedicated to technology.
The reaction of those I spoke to at Technology in Practice was overwhelmingly positive and deservedly so. It covered a good mix of legal, practical and technical subjects and retained a focus on Canadian practice while looking beyond Canada for additional ideas.
My visit coincided with the Toronto Remembrance ceremony on 11 November, a moving reminder of Canada’s significant role both in the world wars of the 20th century and in peace-keeping thereafter. It was was also a reminder that the UK’s shared heritage with Canada extends beyond a certain commonality in its civil procedure rules.