Big eDiscovery events have earned a reputation for emphasizing sales and marketing content over the honest exchange of best practices and expert perspectives. Legal Tech New York’s monstrous, multilevel exhibit halls swarming with desperate sales reps, combined with panelists constantly plugging their products has not helped that perception. This year I have seen the emergence of a new breed of events that emphasize interactive learning over marketing messages. The market still needs basic eDiscovery 101 education events and provider sponsors are essential to keep events affordable and accessible for new practitioners tasked with eDiscovery at firms and corporations. I enjoy conducting these educational sessions, but only when the majority of attendees are at that ‘freshman’ stage and in a setting where they feel comfortable to ask ‘stupid’ questions. That does not happen in big, open conferences when eDiscovery ‘experts’ lurk in the back of the audience throwing out challenging comments or questions designed to show how much they know. Two of my recent events really brought home evolving elements of new eDiscovery conferences.
Exterro’s inFusion12 conference kicked off with an Exterro Fusion® certification workshop. 59% of respondents to the ongoing eDJ survey on eDiscovery education think that product specific certification is important. More importantly, the the pre-conference training/certification gave attendees a concrete benefit for their attendance. The product training raised the baseline of common knowledge before the conference started, even for attendees who had not yet implemented the product. The beautiful weather on Mt. Hood allowed many users to add an extra vacation day to sightsee and contributed to the excellent social networking. Destination events always ease the impact of being on the road and seem to inspire open discourse. My session on “Defensible Data Reduction” had great audience participation. It felt like we were actually able to get real examples of common pain points and solutions. One relatively new dot.com company relayed how unlimited Cloud email storage encouraged some users to accumulate more than 100GB of email in under two years. Another corporate eDiscovery manager actively tracked matter metrics and used those volume/costs to show a ROI on the Exterro Fusion® platform in just three matters. What was important to me was the candid exchange between users and the panelists. Everyone was able to avoid details of specific matters while still conveying real lessons learned.
I also enjoyed my June participation in the Executive Counsel Institute’s – “The Exchange” in Chicago and looked forward to the same event last week in Houston, my home town. These are not user events, so it is a challenge to balance their growing popularity and size while sustaining the high level of participation and open discussion. Unlike many events, this one really is a ‘graduate level’ course that can be intimidating to new practitioners. The Houston event pushed that envelope with serious heavy hitting speakers such as Tom O’Connor, Laura Kibbe, Jim Daley and many more weighing in on recent case law, ethical tensions, education, project management, more project management and ESI in the Cloud. Browning Marean (DLA Piper) developed this open topic format several years ago and it continues to actively improve in this incarnation. It is hard to convey the density and speed of exchanges across the open floor while our poor moderators frantically compile talking points on screen. The first day is almost too much, but the breaks give everyone time to network and decompress before the next session. If you have never attended these events, they are worth your time to at least audit an ‘eDiscovery graduate seminar’.
These mini conferences, user conferences, retreats and other events offer focused interaction in a way that the giant conferences cannot. They are not a replacement for three wintery days in Manhattan every year, but they represent a very different opportunity to learn, network and even teach others. I am really enjoying these small gatherings and I hope to get the chance to meet you at one soon.