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Without doubt the most eagerly awaited session at the recent Relevent UnConference in Nashville was the presentation by Casey Flaherty, the general counsel of Kia Motors America. His theme was corporations are frequently over-charged by law firms because they are being billed for the excess time it takes associates to perform routine work.

To prove his point, he devised a mock assignment he knew should take no longer than 30 minutes to perform using standard office applications, including Excel, Word, Outlook and Acrobat. When tested, he found the average time taken was 5 hours but some took as long as 8 hours. The problem, he says, is associates are too busy billing time to take time to learn the tools of their trade. “Lawyers see themselves as Tom Cruise but most of their work is drudgery… they are Ensign Ricky* and they suck at using computers.”

Flaherty says the onus is on law schools and law firms to teach students and new recruits how to use IT. And, to help focus the mind, law firms whose associates fail the Kia IT competency audit now get their fees reduced. Flaherty’s view is that it’s the fault of the law firm for not ensuring their staff are properly trained to do they work they bill for. He adds that it’s a myth to talk of young people as digital natives who are automatically better at using IT. “They know how to consume content and communicate it on Facebook but not how to create it.”

Along with IT training, Flaherty says firms should invest more in technologies such as document assembly and dynamic templates. And, just in case you think this all Kia pie-in-the-sky, a number of general counsel with other large corporations now plan to use Flaherty’s mock assignments to audit the IT competency of their law firms’ associates.
* Ensign Ricky is the token Star Trek red-shirt crewman destined to die horribly early on in each episode.

We have a full report on Relevent, including a video interview with Casey Flaherty (at 3 minutes 20) starting here…

In other Relevent news… A hundred plus lawyers and legal professionals attended Relevent, Nashville’s first annual un-conference focused on the future of law. Cicayda, a Nashville-based ediscovery software and services company, sponsored Relevent, the brainchild of CEO Roe Frazer. Matt Homann, the founder of LexThink, facilitated an interactive and thought provoking event with excellent speakers from all over the World.  The event quickly morphed into a collaborative experience of all in attendance, making Relevent the perfect “un-conference.”

Roe Frazer said: “Beyond our wildest dreams, we assembled an all-star cast of discussion leaders and a sold-out group of forward-thinking participants. We learned in two days everything a legal professional needs to know to be successful in the next five years, plus we had a whole lot of fun.”

Cloud expert Eric Hunter from Bradford & Barthel in San Diego, CA opened the first day with an energetic discussion on utilizing spherical business models and high-level analytics collaboration. Michael Burcham and Gwin Scott, led one of the most popular sessions of the conference entitled Serving Entrepreneurial Clients. The lessons gained for those in attendance where how a company becomes a “gazelle”, what legal representation gazelles need at an early stage, how attorneys can better serve gazelles, and how law firms can be more entrepreneurial. This left everyone asking the question: “Is my law firm a gazelle?”

One of the top ediscovery thought leaders in the UK – Chris Dale of The eDisclosure Information Project – shared his unique and witty perspectives on the differences between discovery in the UK and the US.  His look into the future of ediscovery was helpful to all – and there was a surprising consensus that when it came to ediscovery processes and court procedural rules, the UK way was probably the better way in terms on ensuring fair access to justice.

Bill Ramsey, a partner and renowned litigator at Neal & Harwell, Nashville, led a discussion over lunch on the future of high stakes litigation and dealing with very large data sets. Ramsey also detailed the need for an understanding of the Internet of Things as well as the need for attorneys to understand and advise their clients on information management.

Rick Kuykendall, partner, Kuykendall & Associates and Mark Chalos, partner, Lieff Cabraser Heiman & Bernstein, led a discussion on the future of multi-district litigation (MDL) and plaintiff steering committees. They concluded that the number of MDLs will continue to grow rapidly as more and more individuals and companies see this almost like alternative dispute resolution. They also looked at the challenges of handling of massive amounts of data with the need for more affordable and more robust technology.  The cicayda team smiled big on this one.

Denver-based Kelly Twigger, principal in ESI Attorneys and creator of the iPhone app E-Discovery Assistant, focused on how to handle eDiscovery and the need for a greater understanding of human behaviors and how it impacts meaningful outputs and productive discovery.

Day One of the speaker sessions ended with a thoughtful presentation by Mike Rozen, partner, Feinberg Rozen LLP. He carefully detailed his experience in handling the resolution of massive amounts of claims in highly complex cases such as the September 11, 2001 Victim Compensation Fund and, more recently, the BP Oil Spill. Rozen led the audience through a high level discussion of the complications and issues in these extremely complex matters. It was equal parts entertaining, poignant, and practical.

Day Two kicked off Casey Flaherty of Kia Motors (see above) followed by a  sessions Effective Marketing Lawyers Should Embrace. An all-star panel led by guest moderator Brian Church (Ambassadors International) delved into the intricacies of effective marketing techniques that many law firms simply have ignored. Grey Garner (Market Strategist, Emma), Marcus Whitney (CEO of Moontoast), Dominique Shelton (partner, Alston & Bird) and Adam Severson (CMO, Baker Donelson) discussed marketing campaigns and social media utilization that law firms and attorneys should deploy to stay ahead in a fast moving and rapidly changing marketplace.

The future focused message was loud and clear with Charles Christian, of Legal IT Insider. Hey that’s me, I’d better let Frankie Mohylsky of Cicada describe my session… “He strongly emphasized that mistakes are okay as long as you learn from them and lawyers and firms should not be afraid of change, especially in terms of technology risk-taking. He discussed the impact of the UK’s Legal Services Act and the types of new legal business models that may result if outside ownership of law firms were allowed in the United States. Did you know a funeral home company now owns law firms inside Great Britain? Groceries are next!”

A future-focused conference would not be complete without a panel on law schools and how they can evolve to make sure graduates are prepared for the changes in legal. As perhaps one of the leading change agents in legal culture, law schools often see trends first, and this was the theme of the panel. The discussion involved Cumberland School of Law Dean Judge John L. Carroll, Vanderbilt University Law School Professor and author of Law in 2050 blog J.B. Ruhl, ERM Legal Solutions Chief Relationship Officer Larry Bridgesmith, and Cicayda’s own Marc Jenkins.

Stephen Bennett partner and chair of the eDiscovery committee at Jones Day and Stephen Zralek, an intellectual property litigator at Bone McAllester Norton, conducted an entertaining discussion of social media in eDiscovery as well as the novel practical and ethical issues that arise.

Babs Deacon of the Ediscovery Journal in New York, NY stated the future of eDiscovery being what she termed “In Situ” where data is reviewed and managed at its source rather than moving multiple times with various per GB charges incurred, as is presently the case. It was an interesting discussion of how we should leverage technology to make document review and production more cost-effective, more streamlined and highly more accurate.

The final session was future role of the judiciary in eDiscovery lead by Judge John Carroll, Dean of the Cumberland Law School and a Board member of the Sedona Conference. Judge Carroll, who moved everyone out on to the veranda and conveniently close to the bar, believes that the proposed federal rules amendments will lead to a more active case management role for the judges and that judges will be charged with ensuring that eDiscovery is proportional.

To close out Relevent, in true Nashville style, the audience was entertained by Grammy-nominated songwriter Rivers Rutherford.

FINAL COMMENT: This is the only legal vendor-organised (ediscovery or otherwise) event (user conferences excepted) I’ve ever attended where the sponsoring vendor has not bombarded the audience with at least one Powerpoint-heavy sales presentation or else had the venue groaning with sales literature and laptops, so their eager sales staff can launch into product demos. Well done Roe Frazer and the Cicayda team for opting for a subtle approach rather than heavy-handed marketing overkill.