Autonomy panel at LegalTech points to proactive clients – and lawyers

Panel sessions at LegalTech and other conferences combine the best of all worlds so far as I am concerned. The burden is distributed – the moderator has to have a plan and the ability to herd the speakers through it, and those on the panel have to have an agreement as to who is going to cover what, but you don’t have to prepare slides a month in advance nor stand alone under the spotlight hoping that the words sound as good live as they did four weeks ago in the seclusion of your office.

There is enough structure but also room for spontaneity as the discussion takes turns which were not on the formal agenda and, as long as the moderator is good enough to haul you back to the advertised programme, they can be fun to do – assuming, of course, that your fellow-panellists  have something useful to say.

There was no problem on that score with the two panels which I did for Autonomy at LegalTech in New York earlier this month. The programme was the same for both of them. Carter Hopkins, in-house counsel at McAfee, and I were on both of them, but the third player in one was Florinda Baldridge, Global head of Litigation Support at Fulbright & Jaworski and at the other was Laurie Weiss, co-head of Fulbright’s E-Discovery and Information Management Practice Group. Deborah Baron, VP Legal & Compliance at Autonomy, Inc. was the able moderator.

The other panels I was doing (one on safe harbor for LDSI and one on international developments for Trilantic) did not allow much scope for something I wanted to say about the obligation of corporate clients to make themselves ready for litigation or regulatory investigation – I do not have much sympathy for clients who do nothing in advance and then whine about their lawyers’ bills when something has to be handled in a hurry. Deborah was very polite when I reacted to her carefully thought-out programme by saying that I wanted to talk about something else.

As it happened, I did not need to self-start with my views on ill-prepared clients. For one thing, that proved to be one of the main discussion points at LegalTech – the “move to the left” of the EDRM diagram was on all lips; for another, Carter Hopkins of McAfee was ready to talk about how his company had made the move to in-house readiness and was well-pleased with the result; for a third, there was a strong cross-over anyway between the advertised and the actual discussion, with the Fulbrights members having much to say which was pertinent from the law firm perspective.

Carter Hopkins was eloquent on the benefits which McAfee had seen from their investment in information governance systems and on the team which enabled them to take in house much of what had previously been handled by outside lawyers and third party suppliers. They reckoned, he said, to recover much of the costs of the investment in a couple of big cases. Not everyone will achieve this result, of course, but it seems odd how few companies seem to undertake the calculations. That involves weighing the estimated external costs of meeting litigation or regulatory or investigation demands against the capital and staff costs of doing some of the work yourself. Your saving lies in the reduced external costs in prospective litigation etc. From there you can see how months or years it will take before those savings match the capital and staff costs. That involves another component – your assessment of the risk of proceedings or other reasons why you might need to access the information which is actually relevant. The last element, in hard times like these, is a cash-flow point – like any other investment (for that is what it is), the saving to be made by laying out the money up front is only available if you can actually raise the money.

What do the lawyers make of this transfer to functions from them back to the client? Carter Hopkins’ answer was politic. They were fine with it and the teams worked together well. The old expression about half a loaf being better than no bread ran through my mind. A growing number of law firm litigation departments are in fact catching on to the idea that they need to equip themselves not just to react well when clients propose this new sharing of functions, but positively to recommend it.  Those who do not will die anyway, edged aside by those who do and by the big consulting firms – see the comment about this made by Sanjay Bhandari of Ernst & Young reported in my post  Legal Inc panel at LegalTech lives up to its billing.

The picture I had anyway of Fulbright & Jaworski suggested that they would be perfectly happy to work with clients who are on top of their material. The authors of the annual Fulbright & Jaworski Litigation Survey (I was at the Masters Conference in Washington in October when the 2008 survey was launched) can be assumed to be switched on to the client-getting benefits of client-facing technology. Florinda Baldridge and Laurie Weiss bore this out in their respective contributions to the panels. The corollary to the clients’ collective new interest in how their lawyers are proposing to handle discovery / disclosure is that law firms are having to involve their litigation support teams in client pitches. That is fine if you are Fulbrights. Many firms are going to struggle when the prospective client (or, indeed, the long-standing client with some new imperatives) expects you to show that you are switched-on and on-side when it comes to handling the documents.

Autonomy’s information management empire is sufficiently all-embracing that it gets involved whichever way you choose to play it, with systems to aid information governance and applications to help wade through the volumes in a hurry. It is tempting for them to want to show you all of it, but the constraints of a short panel session happily encourages the use of telling snippets. Deborah Baron took us snappily through a couple of screens in Autonomy’s Early Case Assessment application – all you need to make the point that tools like this can cut efficiently through the dross.

This was a model way to run a session like this – put up a panel which will major with authority on the benefits and mention the threats, and then briefly show a solution. My thanks to Deborah Baron and Autonomy for the opportunity to take part.

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