I am back from my 13th Legaltech in New York, and facing the annual challenge of trying to summarise it. I do not deliberately wait to see the summaries of others before writing mine, but some people are so fast off the blocks that their reports are out before I have taken my boots off.
The indefatigable Doug Austin of CloudNine has collected the reactions of others in two posts, here and here. His invitation to contribute to it and his rigorous deadline had passed before my jetlag had worn off. A thoughtful post by Bob Ambrogi, and a reply by David Horrigan of Relativity, raise interesting questions about (I paraphrase) an event where the elite address the elite, leaving 90% of lawyers (and, as Bob Ambrogi emphasises, the clients) unheard. More on that below.
Let me start by saying that I love Legaltech. This is not for the high quality of its panels (I went only to the two which I moderated). I do not go for the demonstrations offered by providers of software and services, though that is a major attraction for potential buyers, who can see everything in a few busy days. I loathe the noisy parties in dark venues which others seem to appreciate, preferring quiet dinners with interesting people (thank you Ricoh and ACEDS). I go because it is the greatest concentration in the year of the people who make eDiscovery tick; I go for the panels which people kindly invite me to moderate, always with top-class panel members; I go to record video interviews with interesting people; and, more than anything, I go to bump into people, some of whom I see only once a year.
The Nigel Murray Commonwealth Brunch
For many years, the late Nigel Murray organised a Commonwealth Brunch, usually at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park. He died last year, but Consilio, Nuix, APT Search and EDT sponsored a brunch in Nigel’s honour at the same venue. It was well attended and, as always, a really good way to start the show.
Both of the panels which I moderated had a privacy flavour. The first was at a corporate-only event organised by Bill Belt of CDS introduced as An introduction to the key in-house considerations regarding Data privacy developments. My co-panellists were Susan Bennett of Sibenco and Matt Knouff of CDS. The nature of this event is that the main contribution comes from the audience. My job was to set the ball rolling, to try to make sure that everyone was heard, and to keep us moving along.
My opening premise was that US lawyers and corporations had moved on over my years of speaking there. They had gone from complete rejection of privacy restraints, originally seen as a barrier to discovery and as a compliance and regulatory burden, through to acceptance and, in some cases at least, to a recognition that paying attention to privacy rights was a positive contributor to good business, welcomed by customers, shareholders, investors, staff and others. It had, I suggested, provided an ROI for information governance as a benefit.
It would be fair to say that this largely corporate audience was not particularly convinced by this. Among other defects, it saw risk in the lack of certainty in the GDPR – how could one make investment decisions balancing risk against benefit when the risk was loosely defined? Specifically, in a good point made by one audience member, how could one quantify the level of likely fines when the recent very large fine imposed on Google by the French CNIL came with no clue as to how the fine was quantified?
I took the same line in opening Relativity’s privacy panel called The International Legal Cloud 2019: Discovery, Security, and Business Considerations. The speakers were Dera Nevin of Baker McKenzie, Sean Pike of IDC, Heidi Stenberg of EY, Mark Anderson of CDS and David Horrigan of Relativity. Between them they delivered updates on regulatory and corporate changes in the US and elsewhere affecting privacy, the cloud or both. If one can summarise the views of such a disparate group, we are seeing gradual recognition of the benefits of compliance beyond the mere reduction of cost and risk; we are seeing shifts of responsibility within organisations as the management of data moves beyond eDiscovery and beyond compliance; ever more data is moving to the cloud; within the US, there have long been sector-specific regulations about privacy, and legislation (e.g. in California) and case law (e.g. on face-recognition in Rosenbach v. Six Flags Ent. Corp. in Illinois), are making privacy a domestic US matter; there is a broader recognition that we can’t go on merely collecting data without a plan, the people and the technology to manage it.
Relativity has published some tweets and pictures of this panel here. I hope we will be able to publish a full recording of it shortly.
Our video interviews
I was accompanied, as usual, by my sons Will and Charlie in order to capture the thoughts of people who actually do the work. Last year we took a studio, inviting people to come to us. This year we moved from place to place, getting more adroit as the week went on at assembling and dismantling the equipment. That involved a much-increased level of rushing about, with no time to stop between interviews. I felt obliged to publish an apology:
I have lost count of the interviews we recorded. The first has come back from editing and seems to justify the significant investment in cameras, lighting and audio equipment since last year.
The venues varied in attractiveness, from elegant suites:
….to less, ah, photogenic places
Next year, however, we will go back to having our own room, and spare ourselves the rushing about.
Legaltech – the numbers
A constant refrain in all the years I have been going to Legaltech is that it is not what it used to be. Specifically, the number of exhibitor booths and the foot traffic is always said to be lower than last year.
Is this such a bad thing? Consolidation has taken many players out of the market. Charging for entry to the exhibit hall has the benefit that a higher proportion of the visitors are potential buyers or influencers, not merely passers-by.
Meanwhile, many providers use Legaltech as a magnet without taking a booth, arranging meetings and demonstrations in and around the Hilton. There is no point in being too judgemental about this. The magnet exists and it makes commercial sense to be there. I recall meetings of long ago with now well-established companies who could then offer demos only on battered laptops in cafes. It helps to give new products a start.
There is this point though: the CEO of a well-established company observed that the magnet will disappear if everyone stops supporting Legaltech. He was not suggesting that this imposes a duty on the bigger players, merely stating the obvious.
George Socha commented on the foot traffic in Doug Austin’s second summary. Talking of the ROI of exhibiting and on the changing ways in which people choose to see demonstrations, he said:
I would be very interested to see ALM just try one year to go back to the free access to the exhibit hall (yes, I know this will mean a lot of people who have no interest in buying anything, but it might also bring in some more people who are, but don’t want to pay to learn about software and services) to see if that reverses a trend to bring back some exhibitors. Certainly, it seems worth a try to reverse a trend toward shrinking attendance that threatens the very conference itself.
There are no easy answers here.
The echo chamber – the elite addressing the elite
Amid all the conventional reports and reactions came one from the elder statesman of eDiscovery reporting, Bob Ambrogi. His article was called Legaltech for the legal elite: observation of two conferences with the subheading Conversations about innovation in legal technology and practice continue to be stuck in the same echo chamber.
Two events he had attended, he said, had one defining characteristic in common: They were “predominately by, for, and about the roughly 10 percent of the legal industry dominated by the world’s largest law firms and corporations”.
Discussions about legal technology, Bob Ambrogi said, remain the province of a handful of speakers, moderators, providers and lawyers; this not only left out the other 90% of law firms, but gave no room for the client to be heard.
David Horrigan, Relativity’s discovery counsel and legal education director, replied with an article headed Are the “legal elite” in an echo chamber? which, while not purporting to address Bob Ambrogi’s overarching points, drew attention to a Relativity panel called Access to justice: substantial challenges and how you, the law, and technology can help. Almost no-one attended that event. It was, David Horrigan said “part of our efforts to venture outside the “echo chamber”. Good for Relativity for putting it on. I hope they will continue what they have started.
Bob Ambrogi went on to make a separate point about the lack of diversity on panels at these events (this one was not Legaltech):
I sought to amplify this message on Twitter and, as always on this subject, quickly regretted having tried. Some people do find it difficult to distinguish between the messenger and the enemy. The purpose of raising a topic is to give it an airing, not necessarily to pretend that you have the answers, still less to set yourself up as the fall guy for subsequent criticism. There are ways of getting a discussion going, and there are ways of killing it and ensuring that no-one ever raises it again.
Both these subjects warrant articles of their own, and I will come back to them.
You will note that I have not given any pithy summary of what was discussed or what is trending, still less addressed that conventional ice-breaker question “Have you seen anything new here at Legaltech?”. The other summaries will doubtless cover that. There was one major piece of news – OpenText’s acquisition of Catalyst. Anything else which came my way will either emerge as our videos roll out over the next few weeks or will lie gently composting in my head for use when I need it.
I enjoyed Legaltech, as I always do, mainly for the endless stream of people to meet. If you have comments about things you would like to see changed, then let ALM know.
And if you want to speak at Legaltech next year, especially if you have ideas for broadening the discussion and breaking out of the echo chamber, start shouting about it now. But don’t shout at me for raising it, please.