It has become somewhat of tradition that I provide a report on the US LegalTech show. There are detailed descriptions on the technology on this blog and in the and commentary on the litigation support side from Chris Dale (American Legal Technology InsiderAn Englishman Abroad – A personal account of LegalTech – What this article sets out to do is provide an overall analysis of the show based on input from the many people I know who attended. The contributors are mainly from the UK, but there are some musings from the US (and other countries) included as well.

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. What has been encouraging this year is the number of newcomers to the contribution process, I have had feedback from new attendees from Law firms, vendors and (for the first time in many years as far as the author knows) from a UK recruitment consultancy. I started off calling them their self appointed label of LegalTech “virgins”, but the PC police advised that a better term was a “newbie”. So welcome to newbie's Loren Harper from Simmons & Simmons, Peter Watson of DLA Piper, Neil Mirchandani of Hogan Lovells, Chris Booth from Recommind, Emma Kettleton from Millnet and Amit Pandit of Maxfield Search & Selection to name but a few of the newcomers. They and many others have provided the raw material for this article, as ever any errors are my own and the opinions reflect my personal take on proceedings.

The one thing that has not changed was the unanimous endorsement of the value of visiting the show. In his article, Chris Dale lays out the cost benefit of coming to the US, with a conclusion that it was very much more benefit than cost, and all my contributors expressed how much they had gained from being there, and that they would be back next year.

This year New York was bitterly cold and suffering from a CNN copyrighted term “Stormzilla” of a weather system, however the pace of the city and the show did not seem to change a bit on account of the elements. Our cab driver on the way in from JFK commented that they had had 53 inches of snow since Christmas, so a few more might have temporarily closed the airports, but (unlike their UK counterparts) they were back up and running in 12 hours.

What of the show itself? Like all individuals of a certain age, Legal Tech seemed to be going thin on top and expanding around the middle. By that I mean that the ballroom area on the second floor was once again full of stands, the sideways expansion, but the traditional third floor was not in use, the thinning. Add to this a “clotting of the arteries” in that the booths seemed to be getting bigger, with far more two or even four unit stalls, and our medical analogy is almost complete.

Hard to gauge just how much the extreme weather kept people away but it seemed that the natural wastage of time wasters continues, and that the “froth” of more light weight litigation support vendors has been blown off by the harder times of the previous year. Both vendor's and litigation support people endorsed the view of Mark Dingle from LitSavant; “…but the level of hysteria at the exhibit hall was well down in a pleasant way – more serious consideration and better value conversations were up for grabs.”

I'll look at the litigation support side of thing in a minute, first I'd like to examine the remainder of the conference; covering the keynote presentations, the paid for lectures and the non-litigation orientated exhibits and presentations, with some thoughts on the conference facilities/logistics themselves.

The three daily keynotes covered records management and litigation, the use of IT in the UN war crimes investigation and the viewpoint from 2020 delivered by a “futurist”. Sadly, like last year, the first presentation might have been very worthy, but rather than succumb to the arms of Morpheus and have a photograph of my sleeping form published to the world half way though, I elected to retreat from the hall and get a coffee instead. Why do records management people conform to the stereotype of dull, earnest droning? I was prevented by other commitments from making the second day, which reviewed the way in which eDisclosure technology had assisted the UN in the Khmer Rouge Trials and other criminal tribunals, but the perceived view was that it was a competent enough delivery on a worthy topic, but nothing to get excited about.

Michael Rogers, the speaker on the third day, was the best of the bunch. He is the New York Times  Futurist and gave an excellent overview of where we might be in 9 years time, backed up with an analysis of the previous decade. He covered many points, but a few are particularly relevant to the remainder of this article. His vision of a world in which users are always connected to the internet via fast, cheap and reliable wireless drew wry smiles from the UK attendees, who have many shared experiences of the rubbish reception in central London offices, let alone trains and locations outside of the Smoke, but the connectivity we have now does far exceed that of 9 years ago and will only get better. What was significant was the implications inherent when a new generation enters the workforce who will be used to being “always online”, both in terms of their (increasingly less) private life and access/consumption of information. Some of his thoughts resonated with observations made further on in this article, which means we might not have to wait 9 years to start seeing some of them coming true.

The other main thread I wanted to look at was the progress that is being made in terms of artificial intelligence (AI). Michael discussed IBM's computer called Watson that was a successor to the Big Blue machine that a few years ago now finally beat a human Grand Master at Chess. Watson proved itself recently by competing in the US game show Jeopardy, where it gave a solid performance, outdoing two previous human champions. The show was chosen because it requires far more “human” thinking to answer the questions, which are actually posed as answers rather than interrogatory statements. The next aim for Watson is to ingest all available medical text books (which will take 0.25 seconds) and try to become an on-line medical reference tool, (Yes, Dr Watson). After medicine, law is next in line. Now, given the added value that Lexis Nexis, PLC and Westlaw provide, access to “raw” data, no matter how slick and easy, will not be causing them too many sleepless nights, however the increased use of computing power and programming skills to mimic human review abilities. was an area that dominated the real world in the vendor's booths outside the keynote ballroom, only they called it Predictive Coding.

No review of the keynotes could be complete without mention of the off-Broadway premiere of Chris Dale's light hearted look at the perils of UK eDisclosure as performed by a distinguished cast of very senior UK and US judges. The delivery matched the intensity of Al Pacino's Shylock and had the manic energy of Billie Jo Armstrong's “St Jimmy”, but in the end the subject matter probably prevented any Tony nominations. Even Chris' script could not cover up the total implausibility of the degree of ineptitude and misunderstanding that was portrayed, the sad fact being that it was actually indeed all true.

The trend for off-site demos in nearby hotels continues, and yet another UK vendor has decided that next year they will not bother with a booth at all, but focus on lining up key prospects for targeted demos in either The Warwick or The London hotel. However at least two other suppliers were very pleased with the quality of the delegates they attached to their stand (helped no doubt by a conscious decision not to offer any “freebies” and thus deterring the casual scavenger) and fully intended to repeat the process next year.

This leads us onto the quality of the delegates and a very cogent point put forward by one litigation support manager who highlighted the difference between US and UK lawyers. For many reasons it seems that there is a much greater appetite for US lawyers to attend the technology shows and learn about the available functionality. Their UK brethren seem much happier to leave “the techies” to attend these kinds of shows whilst they busy themselves polishing up their legal concepts and generally looking down their noses at that nasty electronic disclosure stuff the Americans invented just to make life difficult. An oft repeated message from the likes of Chris Dale is the benefit that the UK legal fraternity would gain from attending. Hogan Lovells' Neil Mirchandani was flown in by Epiq to take part in a panel debate and overnight doubled the number of UK lawyers in the hotel, matching the number of UK judges contributing to the event. Like so many, before Neil commented on the unrivalled opportunity the show offers to meet a concentrated gathering of friendly and approachable experts, all happy to share both a beer and their knowledge.

Should suppliers consider “putting their money where their mouth is” and fund some sponsorships for interested UK lawyers to sample the show? There might be a slight concern from the litigation support side of things that their expertise is being encroached, but I think we would find that the overwhelming majority of people would welcome legal “newbie's” with open arms.

The quality of the paid for conferences is always a topic people are interested in. The consensus seems to be that if you are a newbie, then it is worthwhile attending at least some of the sessions in the streams that interest you, but in subsequent years it is not probably worth the expenditure. That was the view of Loren Harper, the Practice Support and eDiscovery Manager at Simmons & Simons, who commented from her position as both a first time visitor to the show, and as an Australian looking at the UK and US markets. She said “I found the conference sessions fascinating in their focus on the impact of social media on the legal process. Judges and lawyers were commenting on the issues they faced with jurors using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with each other and the outside world during trials. In once case two jurors linked as friends on Facebook during the trail, causing an appeal (that was not upheld). In another, a juror found a decision very difficult to make, so posted the facts of the case and her interpretations on Facebook and polled her friends for their thoughts. Though these are US experiences there are already UK examples emerging, and it was fascinating to hear how the legal system is trying to grapple with the problems. Also interesting was hearing how lawyers are struggling to adapt to technology in every day life (though they are getting better at the disclosure/discovery side of things). When a witness was asked if they had made a sketch of an accident scene, their reply was that there was no need, as they had simply used Google maps, leaving the lawyer flummoxed as to what Google maps was.”

Before we delve into the updates from litigation support, what of the rest of the IT world and its impact in the legal market?

Last year saw Lexis Nexis and Westlaw go head to head, with different approaches to how they engaged with lawyers in terms of delivering their product to users. Westlaw was sticking with the more traditional approach of making users come into their environment, Lexis had embraced the “enemy” and fully integrated its products within Word 2010. How have they fared over the last 12 months? Well based purely on the very unscientific method of looking at the marketing and sales activity in New York, it looked as though the Lexis approach is winning. There were two screens from Lexis in the foyer, none from Westlaw, though both had plush carpet, large booths and new products the Lexis area seemed larger, louder and a bit more confident. Ann Hemming of ACH Legal was privy to a number of private briefings complete with NDA's and will reveal as much as she is able to in a companion article to this one. One of the threads that the suppliers were increasingly seeing was the use of two screen and the increased productivity this brings. If LegalTech truly does allow the UK to see trends before they seep across the Atlantic, expect much more in the way of requests for dual monitors coming across IT director's desks.

An anonymous snippet was received about workflow software underpinning the areas of bulk Personal Injury, traffic accident and other such “comoditised” work. It was thought that developments in this area had stalled, with companies more focused on winning new clients than improving the products. The lack of a mechanism to enable users to daily monitor the fees they had generated, was singled out as a significant failing that no one seems to be addressing.  There is an opportunity there for a nimble developer to add significant value to their product.

Turning to the main meat of the exhibition (Charles Christian estimated that 43% of the vendors were litigation support orientated, with 52% of conference sessions on eDisclosure) there seemed to be two main themes that came through; the rise of Predictive coding (in all its names and guises) and the creeping expansion of Early Case Assessment (ECA) tools, though some commentators are now calling this Early Data Assessment in a pedantic, but correct understanding of the focus of the process. On a personal note, the author was interested to see if there was any momentum behind the adoption of tablet based technology, in the semi-ubiquitous form of the iPad. Several people also noted a slight digression on how the EU data protection laws were being portrayed as some kind of bogyman, that could only be kept at bay by purchasing Technology X.

The phrase “Predictive Coding” is where we link back to Michael Rogers and his predications about Watson being indicative of computer encroachment into the human preserve of review and analysis of information. The words are shorthand for any process that uses computing power and software algorithms to try and carry out coding of electronic documents. On one level the machine can carry out objective coding and scan the document for the data it can “recognise” to give you the From, To, Title, Date kind of material. So far so good. Next you get the programs that will “search” the document and highlight the terms that it thinks means the document should be relevant and (starting to get very scary for lawyers now) even highly subjective calls such as Privilege. With the advent of the power behind Watson, do you start to see computers also linking their calls to the relevant legal reference? Where does this leave the poor old humans?

First the caveats. It will only really work on fully electronic material, so don't think you can get the same results on the OCR of images of scanned documents. Second, most products require the user to “seed” the review work with appropriate documents that have been reviewed by a human (normally senior) lawyer, so it is not a silver bullet that will solve all your problems. Finally, no one is (yet) suggesting that the relevance and privilege reviews are totally done by the computer, the software puts forward documents that meet criteria and asks humans to validate its choices. What is significant is that the documents that are not selected, are never looked at. Yet this in itself, ties into the UK approach to proportionality. To paraphrase the UK approach, there might indeed be a slight chance that a “smoking gun” exists in the far reaches of the potentially disclosable material, however, it can be far too expensive to review everything and so that faint possibility must not be allowed to drive the review strategy.

Peter Watson from DLA Piper summed up, what many others articulated, with his comment; “The key interest for me was the quality of the predictive coding technology that is being developed and refined. There are naturally questions to be asked in relation to how the algorithms behind the software actually work; and we will see whether this aspect is challenged in court during the course of time. I think that we will see more software in this area being developed and integrated into linear review tools in the future.” Peter was impressed with Recommind's Axcelerate Review and Analysis software, and also name checked Equivio Relevance. Stroz Friedberg have been quiet competitors in this field for a year or so, and Kroll used the show to launch their integrated predictive coding tools. FTI finally launched the latest version of Ringtail, having taken a good two years to integrate the Attenex technology into the engine of the software with both Early Case Assessment and predictive tools built into a very smooth interface. The Pure Discovery product was also singled out by a number of contributors as one to watch in the future.

The most significant thing in the ECA world, was that it seemed to have firmly moved inside the corporate firewall. By this I mean that a number of vendors delighted in showing me how their software could run inside a corporate environment and at the drop of the proverbial hat, swing into action by issuing legal holds and then incorporate these into a focused search on “held” material to identify the data that needed to be processed further. Though interested in the ECA tools per se, I did have to gently break it to them (normally after a 10 minute monologue, seemingly conducted without drawing breath) that the whole Legal Hold concept didn't really apply in the UK and I couldn't see any use for it within the majority of my clients. That being said, the products from Access Data, Zylab and Tunnel Vision were mentioned as ones to watch.

The change from last year is that the majority of ECA seemed to start once the data had been collected from the corporate environment, this year, the tools were very firmly inside the corporate set up and presumably will continue to grow into the overall infrastructure. I bet a good AI could not only pass the Turing test, (the one were you can't tell the difference between a human and a computer by their responses to a set of questions) but also deliver a non boring presentation about records management and litigation readiness.

For the moment, the focus for the UK is on the ECA tools that mainly operate outside the end client's environment. In practice this has tended to mean one of three products, Clearwell, Nuix or Digital Reef, with only the first two really having success over here. I did advance my argument that, based on booth size and publicity, Clearwell was beating Nuix hands down, however the gathering of litigation support managers I was in at that point severely disagreed with me. It seems that lawyers prefer Clearwell to Nuix because of its interface and seemingly better functionality, Technology departments chose the speed and performance of Nuix, over what they consider to be its slightly flashier competitor. To complicate matters, the firm behind Digital Reef has just received some significant financial backing, so that might be poised to make further inroads into the UK as well. Expect to see an ECA demonstration coming your way soon. Which is good as you can also expect to see a stream of lawyers grappling with the overload that is electronic disclosure and asking for tools to sort out the mess.

A strand within ECA was the debate on how to collect information away from the more standard locations, things like Sharepoint, Cloud based computing (shoot the balloons perhaps?) and social media. These are at the cutting edge of the collection process, with bespoke tools being devised for each iteration of the problem. I think this will be next year's differentiator, as much as Predictive Coding and ECA were this event's hot topics.

One of the predictions I have made for 2011, is that this is the year that the way in which people consume information will start to jump from PC's to tablets, with the iPad as the precursor to a number of other devices. In order to put this theory to the test, I carried out my own high level review of the number of vendors who were “iPad ready”.

In this area I have to say that litigation support software is definitely lagging behind the general trend. All of the suppliers of legal information services (Lexis Nexis, PLC, West Law et al) have Apps that enable you to browse their offerings via an iPad, and I'm sure Android versions exist as well (Apps is shorthand for the development environment for iPad, Android the similar concept most other tablets). There were also Apps to enable trial presentation on iPads, but the US are far more inclined to “show and tell” in their courtrooms so not as potentially useful in the UK. Time recording has either jumped or is about to jump to the iPad in its various software incarnations, with Tikit for example firmly committed to developing an App for Carpe Diem. The best (with one exception) the litigation support world can offer is a Citrix gateway into their standard server sites.

On reflection, building an App (and its various renditions in Android, Symbian, Windows etc) is not an undertaking to be lightly embarked upon. There would seem to be two approaches. The first is that you take a leaf from the Document Management book and allow users to “check out” a batch of documents so that you can review them off-line. This the design strategy that I thought they would go for, but on reflection realised it was my UK scarred assumption that you can't always be on-line that underpinned this concept. Again we refer back to Michael Rogers and his view of the future which was predicated on always being on-line. So this takes us to our second approach where the “App” isn't a dedicated piece of code, instead the tablet user accesses litigation support software via their built in browser. On reflection this approach has many things going for it, not least of which is the security of review documents, which are not physically present on the tablet, thus removing the problems caused when said device is lost. The exception I mentioned a moment ago was a piece of software from a company called Orcatec which had a very clean HTML based interface that ran perfectly well in the iPad's Safari browser. However they still had some development work to complete, and a price tag to slash, before they could be considered serious contenders, but one to watch for next year.

I think that we will see the emergence of tablet devices with specifications and functionality to challenge the iPad. The “walled garden” approach that is the Apple development environment will be challenged and Safari's limited compatibility with some sites will be equally challenged by the browsers on the alternative devices. 2011 was not the year that Litigation Support made it onto the iPad, but 2012 might well see a totally different picture. If nothing else the number of iPads given away as raffle prizes has dramatically increased their use amongst conference participants.

A final quick note on how the EU data protection issues have finally been acknowledged by the US, though sadly for a number purely as a sales tactic. Drew Macaulay from First Advantage Litigation Consulting commented; “I attended a session advertised as EU data privacy-focussed (vendor to remain nameless) which was actually a sales pitch that said the only way to completely comply with the “bewildering” (their emphasis) conflict of regulations was to buy their black box. The good news is, as Charles Holloway from Millnet observed; “They don't like them, but appear to accept that they exist and they have to deal with them”.

In summary then, why go to LegalTech? Loren Harper now feels she had no need to see suppliers for another 6 months having gathered all the information she needed in 3 days, also validating the litigation support strategy and software she is using. Amit Pandit gained an appreciation of the scale of the industry, particularly within the US, an understanding of what the key growth opportunities and strategies many of the businesses were adopting for the UK and Europe, and finally what the subtle differences were between geographies and governing law. He felt this had given him a significant business advantage and he would be returning next year. Emma Kettleton said that; “ could not have been more exciting to be in New York City surrounded in the most part by colleagues and peers from all parts of the world, enjoying the opportunity to be in the same location at the same time. (Yes, instead of the Hilton the conference could have been located across the road from Bloomingdales, or instead of the inches of snow we could have had warm weather and sunshine, but I think you get my point). Whether it was to talk business, learn about who is doing what and who knows who, or to just put faces to names, the biggest thing that I will take away from LegalTech 2011 (pastrami Deli sandwiches aside) is the direct contact with people, peers (and even competitors) in the industry.

See you next year?

…Andrew Haslam, Allvision Computing