eDiscovery Daily Blog

Craig Ball of Craig D. Ball, P.C., Part 1: eDiscovery Trends

This is the sixth (and final) of the 2017 Legaltech New York (LTNY) Thought Leader Interview series.  eDiscovery Daily interviewed several thought leaders at LTNY (aka Legalweek) this year to get their observations regarding trends at the show and generally within the eDiscovery industry.

Today’s thought leader is Craig Ball.  A frequent court appointed special master in electronic evidence, Craig is a prolific contributor to continuing legal and professional education programs throughout the United States, having delivered almost 2,000 presentations and papers.  Craig’s articles on forensic technology and electronic discovery frequently appear in the national media and he teaches E-Discovery and Digital Evidence at the University of Texas School of Law.  He currently blogs on eDiscovery topics at ballinyourcourt.com.

Craig provided so much good information that we decided to publish his interview in two parts.  The remainder of his interview will be published tomorrow.

What are your observations about LTNY this year and how it compared to other LTNY shows that you have attended?

My impressions of the show are both positive and melancholy.  It’s one of the Legaltech shows that I personally enjoyed more than many in the past, by virtue this year of being joined up here by members of the governing council of the Computer and Technology Section of the State Bar of Texas.  I’m immediate past chair of the Section and, to his credit, our current chair decided we would convene our council meeting in conjunction with Legaltech.  So, I had the great joy of seeing Legaltech – an event I’ve attended for about 20 years – through the eyes of many Legaltech “virgins.”  Being able to navigate the event, particularly the social events, with a group of people that I admire and enjoy was a treat.

In terms of the show itself, I skipped it last year.  Returning after hiatus, it seems unchanged in all material respects, with the difference being that it seems scaled down – an impression reinforced in part by the absence of the printed show guide.  The show app means we no longer have a tangible reminder of how much is going on.  So, people missed things that they might have attended simply because it was more challenging for many to obtain a ready reference to what was happening.  Apps are wonderful, and I personally prefer an app-based guide to paper; but, I think I’m still in the minority on that.  Although demographics are skewing younger, Legaltech still draws a lot of gray-haired lawyers or at least is geared to draw them (assuming they are decision makers in the purchase of services and products).  Many attendees arrived and wandered rather than coming with destinations in mind.

The show floor seemed diminished to me, by consolidation among competitors and a general diminution in square footage.  It also seemed diminished in terms of the plushness of the giveaways, the crush on the floor, in innovation  and so forth.  Every year I say that I think the show has gotten a bit smaller and every year ALM seems to manage to announce that it was much bigger than before.  Dare I trust my own perceptions since ALM’s “Trumpian” metrics suggest a much bigger show then I saw?

What are your thoughts about ALM’s decision to charge for Exhibits Plus passes for the first time ever?

Charging for access to the trade space was poorly received.  I think it hurt in more ways than just the traffic, I think it hurt perception as well.  People generally don’t want to pay $40, much less $100, for the opportunity to have people sell them something.  You can’t blame them: this is not the Boat Show or Comic Con.  we’re not being entertained in there.  It’s hard work to navigate those aisles.  You must put on smiles and listen to chatter that wastes your time.  Frankly, I think that the idea that they would seek to profit beyond the sums they’re already reaping by charging vendors to be in this expensive venue in this expensive city has gone “beyond the pale” and will serve to hurt attendance.  Diminished attendance will cost them going forward.  As we say in Texas, “Pigs get fed and hogs get slaughtered.” We’ve already seen the near-extinction of Legaltech West Coast, rescued only by retreat to the north (to San Francisco).  It’s already a challenge for many attendees and exhibitors to make the financial commitment to be a part of this event. 

That’s my impression. Once again, I’ll defer to the hard numbers – if ALM says that they’ve had more people than ever and everyone couldn’t express more joy in paying for the trade show, then I’ll defer to what they find.  But, my impression is it’s short-sighted.

My group paid approximately $10,000 simply to enter this show, and that strikes me as a lot of money to go to a trade show with some questionable education wrapped around the periphery.  I’m biased in favor of the educational offerings here having served about 12 years on the educational planning board.  So I am more likely to praise the education here, despite knowing that the education is so utterly “pay to play.”  The vendors control the content, and do what they please.  I don’t suggest that all vendors have abused that by overselling from the podium; but, I was frankly underwhelmed by this year’s educational offerings.

What I heard most from lawyers and attendants was “there’s nothing here for me; this is all for big firms.”  In some ways, I think that has always been true, but never more so then today. If you’re a law firm smaller than, say, fifty attorneys, you’re going to wander these aisles a long time before you come across anything that you can bring back to your office and declare to be of value.  And, that’s a shame.  Although the Fortune 50 and the AmLaw 400 may be the most profitable segment for those who come here and inevitably will draw the attention of the exhibitors, there are a lot of lawyers out there in small and medium sized firms that have money to spend.  If this event ever found a way to connect with that market, I think that it could be a much more successful event by every metric.  I don’t believe the ABA Tech show serves that market except regionally in the upper Midwest.  TechShow is geared to a different practice demographic (both technically and in terms of the size of legal operations).  I think that Legaltech has remained too elitist in its focus on corporate and big law.  That’s where the money is, and catering to the “uber-wealthy” is never going away, neither at Legaltech nor in the larger world!

I wish I had something more insightful to offer, but it’s a time tunnel.  You and I have been at the show together for about seven years now and I’ve been here for a lot of years before that.  With the exception of new and younger faces, the astounding thing about the show is that it is largely unchanged.  We are seeing new players and massive consolidation.  Certainly, the sheer number of discrete, unique offerings in the eDiscovery space seems to have dwindled, though eDiscovery offerings still seem to account for about one out of every two booths.  I have to say that there’s “nothing new in Mudville” when I’m out there on the floor.

I am heartened by one thing: I think that the basic level of discourse has risen over the years to the point where the notion of attorney technical competence, while not met, is at least acknowledged as a goal and need to be met sooner or later.  That’s partly a function of time: the least adept have shuffled off to the golf course or “off the mortal coil,” and we are seeing a more youthful group in the space.  Some I most enjoyed seeing at Legaltech have died, or moved on to other businesses, which is the same as dying as far as I’m concerned (laughs).  So, some of us, like you and me, are the last ones standing.

On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed getting to know a younger crew who have been very kind to include me in the educational and social events.  So I am terribly grateful for the new faces.  Some of these people will come and say “I learned eDiscovery from what you wrote” and there’s nothing more gratifying to me personally.  It means that I can talk to them about issues without their minds being closed by who they work for and what they do.  I’m gratified and optimistic about that.  eDiscovery is not new anymore and may not be exciting anymore.  Now, it’s just part of the job.  That’s what we always expected it would be and needed to be.

Part 2 of Craig’s interview will be published tomorrow.

And to the readers, as always, please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic!

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by CloudNine. eDiscovery Daily is made available by CloudNine solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Daily should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.