Business mixed with pleasure at the Thomson Reuters London e-Disclosure conference

The Thomson Reuters Fifth eDisclosure Forum was sponsored by Autonomy, Stratify and Legastat and, as before, the co-chairs were Browning Marean, George Socha and me. I enjoyed it and, unless they were just being polite, the audience seemed to think it a valuable day. The session reports will follow; this summary gives you the flavour of the day and suggests how to follow it up.

Asked why we had left the key subject of search until the last session, I said that we were sufficiently confident of keeping most of the audience until the end that we wanted to go out on a high. So it proved, even on a wet and windy Friday the 13th several miles east of the back end of beyond at Canary Wharf. This is the one conference which the co-chairs get to design from the beginning, and I do not recall that we paid much attention to the sequence. All the topics were significant.

Another feature of this conference is the speakers’ dinner the night before. We were guests of Autonomy at the 1901 Restaurant in the Andaz Hotel at Liverpool Street, and very good it was too. As we left, I realized that I had fallen for a trick implicit in the name of the Thistle Barbican Hotel by stupidly assuming that it was somewhere near the Barbican. It was in fact up in the dark streets beyond Old Street, but I guess “Thistle Goswell Road” lacks marketing appeal. No complaints about the place itself, I should add, but I will pay more attention to the map next time.

Surreptitiously catching up with Twitter during dinner, I found a mention of a US bankruptcy court deciding that a party with an office in the Netherlands must give discovery under the FRCP despite a blocking statute which forbade it. I Tweeted in response

I’m speaking tomorrow on EU data protection so good to see another US “stuff the Hague Convention” judgment to set us back another 5 years

…and mentally adjusted what I proposed to say about how US courts and authorities are beginning to realise that they get better results if they refrain from shouting and waving their fists. This may be some judge in love with his gavel from Hicksville in a state whose name begins and ends with a vowel, or may involve a party who deferred reading the rules until he set off for court. I will read it before I say any more. If nothing else, my account of how I use Twitter to keep up to date with developments seems to have won a couple of Twitter converts.

I was planning to say in my welcoming speech that I had not been to an event this far out in the provinces since one in Earls Court in the summer. In truth Canary Wharf is perfectly accessible, even from the north of Goswell Road, and the Thomson Reuters conference floor was just fine – the venue affects the tone of a conference in a way which is hard to explain, and this was one which encouraged audience reaction where some venues seem to stifle it.

We were lucky to have Senior Master Whitaker and HHJ Simon Brown QC amongst our speakers. Introducing them, I observed that the number of judges willing and able to speak about e-disclosure had doubled in the three years since I first heard Master Whitaker speak on the subject; we now had two of them.

There was a lot of meat in the sessions and I will pick them off in separate posts – if I wait to write them all up in one go nothing else will get done and there is already a stockpile of other interesting things to cover. My notes are, in any event, somewhat patchy – I was moderating two of the sessions and on a panel for a third (somewhat to my own surprise, I should add – I was about to slip outside when someone mentioned that I was listed as a panelist). Being, as someone else kindly described me, the conference’s “chief cook and bottle-washer” let me off also being its amanuensis. Nevertheless, certain key points are worth mentioning and I will come to them – much of the value in these conferences lies in the material they provide for future discussion.

If there were several familiar faces in the audience, there were also some new ones, and I came away with four connections to follow up – two large firms, one very small one and a barrister – to whom I would be happy to give some time working to develop an in-house process and response plan. One of them wrote to me afterwards saying “It is one thing to read Part 31 and PD31, it is another to comprehend its implications, particularly in the near future”. That future is nearer than many think, with a new Practice Direction and e-Disclosure Questionnaire under discussion, the Jackson Report due in January, and Earles v Barclays Bank Plc [2009] EWHC 2500 (Mercantile) (08 October 2009) reminding clients, as well as their lawyers, that reviewing your electronic documents is not optional. There are obvious downsides to getting this wrong (being sued, losing cases, writing off unbillable time, losing clients, to name but a few) but, as I said at the conference, there are also new markets here for those willing to grab them.

The conference sponsors would also be glad to hear from you. The contacts are Glenn Perachio at Autonomy, Stephen Whetstone at Stratify and Robin Brown at Legastat. It is quite hard for lawyers to know where to make the initial contact with a litigation support provider and to get an idea of the range of services on offer. The people who sponsor conferences, and those who sponsor the e-Disclosure Information Project (often the same companies), do so because they recognise that lack of knowledge is a barrier to take-up. Do get in touch with them or with me, whether you have a live problem today or just want to find out more.

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