I am told that we recorded 23 video interviews over the three days of Relativity Fest – I lost count, but the indefatigable Taylor Laabs of Relativity, who ran the schedule, says that that was the final total. My son Charlie set up the equipment each morning and I talked to a stream of interesting, knowledgeable and personable people all day, with gaps for copying data (we came back with almost 1.5TB of video), recharging batteries, and recharging me. You will forgive me in the circumstances if my account of Relativity Fest is rather short on reports of keynotes, panels and all the other things which comprised the packed formal agenda. I saw the beginning of the opening keynote, and I turned up to moderate my own International Panel, but I am dependent for the rest on the reports of others.
You might, for example, like to read Empowering the e-Discovery Community Today and Tomorrow by Chris Brown, Relativity’s Chief Product Officer, which summarises the opening keynote with a focus on product development which is unsurprising given Chris Brown’s role, two articles by Zach Warren of Legaltech News, always a source of timely and helpful reports (for which you may need to register) A New UI is Coming: 5 Things to Know From Relativity Fest 2019’s Keynote and, on the Judicial Panel 4 E-Discovery (Adjacent) Cases Judges Are Watching This Year plus a summary by Sarah Brown of Inventus called Relativity Fest 2019: Top Buzzed-About eDiscovery and Legal Trends
My own observations, drawn from my interviews, from what I saw of the opening keynote, from the reports of others, and from such opportunities as I had for discussions, include the following:
Relativity understands its audience
This may seem a trivial point, but Relativity pitches its big event at just the right level for an audience which is serious about its work but wants to enjoy itself. This is a stuffy, and perhaps very British viewpoint, but many US events seem to err towards a populist game show format, especially in their big keynotes, with sonorous (and over-excited) announcements, trashy music, and far too much leeway given to the light and sound people to exercise their talents.
Relativity Fest gets the balance right between showmanship and seriousness. We had a bit of smoke at the beginning, and we always have a good live musical overture (this year from the excellent Chicago Mass Choir):
…but then the familiar figure of Relativity Founder and now Executive Chairman, Andrew Sieja, walked on to the stage. We know the form by now – apparently casual, but in fact rigorously prepared and tightly focussed.
A a slightly sad moment, perhaps, for those of us who have kept Relativity’s company for years, for this was the time for Andrew Sieja to hand the microphone to new CEO Mike Gamson.
Mike Gamson, as one might expect from his time at LinkedIn, is focussing on people as much as on technology. He made a good impression, not least for having used his first 100 days to pass as a Relativity Certified Administrator and to met nearly all Relativity’s staff.
The International Panel
Moderating the Relativity Fest International panel is one of the delights of the year for me. Discovery Counsel & Legal Education Director David Horrigan always finds me a first-rate set of speakers, organises the calls, and leaves me to get on with it. The advertised panel comprised Meribeth Banaschik of EY GmbH, Kelly Friedman of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, and Manfred Gabriel of Holland & Knight. Retired Judge Andrew Peck was in the audience and, in a tradition now going back many years, I invited him to join us.
An international panel has two purposes – to cover the continuing story of the US contra mundum, where US discovery demands conflict with everyone else’s privacy and data protection restraints, and to mention developments in other jurisdictions which may be of interest to a US audience. I opened with a brief summary of the gradual acceptance by the US that it was easier and more proportionate to work with the laws of other countries rather than kick against them. Judge Peck was the first US judge, to my knowledge, to self-start on this, with a ruling in Da Silva Moore that discovery of documents in France should be deferred until it was clear that they could not be found elsewhere and would actually be useful – a proportionality point combined with an understanding of the jurisdictional implications.
It is time to move on in these panels, away from the detailed provisions of the GDPR and of conflicts of laws, and into what experts are actually doing and what clients are expecting from them. Manfred Gabriel, Meribeth Banaschik and Kelly Friedman spend their professional lives reconciling discovery demands, national restrictions, and the expectations of clients, courts and regulators in Europe, in Canada and elsewhere. Space and time (both mine and yours) do not allow a full summary here, but I hope that a video of the session will be available soon.
My main point on all this was that if you face problems of this kind then you need people like this on your side. My second point was that if you kept less stuff, then the problems would diminish.
As to developments in other jurisdictions, I gave a brief summary of the disclosure pilot in the Business and Property Courts of England and Wales. Proportionality, enforced discussion between parties, active management by judges, and the use of technology, are all subjects which travel well between jurisdictions. We also heard about the use of technology-assisted review, about the problems posed by international sanctions, and about computer programs whose functions amount to the practice of law.
It was not surprising to find strong support for RelativityOne among those whom I interviewed. Relativity’s recent developments in the management of communications data recurred when I asked people about recent developments, and the pending enhancements to the UI were awaited with excitement. It will take a while for the videos to come out; their aim, in part, is to bring Relativity Fest’s topics to the attention of those who could not attend, and to give them life beyond those few days in Chicago.
Relativity is very proud of its home city, and Chicago is one of my favourite places. We were disconcerted to find that the Purple Pig restaurant had disappeared, until we spotted its new home opposite the old one.
The architecture always impresses the visitor, whether to walk past it, to go up it or to float past it on an architectural boat tour. This was my favourite picture of the week:
…and this was the view downwards from the 94th floor of 360 Chicago, 1,000 feet up:
Factor all that into your decision about going to Relativity Fest next year – there is a substantial pre-registration discount for those who sign up before 31 December 2019.
Relativity manages to maintain the feeling that staff and users are teamed up in a common mission, both at the hard and practical level of getting the job done, and in a wider sense of fulfilling an important role in finding facts to defeat the bad guys. Next year Relativity Fest will move to a yet bigger venue. I will miss our balcony studio overlooking the grand lobby, but I look forward to hearing another round of stories of developments and wins, to say nothing of dining again at the Purple Pig.