Once  again we're glad to have Andrew Haslam, of the Allvision consultancy, provide his views on LegalTech New York event…


As in previous years, I have
sounded out the British (and others) contingent at LegalTech to prepare a
report on the proceedings for Charles Christian and The Orange Rag. I have attributed some comments through
the article, but am grateful to many more people who passed on their views in a
full and frank manner. Having read
the article prior to release I see that I have used a lot of military
metaphors. I think this is
reflective, not only of my background, but also of the sense that the industry
has come through a testing time and is now looking forward to a more positive
2010, but that the world will be a more competitive place and victory will only
go to those organisations with a good strategy and sound tactics to implement
it. 

 

Charles' web site hosted a very
comprehensive review of proceedings throughout the three days courtesy of
InsideLegal, but it was more focused on the technology element of the show,
particularly the litigation support side of things. What I would like to bring to the proceedings is more
holistic view of the whole event, and hopefully answer the question one person
posed:

 

“Was it worth braving the
-15C temperatures?” 

 

I ended last year's article with
the following words

 

On a serious note, the
omens for next year's show are that it will be a slimmed down version of its
former self, but that it will actually gain benefit from trimming down on the
“fat” of: duplicative seminars, “here today, gone tomorrow”
vendors and time wasting delegates.
It will remain as the premier event of the legal technology calendar,
and will continue to attract those individuals who need to keep abreast of both
the infrastructure of the process, but, most importantly, the people who make
it all happen.

 

As you would guess from my
inclusion of last year's predictions, I'm feeling quietly smug that they seemed
to come true. The overall number
of delegates and vendors was down, which meant the density of the crowd within
the exhibition felt about the same, and certainly the quality of the attendee's
was up. A number of firms were
talking about deals they had clinched at the show, and it seems that the bag
wielding, freebie collecting parasites are now an endangered species (though
there were still a couple willing to sit through demo's of things they had no
interest in ever buying just to get a USB gewgaw or two). 

 

If last year was slightly febrile
atmosphere in terms of a sense of an approaching storm, this was a far more
robust recovery mode, there might still be squalls to come, but there was a
sense we have weathered the worst.
That being said, the undercurrent of job seeking continues to flow, with
a number of people from both sides of the Atlantic, expressly there to promote
themselves and their availability.

 

In the past the event has been
dominated by the litigation support vendors, however, this was the year that
the sleeping giants of LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters Legal (Westlaw) awoke,
and went head to head over the launch of their respective next generation of
legal research software. 

 

Outside the venue, Westlaw seemed
to be winning the propaganda battle with adverts everywhere, free coffee being
dispensed by backpacking individuals reminiscent of the lager sellers at sports
venues, and on Tuesday, even a free lunch from the most popular street cart in
New York. Inside the Hilton
registration area, Lexis had two enormous video screens to Westlaw's one, with
soundtracks pumping decibels at each other for 8 hours solid. Pity the poor guys on delegate
reception who must have been praying for earplugs after the first 30
minutes. As ever the carpet on the
Lexis stand was thick and luxurious and the size of their booth dwarfed the
Westlaw offering. Both had
excellent client parties, but what of the products themselves?

 

Tikit's Ann Hemming will be
writing more about this in a separate article, but summarised the contest as a
fundamental difference in design philosophy. Westlaw have been working on streamlining the design of their
search screens and improving the user experience but have remained with a
branded site design. There are a
lot of nice new features and a much cleaner look and feel for the new product
but it is still intrinsically the same. Lexis have a taken a very different approach, instead of trying to own
the desktop, they have worked in partnership with Microsoft office and
integrated both search and display into the main Office applications. For many years there have been debates
about the best way to integrate legal and business research into the day to day
work of the busy lawyer and finally we see a real difference between to two
vendors. It will be interesting to
see which approach wins out but make no bones about it, we have seen a
strategic change in the legal research marketplace and the war will be won on
how users react to the choice before them. Screens, soundtracks and free food will count for nought in
this forthcoming battle.

 

In terms of the main conference
programme, last year's mantra of “move to the left” (referring to the
earlier stages of the EDRM model) had been replaced with an all but incessant
use of “Cloud”. I was
disappointed that no-one had through to tie their products into the cartoon
“Up”, surely most lawyers are grumpy old men who would be better off
in a house 10,000 ft in the air supported by a load of deflating balloons? As with most marketing invented buzzes
there were some solid products and services under all the froth, but best to
wait until light fluffy ephemeral offerings have blown out of town before
coming to any decisions.

 

The conference syllabus does seem
to have taken heed of the feedback from last year and improved, though a number
of people thought there was till a way to go. Speaking as someone who has only attended the keynotes and
free “super sessions” for a number of years, the more vibrant and
current material is far more likely to be found away from the main conference
rooms.  Sessions from Trilantic,
Epiq and Stroz Friedberg had participants from the UK such as Senior Master
Whitaker, Chris Dale, Jonathan Maas and Vince Neicho and where very well
attended. Though a special prize
should go to anyone who actually found the “Concourse” which was
buried in the depths of the Hilton.
Windowless rooms and stuffy atmosphere, it was only the quality of the
material that kept people (ie the author) awake. See Chris Dale's article Mixing eDiscovery business with pleasure at LegalTech for more on this.


The Keynotes had improved
overall, with none of them as bad as last year's opener but with mixed reviews
throughout. Tuesday's talk from
the in-house counsel of was competent enough but for us parochial non-Americans
it did seem a bit of an unquestioned peon to how well Facebook looks after its
user's data and privacy. I suppose
it is all the developments in the world-wide litigation scene where the US is
very much seen as the data grabbing bully of the playground that makes me so
cynical of this proposition. As
with last year, Wednesday's offering was the best and consisted of Malcolm
Gladwell (Canadian journalist,
author, and pop sociologist) alongside Dr Lisa Sanders (technical consultant
for the TV show House MD). In a
highly entertaining talk they questioned the assumption that more information
leads to better decision making, coming to the conclusion that “better,
not more, information is what is needed”.

 

In the rest of the conference
streams the eDiscovery education sessions were reasonably well attended, but
there still remains too much duplicative material, and sparse interest in the
core of the subject matter. The
one main exception to this was the Wednesday ILTA half day session on using
Sharepoint within law firms, which was packed with interested delegates.

 

Within the super sessions the
trend seemed to be a continuation of the past two years with the US gradually
realising there is a world outside their shores. Sadly the international fertilisation of ideas and
increasing globalisation of the issues was overshadowed by seemingly backwards
steps in terms of the rapacious approach America is taking to overseas
data. Expect a lot more conflict
in this area.

 

The majority of the exhibition
vendors were (Lexis and Westlaw apart) litigation support companies, with some
other offerings as well… However,
again in an increasing trend, some companies, such as the UK's Tikit, had
deliberately chosen not to man a booth and where engaged in a series of
meetings and briefings. Indeed
LDM's Monday lunchtime session in the Warwick hotel across the road from the
Hilton was a resounding success. Representatives from 7Safe, CY4OR, Hobs Legal Docs, Legal Inc and many
others were seen socialising beforehand but during the event itself
disappeared into a round of meetings, briefings and good old fashioned
network. As ever, expect new
products and sales to emerge from this process over the next few weeks.

 

At a high level the litigation
support world continues to consolidate and products mature, with them all
offering similar functionality. There were some trends new to this year though. 

 

The main focus for product
development appeared in two areas, either the automation of collections, via
various “early” technologies, or the coding of collected items. Both of these elements of the EDRM
model are ones where costs can mount almost exponentially, hence the
development focus.

 

Within the first group of Early
Case Assessment (ECA) tools, products such as Incept, Nuix, Clearwell, Digital
Reef and FTI's Quickcull all seem to have products to watch. Clearwell (which seems to be wining the
UK based action from rival Nuix) in particular, had a very impressive stand
with a rolling counter showing how much more data (and how much faster) it was
processing than its rivals.  Not
sure of the underpinning numbers but good marketing, and its version 5.5 looks
as though it will keep it in front of the other offerings available in the UK. Both Terry Harrison and Waseema
Hendricks from Hobs Legal Docs tipped Equivio's Relevance as one to watch in
the processing/de-duplication area.

 

On the automated coding front,
the Stroz Friedberg offering still seems the product to beat. The issue here seems to be the
reluctance of lawyers to accept that software can actually do a better job of
coding, let alone an equivalent one, than humans. The continued pressure from clients to cut costs, might
cause a few more prejudices to be broken over the next year. Reza Alexander (as always, present in
his own capacity and on leave, rather than as a DLA representative) highlighted
DiscoveryReady's i-Decision product as a hot tip in this arena. This view was endorsed by Jonathan Maas (also over in a personal capacity), a recommendation that he
assures me has nothing to do with him winning a Flip HD video camera in
DiscoveryReady's raffle.

 

Another sign of the maturing of
the litigation support market was the growing emergence of forensic tools into
more of the main arena, rather than being the preserve of ultra-specialist
consultancies. There were several
offerings of forensic capabilities, literally in a physical box, though the
thought of letting loose untrained personnel, even with a new set of tricks,
still causes shivers down any sensible person's spine. Reza had good things to say about
BitFlare, and thought this might even offer an option to corporates looking to
do their own forensic work before calling in the external option.

 

An interesting observation from
Kevin Sharp of Information Forensic Management was the tendency of suppliers
(perhaps not unsurprisingly) to focus on their element of the EDRM model, with
little evidence of a significant number actually providing end to end services
and/or overall project management. As this is the vacuum that the author tends to occupy as law firms,
clients and vendors realise that project don't run themselves, I have to admit
to endorsing the hypothesis. 

 

It was noticeable that in terms
of the raffle prizes on offer the Kindle was taking over from iPod and iPhone
as goodie of choice, perhaps next year the iPad will lead the Apple fight back.

 

There is an increasing backlash
against the Hilton as a venue, with suppliers citing both hiked up costs and
poor service/facilities as their main gripes. It seems that this year all the suites normally taken by the
larger vendors were pre-sold to one organisation that then tried to pass them
on with a very stiff mark-up. Not
good tactics as a number voted with their feet and set up shop in adjacent
hotels (and moved all their room bookings to add insult to injury). Poor acoustics in conference rooms, the
lack of WiFi on the conference floor is becoming a real embarrassment, and how
the Hilton gets away with charging $55 for a packed lunch, that Jamie Oliver would
condemn in a heartbeat, is beyond many. 

 

A registration session on a
Sunday for those of us who are in town early would be a boon and the perennial
lack of places to meet was again highlighted. Perhaps the Hilton could use the (now) unoccupied 3rd floor,
build some partitions and offer up meeting spaces on an hourly basis. Even the Warwick came in for some
criticism, with a feeling that both they and the Hilton are getting a little
bit too complacent. 

 

That being said, these are minor
niggles in what, once again proved to be an amazing experience. Outside of the serious side of the
exhibition, the even more serious element of having fun was in full swing. Corporate events and parties ranged
from playing Ping Pong, whilst slightly inebriated, 10 pin bowling, stunningly
attractive waitresses at the Digital Reef party, Autonomy taking clients to see
Billy Elliot, cocktail parties from IPRO and others, along with the incredible
views over Times Square of the Lexis Nexis VIP event. Throw in a helicopter ride, wonderful meals at The View and
River Café, exhaustive shopping and general fun that is New York, and once
again LegalTech confirms itself as the premier event in the legal IT
calendar. To echo Chris Dale, if
only UK lawyers would go, they could learn so much.

 

(c) Allvision Computing February
2010.