This is personal – it is about what I go to LegalTech for. As I make clear below, if you are a potential buyer of software, then LegalTech is the perfect place to see demos of everything relevant under one roof, and I positively recommend doing so. It is not what I go for.
You will have noticed increasing references to something called “LegalTech” in what I have been writing. Most of that has been on my eDiscovery / eDisclosure news blog chrisdaleoxford.co.uk, whose links appear in my periodic cross-reference posts on this site. If you are new here, it is not always like that. A more balanced diet will appear when LegalTech is over.
Those who are not diehard eDiscovery / eDisclosure people will have gathered that LegalTech is some kind of trade show. It is in fact the largest eDiscovery show in the world, taking place at the beginning of each February at the Hilton on 6th Avenue in New York, combining educational sessions with a vast exhibit hall with more social opportunities than you can fit into a month, all crammed into three days.
6th Avenue. The Hilton is the first building on the right
The spate of announcements which I have been manfully trying to capture are part of the blizzard of publicity which eDiscovery software and services providers throw out at this time of year, to promote a new enhancement, service or relationship.
I should make it clear that I wholly understand this. If you have the largest gathering in the world of eDiscovery people, in what is possibly the most litigious city in the world, you must be there or be forgotten. There is no better opportunity in the year to meet up with people, to cement existing relationships and to make new ones, and to sniff the eDiscovery air.
I will come below to a couple of cautionary articles written by others, but first, why do I go to LegalTech each year? I have been every year since 2007, so this will be my ninth LegalTech.
I began commenting on electronic disclosure (as it is called in England and Wales) in the previous year, 2006. Talking about the subject in the UK, I kept getting the same answer: “Electronic discovery – pah! That’s what Americans do, and what an expensive mess they make of it”. Although I then had no ambitions beyond the UK, it became clear that I was going to have to understand the US variant if only to answer this point – it was obviously thoughtless bollocks coming from people who knew little of UK eDisclosure and sod all about the US system, but I needed chapter and verse in order to debate the subject with them.
We had no large travel budget, and my wife and I pooled our air miles and credit card balances to send me to New York. An economy flight cost 500 air miles. We had 502. I had never crossed the Atlantic before.
I knew most of the London-based litigation support managers who were there – indeed, a secondary motive for going was the certainty that I would find them all in one place. Jonathan Maas, now at Huron Legal in London, was immensely thoughtful, going out of his way to introduce me to people and to procure invitations for me. On one evening, he took me to one of David Cowen’s dinners; on another I sat next to the CEO of what is now Consilio. I made a lot of useful connections with interesting and likeable people
I wrote about it (the article is here), with the mixture of seriousness and facetiousness which was evolving as my writing style (writing, you know, is a learnt art, however much we may think it just flows). If not all the questions set out in that article were serious ones, others gave grounds for thoughtfulness.
How, for example, could one reconcile the repeated assertion that “US eDiscovery is two years ahead of the UK” with the fact that anyone who tried the the US-style bludgeon in an English court would have his application dismissed, with costs, on grounds of proportionality alone? Looked at from the other end, the UK rules seemed toothless to a US lawyer used to earning large sums for treating every discovery exercise as a battlefield and every opponent as a liar and a cheat. Privacy was another area where one side simply did not understand the other’s point of view.
But where in the UK could one find the informed level of discussion which I had heard at LegalTech, where lawyers, clients, judges and providers talked abut how to make things better? If nothing else, it was clear that software designed for the unnecessary (as we would see it) rigours of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was always going to be adequate for the UK. A mission evolved in my head as I flew home. Instead of each jurisdiction just dismissing the rules and practice of the other, we could learn from each other. I started reading and writing about US eDiscovery.
I went back the next year, better informed this time. Here is a photograph of the 2008 Commonwealth Brunch which Nigel Murray hosted at the Tavern on the Green in Central Park.
The tradition of taking one of my children to LegalTech began by accident that year – that’s William at the lower right in the picture, coincidentally in NYC at the same time on a college trip. This Sunday we will gather again at the Tavern on the Green and William will be there; then, he was there to enjoy himself; now he works with me, making videos, and looking after websites and other technical things (I think he enjoys himself as well doing that).
It was in that year that the late Browning Marean called me to my feet to say something in a packed session – the first time I opened my mouth at a US event. I wrote about it in my obituary piece on Browning. Shortly afterwards, as I was going through the big revolving door in the Hilton reception, a stranger who had been in that session said “I know who you are. You’re the guy who writes that blog”. And so it began.
What have I learned over the years? One is to avoid demos, except ones given by those who are kind enough to sponsor me, or who might do so. I don’t cross the Atlantic to be shut up in a darkened room whilst increasingly knackered salesmen go through their patter; I can do that from my desk and they can focus on potential buyers who, if they are sensible, will have gone to LegalTech for that very purpose, a point I come back to below. Every minute I spend shut up like that is an opportunity lost to bump into somebody old or new and have a conversation which I cannot replicate in any other way.
The second rule is to resist, where possible, appointments to be at a fixed place at a fixed time – again, excepting my sponsors (the main reason for going is to see them), and other people who have particular claims on my time, perhaps because I have known them for ages. Once you go down the booked appointments route, you end up with your days divided into fixed blocks, either having to run between meetings (often across the street) or killing time because there is a gap too short to do anything useful. If, as with me, your purpose is to talk and listen to people, you automatically cut down the number of potential opportunities by committing to be in bloody meetings all the time (I say again, just to be absolutely clear, my sponsors have the first claim on my time and I am happy to have meetings with them).
Allied to this is the subterranean world of the third-party PR agencies. There are one or two players of this kind who know their stuff, and I am not talking here of the internal marketing departments of eDiscovery companies who obviously know what they are talking about. The ones to avoid are the fixers who have been hired to try and persuade you to commit to meetings and demos and to write about their clients (who are sometimes mine as well). I recognise the type by now: many of them know little about their own client, less about the wider industry, and nothing at all about me or why I might (or might not) be interested. They get marks from their clients for the number of appointments they make with potential buyers or with the press (which is the label I wear at these events), and so have that incentive to press you to agree to a meeting. I get offers of introductions to people I have known for years, and encouragement to attend sessions in which I am a speaker. One of them, to my great delight, once sent me in error an internal spreadsheet which detailed who she was to speak to, with brief notes about them. I like to think that mine would now read something like “Crotchety, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, apt to snarl if pressed”. I wrote to one last week saying….no, perhaps I’d better not pass that on.
I mentioned some articles to which I would return. One, by Bob Ambrogi, is called Dear Vendors: why LegalTech is the worst place to demo your products. We cover much of the same ground. He says:
Let’s use the opportunity of being in the same place at the same time to say hello and connect our names and faces. We could chat for a moment, maybe have coffee or a drink, and then move on. Then we’d have a basis on which to speak again at another time.
I agree with this as it relates to people like Bob Ambrogi and me, on the one hand, as distinct from potential buyers on the other. We are bound to the wheel, in it for the long term, and keenly interested in the wider picture as well as the detail. Potential buyers are a different matter – demo time for them, whether grabbed at a booth or in one of the hushed rooms away from the hub-hub, is what the vendors are there for, and I constantly urge lawyers to go to shows like LegalTech precisely for the opportunity to sweep up multiple demos under one roof. I don’t mind doing that myself at ILTA, where there is more time and less noise; at LegalTech I am more interested in finding out what the vendors are seeing and hearing, what trends they observe, and what their plans are.
The other article is by Niki Black and is called An open letter to LegalTech vendors. Her main target is the grapeshot email blast. She says:
Most of these requests are seemingly dispatched with no rhyme or reason whatsoever. More often than not, these generic emails appear to have been blindly sent to everyone who appears on the press list, regardless of whether a given journalist has any interest in covering the particular type of legal technology that a company provides.
Everything Niki Black says about the unfocused emails rings true for me, as does her conclusion, which echoes the point about the value of discussion:
If we do meet with you, talk to us, not at us. As legal technology journalists, we’re fascinated by legal technology. That’s why we spend so much time writing about it. Of course we like to talk about it, too, and who better to discuss it with than leaders of legal technology companies?
I am lucky. I have privileged access to many of those leaders. I have friends in law firms and in eDiscovery providers from CEOs to marketing to sales to development. I know and like many of those whose roles overlap with mine, those who write and speak, who listen to and comment on this interesting and important (and multi-billion Dollar) industry. There are others I want to meet.
I enjoy my formal (or at least fixed) meetings with my sponsors. I appreciate the opportunity to take part in panels – I am doing two this year, one with CKS and one with Nuix. Though not a party animal, I look into as many of the parties as I realistically can. William and I hope to do a few short video interviews. Mainly, I want to bump into people in corridors, the hotel reception or the street, top up my friendship with them, catch and give a bit of news, and then move on to the next.
We always arrive early – the best bit is those early few hours when people trickle in and there is time to talk properly. We always stay for the day after the show finishes, when the whole place changes its character as a different set of people moves in. Having learnt how to treat LegalTech on my own terms, I love it