Relativity’s big annual event usually takes place in Chicago in the autumn. Thousands of people with shared interests gather for a few days of talks and panel sessions, training and certification, meetings with developers and customers, parties and drinks. It is useful and it is fun.
This year, Relativity Fest will be a virtual event, online from 21 to 23 September 2020. Its purpose will be the same as always – it is “designed to educate and connect the e-discovery community. It’s the place for legal and tech professionals to talk shop, connect with your peers, and learn from each other.”. There will be break-out sessions, panel discussions, hands-on exercises and more. Knowing Relativity, I expect it all to work as a technical matter, and to inform and entertain as aways. It also has the potential to reach literally thousands of people who have never been able to travel to Chicago for the physical event.
The events will be transmitted by two things, one of which we don’t notice any more – the internet – and one of which is about to achieve the same status – video and video conferencing. These two things make up the themes of this article.
I have already written a fair amount about the sudden changes which the coronavirus has forced on us (on one view) or encouraged (on another, more optimistic) view.
My article Recorded ACEDS webinar: a better way of doing webinars about better ways of doing discovery dealt simultaneously with the changes forced on lawyers and eDiscovery providers, and with the mechanics of running webinars with moving pictures of the participants. Both would have happened eventually, but the pandemic made us all get on with it – good news for everyone, perhaps, except those saddled with long leases on expensive offices and the landlords of those with break clauses.
Zooming from video meetings to discovery requests about video meetings covered the rapid take-up of video as a means of holding meetings, whether as formal replacements for business meeting or court hearings, or as a quick and easy way of having a chat. The article’s focus was on the discovery implications of all the resulting data and information, but the context was that video is here to stay as a means of communication. That communication may be anything from a one-to-one conversation to a large assembly of people for business, marketing or educational purposes. The subject is irrelevant; the newness lay in the speed with which we all adapted, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to this new (or newly-discovered, since the technology is not really new) way of keeping in touch and keeping the wheels turning.
A new website and a different way of working – new opportunities for us and our clients explained how my own business was taking advantage of the new remoteness to move our video work away from face-to-face interviews (with the travel and boxes of equipment which go with that) to a model in which we do it all remotely. That article also covered the changing nature of conferences and events as physical attendance became hastily replaced by virtual near-equivalents.
My Interview with Jamie Berry of Integreon on how Relativity supports large document reviews was an example of the former way of doing it. My interviews with Gráinne Bryan of FTI Consulting here and here showed the online equivalent with no real difference in output without the time and cost of taking all the equipment to Chicago.
My context, as you will surmise from this introduction, is the question how we adapt marketing, events, training, the transfer of information and the promotion of discussion in eDiscovery – I say eDiscovery because that is the primary subject of this blog, but the problems, and the solutions, apply everywhere when we can’t just hop on a plane or train and go and see people face to face.
Let’s begin by acknowledging something which is curiously absent from most discussions on this subject: we start with an enormous credit balance of time and money if we transfer all these interactions from the physical to the virtual. My interviews with Jamie Berry (one of many I did at Relativity Fest 2019 in Chicago) required two of us to spend a day packing and checking equipment, driving to Heathrow, hanging around at the airport, sitting in a metal box with wings for bloody hours, and taking a taxi to an hotel which, for all its stars, still offers just a beige, utilitarian room in a large dull building. It takes us 60 to 90 minutes to set up cameras, lights, tripods and audio, foraging for chairs, arranging cables and testing it all.
For the interviews with Gráinne Bryan we set up a couple of cameras at my desk in Oxford, wired up two audio feeds, stuck some lights on stands, and tested it all – still over an hour’s work but we began with three days saved by not having to pack and travel.
Let’s acknowledge the downside as well. When we go to Relativity Fest in Chicago (as we have done for years) we start seeing old friends before we reach the hotel reception. There are meetings, both formal and ad hoc. We wave to people across lobbies, meet new ones, and add layers to relationships which, in some cases, began years ago. New business opportunities arise. I do a panel or two, and people come up and say Hello. Food and drink are shared in convivial places. We go out and see the wonderful city of Chicago. You don’t get any of that with a virtual event.
There is a further point. In doing things virtually, whether they are interviews, webinars, panels or whatever, I am cashing goodwill and experience which has accumulated over many years. I know people and things precisely because I have been to so many events. If the next generation knows people only by having seen them on screens, their starting-point will be very different. Many people need to see other people, to mix with them and share ideas and experiences face to face. That is true of working from home as well as of events – for many, the remoteness is quite literally unbearable. HR and the bean-counters may come into conflict, both about events and about working from home.
I covered the future shape of events in the articles mentioned at the top of this article. The Relativity Fest website is here and we wait with interest to see how Relativity turns its flagship event into a virtual one. The main spur for writing now is a long article by Gregory Bufithis called The video phone turns 50, as video prepares for an exponential leap.
For now I just point you to it, not so much for the history part at the top (interesting though that is) but for the future-gazing in the second half. Video, Greg Bufithis says, will soon become invisible – it will be in everything and we won’t notice how it pervades all that we see and absorb. At the bottom end, everyone with a smartphone will be (as many already are) making videos where once they would have written something or taken a picture. At the top end, studios with vast equipment budgets and considerable skills will produce amazing films using visual effects which would not have been possible until recently.
In between, there are those who can use a bit of thought and green screens to bring new approaches to the transmission of knowledge, ideas and experience. It won’t be the same as the in-person events of the past, but it is wrong to approach this subject as if it was merely a pale and distant replication of what we have had before. There are new and exciting ideas out there, and the challenge is to harness them to the everyday business of informing people.
I am interested in this. We have the equipment and the bare skills to be built on. We have the audience built up over many years of more conventional approaches. Thanks to lockdown, we have the time.
I will come back to this subject. Meanwhile, you might like to look at the Relativity Fest website and read Greg’s article. As you do that, think about how your business might benefit from some of the things he writes about. Your company, firm or chambers may not have Leonardo Di Caprio to front its messaging, and some of the more elaborate effects may be thought OTT for your business, but there is enormous opportunity here to use new and different ways to promote, educate and inform.