I was recently interviewed by Tom O’Connor and Rachi Messing, names which will be familiar to most people involved in Discovery, in the US at least. It was fun to do – Tom and Rachi made it feel like a relaxed chat.
I do a fair number of video interviews, but always as interviewer. Those interviews are generally structured to achieve a specific purpose – to give a platform to a person, a company or a product. I try to make it conversational, with spontaneous questions and their answers beyond the agreed agenda. To me, this kind of interview format is more interesting than something which a marketing department has scripted.
My interview with Tom and Rachi was rather different, at least from my seat in the opposite chair to my usual one. Structure and timing were someone else’s problem, and there was no agenda to get through, no list of points which ought to be covered (well there was, but it wasn’t my job to tick them off), and all I had to do was to answer questions to which I knew the answers.
My interview was part of a series which Tom and Rachi have been running for much of lockdown. Its purpose, they said, was “to mimic to some degree the hallway / bar conversations from conferences that are not taking place and to give people in the industry a chance to meet some of the [people] that they are not having an opportunity to do so now.” There is a serious point to this: those of us who were there as eDiscovery grew up met a lot of people along the way who were making the same journey. We met in the lobby of the Hilton at Legaltech New York or at ILTA’s big annual event now called ILTACON. I used to sit on the circular bench which then occupied the centre of the Hilton lobby and wait for people to come by – people I knew or had seen, people who recognised me from the picture above my blog posts or from panels, or just those who were close by and similarly watching. It won me both work and friends, and I share Tom and Rachi’s sense that we have lost something by not doing that any more.
I was asked if I would do it again if I could – would I trek down to Heathrow, and spend a fortune on travel and days of my life, for the chance of meeting someone who might be friendly and/or commercially useful? I hedged a bit. I enjoyed those years of travelling to east and west, and of talking on platforms, at tables and in lobbies and bars, but travel has changed for the worse, I am older, and I don’t need to do it any more. Would I do it if I was starting out now? Perhaps – except that the people I’d like to meet, the old hands, and those with control and budgets, would be at home talking on Zoom. How will the young ones make those connections which we had? Does it matter if they can’t? Won’t new ways evolve, adjusted to suit the times and the economics?
Much of our conversation was about how I got into eDiscovery – the path from lawyer to developer to trainer to consultant to commentator. Its point was not mere reminiscence, but to convey the idea that eDiscovery and all its offshoots have room for people from a range of backgrounds. Technology skills and qualifications help, obviously, but there is still room for less conventional routes into an industry which continues to grow worldwide.
The closing question was this: if you had the chance to spend a day with anyone from our industry, living or dead, doing whatever you want, then who would it be and why. This was easy – I would spend the day with the late Browning Marean. We did events together in Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dublin, Prague, London and several US cities, and he came to see us in Oxford a couple of times. The picture below shows Browning in the centre, flanked by Mary Ann Dale, George Socha and Saxon the Labrador
Everywhere we went, he was questing, informed and fun. I once talked him out of a day trip to China (5 hours each way from Hong Kong) and we went to Macau instead (and both disliked it from the moment we stepped ashore). He drove me round San Diego, and out to the Hoover Dam. I took him round an English country church. He knew everyone in eDiscovery, quickly assimilated any eDiscovery subject with which he was unfamiliar, and was generous with his time and knowledge for those starting out, including me when I first met him. I miss him still.
Many thanks to Tom O’Connor and Rachi Messing for inviting me to take part in their interview series, and for making it all both relaxing and enjoyable. The interview itself is here: