Neil-Cameron-195x195Leading IT consultant Neil Cameron of Neil Cameron Consulting Group gives us an inimitable ILTA 2016 review, covering everything from the sessions and providers that really stood out; the key issues discussed at the conference; why AI is like teenage sex; and how his talk on cost benefit analyses helped to secure easy entry into the United States. Oh yes, and, of course, which restaurants he recommends in the Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria areas.

I had never been to a flagship ILTA conference in the US before, and I was expecting it to be big, but I was totally unprepared for the scale – both in terms of the hotel space it occupied, and in the range of activities. There were four solid days of sessions running simultaneously in 15 rooms – some of which sat 20 people, and others could hold 1,000. None of the sessions was repeated, so each of the 16 session periods involved an agonising choice between tantalising descriptions. In all there were 175 sessions, not counting the many ‘campfire’ discussion sessions and scheduled vendor demonstrations.

The good news, for someone who had been to LegalTech a few times, was that very little of it was concerned with the particular US-style of eDiscover and litigation support with which LegalTech seems to be obsessed. There was also a very large exhibition space with just under 200 vendors showcasing their wares.

The overall theme of this year’s event was ‘Embracing Change’, and this was reflected in the number of sessions that covered the concept of looking for alternatives to ‘standard’ law firm IT fare – there were sessions on alternatives to email and alternatives to the usual document management systems, for example.

The title of some sessions were occasionally somewhat misleading; “RFPs: Is There a Better Process” had me hooked, as someone who has spent 30 years issuing RTTs and RFPs to software vendors. But I discovered in the first 30 seconds that it was concerned with legal departments issuing RFPs to law firms. Unfortunately, that was the one session where I elected to sit right at the front, and had to make an immediate and not very well disguised exit just as the session got under way. Others simply smacked of desperation, such as “Why UTBMS Codes Are Not a Waste of Time”.

Key issues that seemed to be generally widely discussed topics raised in the bar – which was inexplicably not open at all during the day at all (shome mishtake here shurely) were Attorney Training and AI. Casey Flaherty, who has left Kia and started up a consultancy called Procertus, after creating a stir several years ago when he invented the Attorney Audit process, was involved in two popular sessions: “A Crash Course in Attorney Tech Audits” and “Let’s Talk Law Firm Performance Measurement”. In the latter he made the point that law firms measure and reward attorney performance based on a particular set of criteria that is often fundamentally inconsistent with the ways in which the client would seek to measure and reward the services they get – and that perhaps the two sets of criteria should be more consistent.

Following on from this, and recognising that the lack of lawyers’ facility with their firm’s technology, and their unwillingness to turn up for traditional training sessions legal IT training, vendors have developed very clever interactive training tools that users can invoke when they have the spare time, and which deliver live interactive training in the firm’s own actual live IT environment. Capensys has had a system like this for some time, and at ILTACON Intelliteach launched its own SkillBuilder software.

As for AI – the terms machine learning, algorithms and automated document analysis were much bandied about and certainly the RAVN stand was one of the better attended in the exhibition hall. AI appears to be very much like teenage sex at the moment – everybody is talking about it, but few people are doing it, and even fewer know where to start. Many attendees seem to assume that document analysis was all that there really was to it – whereas I envisage a much richer brew of more value added AI tools in law firms.

FulcrumGT were there in force with one of the largest stands in the exhibition and were making maximum advantage of the news of the Baker & McKenzie SAP implementation, and – of course – that our very own Martin Telfer has joined them as SVP of Business Development & Delivery / International Markets / EMEA Chief – that’s three jobs. Furthermore, the no less redoubtable Amber Porter Telfer was also on the stand wearing a FulcrumGT badge.

Two of the sessions that I particularly enjoyed were “Client and Matter Profiling that Matters” and “PM vs LPM Project Modelling: Differences, Applications and Templates”. The former dealt with the techniques of adding metadata to client and matters to enable lawyers to find relevant previous work, and relevant experience for new tenders and new matters for a variety of purposes – including better fee budgeting. Three firms described how they had made progress with such initiatives, initially using a variety of tools – including Excel and SharePoint – but they had all ended up implementing software from the Foundation Software Group for this purpose. Foundation was set up by Nate Fineberg (who built up the InterAction business before selling it to LexisNexis in 2004) and provides for the aggregation (and augmentation) of all a firm’s information about people, clients and matters with an easy to use interface. It looks good, and I predict a rosy future for Foundation.

The latter session involved a review of generic project management tools, and their potential applicability to legal matters, and a comparison against specific legal industry tools. It was generally agreed that pure project management tools (such as Microsoft Project) were not commonly applicable for law firms – mostly because they are unnecessarily complicated and too difficult to use. There was no general consensus on the best specialist tool; some used none, just templates, some used their law firm PMS matter budgeting system and some used third party tools like Prosperoware Umbria. However, there was a high degree of unanimity on the approach to take – which was:

·         classify your matters accurately and to a degree of granularity

·         develop work breakdown structures for commonly used matter types

·         work out a matter budget by this breakdown and allocate resources as appropriate

·         manage the accumulation of WIP and expenses by reference to this breakdown and set alerts to help the lawyers manage resources so as to meet the clients expectation as to costs.

It is with an equal degree of frustration and satisfaction that in various sessions it was clear that the value of the concept of adding metadata to matters in accordance with a firm-wide taxonomy is now generally accepted – some 22 years after I wrote a seminal article entitled ‘Value Added Taxonomy’ in which the process and utility of such an approach was set out – and was widely criticised for being unattainable and of dubious merit. The general principle is now accepted; the question that lawyers most often need answering is this – “find me matters like this one”.

Continuing in this strain of unaccustomed modesty, I now come to my session on “Making Educated Decisions with Cost Benefit Analyses”. I neither selected this topic or named it; I would have called it ‘Why CBA is not boring’. When I landed in the US and told the Immigration Officer what I had come all this way to talk about, he said: “Well, you couldn’t have made something that tedious up,” and immediately stamped my passport for entry.

The particular topics on which I spoke will be subject to an exhaustive and not at all boring article to be made available on the Legal Technology Insider website shortly, so that need not detain us here. However, my co-speaker’s presentation is worthy of note. She was Alison Silverstein, Managing Director of the Discovery & Dispute Services division of McDermott Will & Emery LLP and she described the process they have invented for predicting the cost of the discovery phase of large litigation matters. It is based on a fairly detailed Excel spreadsheet which contained all the key assumptions about key activities that will be responsible for the main cost elements of the case and them calculates the overall likely cost in time and expenses. Using this principle, the litigation department can now reliably predict the discovery phase of litigation to within 7%, and their profit margin for such work has increased threefold, due to fewer write offs. An excellent example of technology applied for the benefit of profitability.

The final session of the conference was on “The Dark Web: The Wild West of the Internet”. With a practitioner, a law firm CIO and a representative of the FBI, this was a fascinating glimpse into a world that – before the session – many in the audience perhaps thought they would like to dabble in for interest’s sake, but after which we had all pretty much decided was far too dangerous. Access to the Dark Web is by means of the Tor software toolkit, which assures anonymity of the originator and recipient of specialist email, messaging and Web site access; and progenitor of which (ironically)  was developed in the 1990s by employees of the United States Naval Research Laboratory.

The Dark Web appears to be used by two fundamentally different sets of users: on the one hand journalists, whistle-blowers and others who believe that anonymous use of Internet services outside of the prying eyes of potentially oppressive governments is a human right, and on the other hand the worst examples of depraved criminal conduct known to man. So, when we learn that the contract and credit card details of 10 million Sony subscribers are up for sale, they are up for sale on the Dark Web. When we learn that you can use Tor to find weapons with no serial numbers, snuff porn and assassination services – these are all undertaken in the Dark Web. For just one mind-blowing and terrifying glimpse into this world, I suggest that you look up the term ‘Assassination market’ on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_market.

The panellists all had to use the Dark Web for their work for various purposes, but were extremely cautious about two aspects – one was that they made sure they accessed Tor services on a PC totally disconnected from their work networks as the world’s premier hackers would otherwise undoubtedly have exploited such a connection to attack their organisation’s systems. Secondly, they made sure that they left no possible clues, or ‘breadcrumbs’, that could lead to them being identified – as none was in any doubt that the worst specimens of humanity would seek them out for (at best) cyber-stalking – such as mortgage accounts being closed, identity theft, Social Security numbers being cloned, disappearing pensions etc, or (at worst) physical harm.

You may begin to see now why most people in the audience lost their curiosity to play with the Dark Web as these stories unfolded. One intriguing fact that emerged was that there is no ability to search the Dark Web, by the nature of Tor there is no search engine capable of indexing it – so these nefarious Web sites must be identified (often from Dark Web chat rooms) and their laborious .onion Tor address manually entered.

A frightening and fascinating end to four very interesting days of sessions. There was also a very good ILTACON App available for attendees which allowed you to search and diarise all the sessions that you wanted to go to, as well as for exchanging information and messages. Even before the conference started, there were very earnest postings about those who wanted to go running early in the morning. Naturally, this was not really my premier interest in contextual conference social activities, so I started another thread for those interested in fine wining and dining. This lead to some very enjoyable evening outings, and as a result I can thoroughly recommend – in the Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria areas – the following establishments:

·         La Tosca Italian restaurant

·         Rasika Indian restaurant

·         the PX ‘speakeasy’

·         Restaurant Eve.

I do this, so that you do not have to…

You can find out more about Neil and Neil Cameron Consulting Group at http://www.nccg.it/