If I lighted on the words “pooling proficiency” in my title mainly for their alliterative quality, they are actually quite a good description of what ILTA (the organisation as well as this big annual event) is for. I nearly didn’t go this year; I am glad I did.
The last ILTA Conference that I did not go to was in Orlando in 2007. That was the year of my first LegalTech in New York and, indeed, the first year in which I set foot in the US. It seemed an extravagance to go twice in one year. This autumn I am going to the US three times in seven weeks which shows how things have changed.
By the time ILTA 2007 opened in Orlando, I had realised my mistake and, sitting at home in Oxford, I wrote an article as if I was there, using Microsoft Maps (Google had yet to achieve supremacy in mapping technology), the hotel website, and the ILTA agenda as my sources (I did of course make it clear that I was not actually there).
I have been to ILTA every year since then, appreciating its reach into subjects beyond eDiscovery, and into companies, firms and cases beyond the biggest ones, to say nothing of the opportunity to meet up with almost everyone I know in US eDiscovery.
I nearly did not go this year, turning down an invitation to take part in a panel on privacy and data protection which came in at a point when I was tired of travel and already committed to other autumn events. ILTA is a habit which is hard to break, however – too valuable to miss for its business, learning and meeting opportunities. It is an attachment which is hard to explain to others. Why would one want to gather with a load of techies in a plate-glass palace by the Potomac when you could be on holiday in Cornwall? I just do, like many others. Rather late in the day, I decided to go after all.
The venue was the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Centre at National Harbor, just outside Washington D.C. An event with 1,500 delegates and 200 exhibitors needs a big space and the Gaylord, with its 19 story glass atrium and large conference centre is more than adequate for the occasion.
As I write, the agenda is still on ILTACON 2016 website. A quick skim of it will show the breadth both of subject matter and of intended audience. It is worth remembering that ILTA is not just this one big conference but an all-year-round organisation dedicated to the sharing of practical legal technology skills. Whatever you are planning, and whatever size you are, someone has been there before you and is willing to share their experiences through ILTA’s extremely good educational network.
The themes of 2016
The conventional question “What have you seen here that is new?” is really just an ice-breaker designed to get conference conversation going with people you see only once or twice a year. There are rarely big new product launches at ILTA. There is more space, both physically and temporally than at Legaltech, and more opportunity to find out about vendors’ products in the round, undistracted by focus on the new big thing. The exhibit hall is laid out to encourage conversation, with seating areas and refreshments to hand.
I detected a few themes in the agenda and in the discussions, none of them directly concerned wth eDiscovery, but all of relevance to those with eDiscovery software and services to sell.
One is the growing significance of artificial intelligence and its application to law, specifically legal research, eDiscovery, contract analytics and expert systems of one kind or another.
Another is the growing significance (as a market as well as for other reasons) of smaller firms and smaller matters. I dislike the expression “low-hanging fruit” used to mean the big firms with big matters to handle, but it is a convenient shorthand for the small pool of potential buyers who will always be in the market for something. Software and services providers are realising that there is a bigger market which does not just sit in blue-chip companies and mega-firms.
Another theme is the development of new ways of delivering legal services by a mixture of technology, outsourcing and teams made up from people with a range of qualifications and skills. This is moving beyond the prognostications of pundits and into the success stories of those who have actually tried assembling resources and offering services in different ways. This and related subjects has worked its way from the fringe and into the centre of the programme and of the discussions, as firms like Allens and KWM take a lead, winning clients and plaudits. Beth Patterson Chief Legal and Technology Services Officer at Allens and Michelle Mahoney, Executive Directer Innovation at KWM, were among those at ILTA whose work goes beyond “How do we do this job” to wider developments which allow better client service and better margins and, in the case of those two firms, both Sydney-based, hot competition as well.
Competition between firms is not just for work and clients (see this article about Michelle Mahoney for a new approach to what “for clients” means). Ask the young thrusters, the next generation of partners and other staff, what sort of firm they would rather work in. You will find many of them at ILTA.
The sessions which attracted attention under these headings included one by Michael Mills of Neota Logic called The state of play of artificial intelligence and law, where there was standing room only. Another session was called Grading Susskind: the state of legal 20 years after “The Future of Law” which compared what Professor Richard Susskind said 20 years ago with what is happening today. I was not present, but picked up the threads from the many tweets about it. An article in Legaltech News (registration required) called Was Susskind right? 3 keys to understanding the direction of Legal Tech at ILTA included this quotation:
as panelist and chief operating officer at Gilbert + Tobin Sam Nickless puts it, while “you give Susskind an A for predictions,” law has fallen far behind in implementing the technology at hand.
Richard Susskind himself chipped in with from afar with a tweet saying that “predicting is less important than influencing and encouraging debate”. It does not matter, really, whether law firms are reorganising their services because Susskind predicted 20 years ago that they would, or because that is now becoming the obvious way to do business.
There is lots of sneering and counter-sneering in this part of the legal technology woods. It is wrong (as we can now see from actual experience) to knock the Susskind vision and his target of “influencing and encouraging debate”; it is equally wrong to deride those who want none of it and who yet manage to turn a profit from their work.
Another theme, and one represented by several product developments, is the extraction of business intelligence from the accumulated data of multiple matters. I claim no Susskind-like powers of prediction, but I went round one of the shows four or five years ago, when the UK’s formal costs budgeting requirement was new, asking developers why they were not making better use of the historical data captured in past litigation matters. The answer, in retrospect, was that even the major developers have finite resources and other things claimed attention; there was then no overt demand and, in addition, most matters were then run as individual exercises behind corporate or law firm firewalls and we had not then seen the shift towards the accumulation of data in the cloud where it is available for analysis.
Where my approach to themes is based largely on anecdote, Ari Kaplan of Ari Kaplan Advisors brings a much more rigorous analysis to it all, as he does to his well-researched surveys. Here is his visual depiction of the themes which he detected.
The match with my anecdotal survey is not exact, but there is enough overlap here to suggest we were hearing the same things.
I had left before Neil Cameron delivered his session called Making educated decisions with cost benefit analyses, but one of the things I talked to Neil about was the application of these principles – “educated decisions” and “cost benefit” – to litigation budgeting in the form now required by the rules in England and Wales and, increasingly, by the clients everywhere. It must be nearly 30 years since I first met Neil, then already guiding clients towards the extraction of useful information from data. If what I picked up at ILTA is any guide, there is a market for those skills in the US.
Neil Cameron has written his own report of ILTA 2016. I like the reaction of the Immigration Office who, on hearing the title of Neil’s talk, stamped his passport with the words “Well, you couldn’t have made something that tedious up”.
Neil Cameron’s account includes a list of the restaurants he visited. I was unable to accompany him this year, but past form (in Prague and Brussels) suggests that his skill at identifying the very best places to eat is equal to his knowledge of costs benefit analysis. Read his article for its report of the sessions he attended, but make a note of his dining recommendations while you are at it.
The Safe Harbour / Data Protection Panel
ILTA is one of the few events which I like to attend whether I am speaking or not (LegalTech and the Sedona Conference WG6 are the only others). As I have said above, I declined an invitation to take part in a panel on privacy and data protection because it (and the accompanying need to draft a panel description etc) came in at a point when I had had enough of conferences.
As it happened, someone withdrew from Nigel Murray’s panel No Safe Harbour: the latest in European data protection laws, and I ended up on the panel anyway, as did David Horrigan of kCura who manfully stepped up when another of the original panellists had to withdraw. Nigel Murray lead with an overview; David Horrigan covered the GDPR; my main topic was the Privacy Shield, the half-baked replacement for the wholly uncooked Safe Harbour.
I will not recount it all here save for the answer I gave when Nigel Murray asked me to talk about the Sedona WG6 meeting in Berlin. I suspect he hoped for a succinct summary of the main topics discussed there. Instead, I took the opportunity refer to the glass panels by the Brandenburg Gate which record how Himmler’s office rounded up gypsies, Jews and others. I wrote about that in the opening paragraphs of this article
That earned a place in David Horrigan’s list of quotations from ILTA with the words:
“When you hear some American attorneys complain that EU data protection laws stand in the way of honest lawyers trying to collect litigation documents, take them to a row of glass screens a few yards from the Brandenburg Gate where the fates of gypsies, Jews, and others are recorded, and show them why we in Europe are concerned about the collection of personally identifiable information.”
There is nothing anti-American in this – they have their ways, perfectly proper ways by their own lights, of doing things with people’s data, and we in Europe have ours. We have to manage the resulting collision, and if I describe the Privacy Shield as “half baked”, it is not because I fail to recognise the almost irreconcilable clash of principles involved here.
There is too much on this subject at the moment to cover fully in an hour. The Microsoft Dublin appeal and the potential for foreign businesses to turn to non-US cloud providers deserved more time. We gave warm praise for the work of the Sedona Conference in this area, and specifically for the International Principles on Discovery, Disclosure & Data Protection.
My son Charlie came with me and we turned a corner of my room into a video studio where we interviewed a succession of people whose views interest me and will, I hope, interest you in due course.
We also experimented with a proper video camera as opposed to the Nikon DSLRs which we have always used for our videos – the latter tie us to tripods and lights for the quality we want which limits the scope for roving reports. The potential, we decided, is great, but we need a much better video camera to get quality which comes anywhere near that of the Nikons. Our focus was more on technical things than in building a narrative. I might publish some snippets of our results in due course showing, among other things, something of the building, the opening reception overlooking the Potomac, and the exhibit hall opening reception.
ILTA’s own technology
You would expect that an organisation dedicated to the better use of technology would be good at using it for itself and its users. ILTA is, and cured me of two prejudices this year. One is a dislike of conference apps which I always download and rarely use. I don’t have time even for Twitter when at events, so I am not going to make use of the dedicated communications tools in these apps, but the ILTA 2016 Agenda was extremely useful and easily navigated.
My other intense dislike is the American insistence that speakers complete a disclaimer in advance. You still find events which expect you to print a form (usually highly-coloured and requiring a gallon of ink), sign it, scan it and email it back. I generally refuse, partly because the thing is just uselessly symbolic, and partly because life is too short to frig around with all that. I offer to do it instead on arrival.
ILTA provided a simple web form with the ability to accept a signature by mouse input. It was easy, so I just did it instead of getting in my usual strop. There is a lesson there, perhaps, for those whose job it is to get lawyers to accept new ways of doing things they don’t want to do.
More from ILTA
As I have said above, ILTA is not just one big US event but an all-year-round organisation dedicated to helping lawyers and others engaged in legal services to keep up with technology designed to help them.
It has a London event, ILTA Insight, on 17 November which always brings together a broad range of subjects, and experts on those subjects.
There is a dedicated web page for ILTA Europe which sets out ILTA’s ambitions to bring its benefits to members and audiences in the UK and mainland Europe. There are links from there to pages about joining ILTA and about forthcoming events relevant to European members.
There are a few photographs of the event here.