I am very sorry to learn of the death of Robert Childress. I knew him as the founder of the Masters Conference, which introduced many people not merely to eDiscovery but to each other. Robert was wonderful at keeping in touch with people and getting them to mingle. In others, you would think that this was just a good way to promote a business. It was good business, but I always felt that Robert did it because he enjoyed it – almost that he set up the Masters Conference to make sure he saw everyone at least once a year.
Others have written about him following his death. Doug Austin’s appreciation of him is here. Cat Casey’s post on LinkedIn has attracted many appreciative comments, from people who never met Robert as well as those who knew him.
I did not know him well enough to write a conventional obituary, and can speak only of my interactions with him. I was a beneficiary both of his personal encouragement at a time when I was new to the US, and of his ability to spot coming trends and get them on his agendas. Two of those trends, comparative discovery rules and, later, privacy, required speakers from the UK and EU who were willing to turn up in Washington on request.
So far as I recall, I first met him at the 2008 Masters Conference in Washington. I think he had invited me as a guest – I was not speaking, but Robert had already started to see that non-US jurisdictions had something of interest for US discovery people. In 2009, there was a session called “US-UK Judicial Panel on eDiscovery”. In 2010 I moderated an international judicial panel which I remember chiefly for a judge who, unused to the collegiate nature of eDiscovery panels, strode to the lectern and delivered a long and dull speech which I was powerless to interrupt. I could see waves of sympathy coming from Robert and the audience, who could see my difficulty. If I now exercise very tight control over my panels, it was because of that, and I remain grateful to Robert for giving that opportunity to a Brit.
Robert was early to the realisation that privacy and data protection were going to dominate US eDiscovery, and my panel subjects shifted from comparative rules to the coming (and, in the US, unwelcome) encroachment of EU privacy constraints. By 2013, I started going to Relativity Fest which also took place in October, and I could not realistically go to Robert’s Washington events in the same month.
He kept in touch, though. In due course, he started doing events in London, and I did a couple of those for him. I would see him at least twice a year, at Legaltech and at ILTA. Even after cancer first attacked him (his illness was a prolonged one) Robert would be at the centre of every crowd, doing interviews, making introductions, detecting new subjects, and rounding up speakers for his next event. A message would turn up – “Hey you around?” reads his note from ILTA in 2014 – and we’d grab a few moments before someone else (or a dozen) would turn up wanting to speak to him. If US eDiscovery is a friendly place in which everyone knows everyone, that is largely thanks to Robert Childress.