What happens in Vegas matters in the UK: ILTA 2010

It is 2.30am here in Las Vegas and my laptop has just woken me up with a mating noise – yes, three days into this technology conference at this most modern of hi-tech hotels, the internet connection has sprung to life. I had better grab the opportunity while I can.

It is just as well that I do not purport to deliver red hot news. This post was written on the Sunday before ILTA 2010 opened in Las Vegas, and intended as a scene-setter, with some thoughts on the relevance of ILTA to non-US lawyers and clients. You would think that a day which began with a time-shifted 4.30am start and ended in a bar at 1.30am the following day would include space to finish and publish an article.  It did not work out that way and the next day has now passed. If I wanted a further excuse, I could not have published anything anyway with no web connection.

Sunday 22 August 2010

Four years ago, as ILTA was about to open in Orlando, I realised too late that I should be there. I had not been before: my focus then was narrowly on e-Discovery in the UK, and it was only as I read the ILTA programme and got reports on who was there and what was being discussed that I realised how universal the subjects were. It was a moment of epiphany, the point at which I saw that one could not write and talk  authoritatively about electronic discovery in any one jurisdiction without knowing what was happening in the US and in the other common law jurisdictions which require disclosure of electronic documents.

I will come back to that below. Then, in a wet Oxford, I wrote a piece as if from sunny Orlando, with the programme to tell me what was happening, and Google Earth and the venue brochure to help with descriptions of the hotel and pool. I did make it clear that I was not in fact there, so did not feel too guilty to find myself listed amongst the bloggers at ILTA that year. I have been each year since, and now I really am sitting by the pool as the conference hums to life somewhere in the vast building beside me. It is a bit early for the beautiful people to be up and about, so I am spared that distraction – though if much more shapely leg and breast is visible here later than is on display indoors, I will be getting a broader education than I bargained on. Most of the conference speakers, exhibitors and delegates – the people whom I have come here to see – will  arrive during today, so now is a good moment to set the scene.

BA was kind enough to upgrade me to a seat which allowed me to stretch out for the 10 hour flight – my reward, presumably for sticking by them through their troubled year. The random chance of a better seat is a compelling reason for loyalty, and is all the more appreciated when, as on this occasion, I had got as far as the BA lounge before they told me of my good fortune. It seems churlish in the circumstances to complain about having been tricked into printing a colour advertisement for BA’s tame currency exchange company along with my boarding pass. Some marketing people just don’t get it, do they? To them, mere exposure is automatically seen as a result, and you can picture them being very excited at the thought of all those people printing a Travelex colour ad at their own expense. My revenge for the wasted paper and ink was to buy my currency somewhere else this time.

Aria Hotel Las VegasILTA 2010 is in Las Vegas because the Gaylord Resort at Nashville was seriously damaged by flooding earlier in the year. It is a major feat of organisation to have identified at short notice an alternative venue which is big and accessible enough for an event which requires exhibit space, conference facilities and a lot of hotel rooms. If the US had put ILTA’s Peggy Wechsler in charge in Iraq, she would have had it sorted long ago. The Aria Resort is certainly big enough, and what I have seen of the conference area looks very good.

I have just about mastered the technology in my room – I was thrown at first by the curtains which open as you step into the room, fearful that they might do the same every time I left the bathroom. Anyone with a degree in computer science ought to be able to get the hang of the control panel in only a couple of days.

Eiffel Tower Las VegasLas Vegas offers more distractions than most venues, so it will be a challenge to keep the conference as cohesive as it usually is. I have yet to explore the model Eiffel Tower and the replica of central Venice, but I can see why so many Americans spare themselves the uncertainties of foreign travel when they can take a gondola ride in Nevada. The entertainment here majors on those whom one thought to be long dead – Elvis, the Beatles and Barry Manilow are all here, apparently, as is an entertainer called “Gordie Brown”, who is presumably very much alive and whose advertisement promises “thrilling pandemonium”. The late British prime minister of nearly the same name made little impact in America (there was that lovely story of him having to corner President Obama behind a kitchen bin in Washington to get any attention at all), so the locals are probably unaware of the associations which will leap to British minds, and which are perhaps best left unsaid in a country slow to appreciate irony.

Afternoon

I have moved inside now, driven away from the pool by unrelenting sun and noise, to say nothing of the presence of the entire A-Z of American beauty – everyone from Miss Alabama through Miss Wyoming turned up. I am sitting instead at a bar table next to the main path from reception to the lifts. I have scored one familiar face every ten minutes since settling here, and since I am drinking fruit juice, am allowed to smoke, and have a full battery in my laptop, there is no reason why I could not sit here all afternoon.

ILTA level 2All very enjoyable, but why am I here? Why do I give a week of a busy life, and make a not inconsiderable outlay on fares and hotels to come to Las Vegas in high summer? What connects ILTA to, say, the conversation I had last week with a large English regional law firm about giving a talk on e-disclosure in England and Wales? After all, the common perception in the UK is that the discovery of electronic documents is an American problem. We have no problems here, they say in England.

Well, they do, of course, and they have the problems in part because they have not noticed them creeping up on them. Use, if you like, the analogy of boiling the frog, or continue my allusion to the song which opens and closes the film Cabaret (“Here, life is beautiful; the girls are beautiful; even the orchestra is beautiful”), with its imagery of overt but unobserved transition. English lawyers have failed to notice that their clients’ documents are nearly all electronic and have contented themselves with sneering at the Americans for making an expensive hash of it. Well here’s the thing:  the US lawyers know it, many of them, and would love to find a better way of conducting their clients’ litigation proportionately, because otherwise the clients will give up litigation. Instead of deriding or ignoring the US ediscovery experience, let’s find out what drives it, what works , what does not work and what they are doing about it.

One could just read about this, of course – there is no shortage of web-based information about the rules, and practice, much of it very good. ILTA, however, offers the opportunity to go to sessions run by the people who write the articles, and to talk to them – “talk with them”, perhaps I should say, since ideas emerge from dialogue.

Another reason for coming to ILTA from the UK is that the most of the software applications which are used in the UK are gathered in one place here. As I said in a recent post, I will look at very few applications, and still fewer slide  shows. I am much more interested in trading ideas about helping lawyers and corporate clients to understand how best to use the tools and developing the processes around their use.

This much is easily understood by the UK lawyers as reasons for coming to this annual and peripatetic centre of excellence. It is perhaps rather harder to explain the more intangible benefits: I enjoy the long conversations and the brief greetings in the corridor or coffee queue; I like working a room, picking up snippets here and dropping them there, introducing, fixing, oiling wheels and (in my own head rather than publicly) filtering the gossip, weighing it against other gossip, discriminating between fact and wishful thinking. You can’t do that by looking at people’s web sites; you have to see the whites of their eyes.

The ILTA  opening party offers a good chance to do this, with the hurdle this year that it was spread across three narrow floors separated by long escalators. Afterwards, the party moved en masse to the nightclub in the basement. For one whose interests lie in talking to people whilst seeing the whites of their eyes, a dark, noisy nightclub is a less than ideal venue and I retreated to a bar for what turned out to be several hours until, by 1.30am, it was time to turn in.

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