At the beginning of May, I moderated a webinar for the ACEDS UK Chapter called Will the COVID Crisis Cure Outdated Approaches to eDiscovery? Although it was UK-based, the ground we covered is relevant everywhere where discovery is required. We got a good turnout for it, and pleasing comments afterwards, and I thought it might be helpful to publish the recording for those who missed it. It is at the end of this post.
It was the first one I have done using video rather than merely audio. Would we have thought to ask for a video production before COVID? I don’t think we would have considered it, and I mean that literally – it would not have crossed our minds. Right at the beginning of the crisis, I took part in a conventional webinar with EDRM about working from home. At that stage, relatively few people had spent much time working from home, and we covered some of the basic points. By the beginning of May, everyone was their own expert in WFH, and Zoom had become a natural way to communicate – not always a welcome way for everyone, but better than nothing. It was time to move on from day-to-day things and to start looking ahead to a post-COVID eDiscovery world.
I was determined that we should be both positive and optimistic about it. We chose speakers who, whatever their prior experience at remote working, had had to throw themselves and their teams at just getting the job done. The result seemed to be a leap forward – the crisis had helped to encourage a new way of thinking and a new balance between the elements of a job.
The speakers were Melina Efstathiou of Eversheds Sutherland, Chantelle Jalland, Senior Manager at HSF, Ryan Hockley ex Travers Smith now Jandr Legal, and Paul Birch of BDO. I won’t attempt to summarise the hour, which passed quickly enough, save to say that the main reported difficulties encountered in the crisis were not technical ones but more to do with the human side. The speakers were too polite to put it like this, but it was clear that clients and lawyers had no time to raise the objections, often instinctive rather than logical, which come naturally to people entrusted with discovery. Decisions had to be made quickly.
Not everyone takes readily to working at home. It seems easy to offer to provide suitable technology, but two screens (to take one example) take up a lot of space which may not exist in every household. Many key tools became suddenly unavailable as everyone wanted them – I had to do this webinar with the cheap webcam in my MacBook Air because I could not get a proper webcam in time (nor for several weeks afterwards as it turned out).
Most eDiscovery software is designed for remote work, with comprehensive security mechanisms as standard. Most staff good enough to be hired anyway were probably good enough to work under remote supervision, but what if they shared a small flat with someone else?
Sometimes, perhaps, the risks such as they were had to be set against the brute fact that the job had to be done. Clients confronted by the reality that the work would be done this way or not at all would opt for the best practical route. And perhaps, as a result, old instinctive objections would drop away.
Perhaps also, there is a new world out there in which the winners are those who have not hitherto been able to travel to work (because of a disability, childcare responsibilities or inadequate transport), and the losers are companies and firms with long leases in expensive locations which no longer seem necessary.
Our overall conclusion was that the providers of eDiscovery / eDisclosure services, in law firms, legal departments and service providers, had covered a lot of ground in a very short time, had learnt a lot very quickly, and were in good shape to move beyond the crisis.
I am as interested in the production of the webinar as I am in its subject-matter – as in-person events close down, so we must come good at virtual means of conveying information. Webinars have a built-in risk which you don’t usually get at live panels – that some aspect of the technology breaks down at just the wrong moment (I once had broadband and telephone failures as a webinar was about to begin, which made moderation slightly difficult). There was a short delay while one speaker’s connection went astray, but the whole thing worked well.
Video poses one difficulty, particularly for the moderator: panel members are asked questions for which they have usually prepared answers, whereas the moderator has to ask them, in the right order and addressed to the right person by name. That requires a memory better than mine is. “You are not looking at the camera”, my wife said when I showed her the beginning of the video. That is true, but there are mitigating factors.
I usually have multiple screens in front of me for webinars and the opportunity to mug up on the next question while listening to the last answer. When we do our usual interviews, we are in control of the editing, and can cut away from me while I am checking my notes. Dependence on notes is necessary over 60 minute webinar, and hard to disguise when you are on camera all the time. The flow is what matters, and if that means I have to look away from the camera then so be it.
It worked, and I would happily do more of them as webinars find new favour in the changed world in which we now work.